Tuesday, October 09, 2012

tuesdays in turkmenistan: wherein Turkish Airlines has let me down

I want to preface this post by stating that I have never flown on Turkish Airlines. However, I have spent several hours and called them 47 different times in an attempt to find a missing bag belonging to a colleague. It is a near universal truth that airlines typically have terrible customer service. Outside of a couple of the higher-end airlines (Qatar Airlines, Cathay Pacific perhaps) or possession of elite status, the call center experience is a byzantine maze of recursive despair. First, some back story!

Actually, this fellow is not technically a colleague. He is a contractor from Aberdeen who was here to perform some calibrations on equipment but I say colleague in my communiques to Turkish Airlines to keep it simple and will do the same here. He arrived to Ashgabat and his bag did not make it with him. He came to Balkanabat, spent a week here, then went back to Ashgabat. His bag had still not been found. He then flew to Almaty, Kazakhstan (for more calibration work) and his bag finally turned up in Ashgabat the day after he left. Wonderful timing. A plan was hatched, evidently a deeply complicated one, to send his bag from Ashgabat to Almaty via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. Sadly, the tale of woe continued for my colleague as his bag never arrived in Almaty. There was quite a bit of insistence that it had, but several checks of the Almaty airport, luggage claim area, and lost and found told a different story.

At this point, I was probably 10-15 calls in already. It is astonishingly hard to find a phone number for the Turkish Airlines desk at the Almaty airport. The numbers on their website are definitely not the same as what their customer service line provided. Either way, no one picked up any of the numbers and people from our office in Almaty went down to the airport to check in person. Now was the time for further calls. I was armed with the certainty that the bag was not in Almaty and a scan of the baggage tag so I definitely had all the correct numbers, dates, flights to provide to Turkish Airlines. Good golly, what a mess. There are three primary numbers I have been calling, though only one of them leads to anyone remotely helpful. General customer service is a debacle. Some second number for luggage issues is not passable. A third number with an extension is marginal and depending on who you speak with, might yield some semblance of progress.

A word of advice to Turkish Airlines is that your departments should be staffed during business hours. If I call and everyone is busy, then put me on hold where I can listen to that snazzy two-line jingle of yours over and over and over. We are Turkish Airlines. We are globally yours. What you should not do is let the phone ring 11 times, then have the call end at the start of a 12th ring. I did not enter my pin code to call internationally, dial your 12-digit number, press 9 for English and then a 5-digit extension just so your system could hang up on me after 54 seconds. A second word of advice is that you should properly train whoever I spoke with on Saturday as he was incredibly rude and condescending. Also, I found his insistence that the airline possessed no system for tracking baggage utterly bizarre. Seriously, the guy insisted that the airline could not track baggage. Maybe my dear readers are thinking that he did not have access to the system to track the baggage based on the bar code and number. That’s what I thought too so I asked him if he could tell me what number to call to get someone who could track the baggage based on the luggage tag information. No one! Well, no one can according to him. The only logical conclusion based on this information is that nearly every bag reaches its final destination through nothing short of sheer happenstance and luck of the utmost proportions.

I try, I really do try to be polite when I’m on the phone with customer service. I understand it’s a generally shitty job and 90% of the complaints are routine and most of the callers are angry and frustrated so they are not very polite. Knowing all this makes me want to be as polite as possible because I want to live by the no-asshole rule. I realize the world is not so simple and that abiding by Bill and Ted’s insistence that we “be excellent to each other” is not always easy, but there is no reason to be rude on the phone. It will not improve the level of assistance you receive and it will not make the process go faster. If anything, being rude will lead to a lower level of service as why would anyone want to go above and beyond for a jerk? Back the fellow who said bags could not be tracked. He tried my patience and I was compelled to interrupt him more than once since it was clear he was not listening to me. Part of one of the baggage codes is ASBTK. ASB stands for Ashgabat and TK stands for Turkish Airlines. I was trying to explain to him that during one of the prior times I called, the code was read to me as ASETK and I was concerned that the reason he could not see the bag in his system (which is apparently NOT a system to track bags, but only a system to log missing bags) was that perhaps the code had been mistyped. Instead of hearing me out, he kept saying that ASE is not a valid airport code and that I was wrong and should call back when I had the correct information. I was looking at a picture of the baggage tag while I was on the phone with him so I most definitely had the correct information. His continued insistence that I was wrong was very off-putting.

Sunday yielded better luck. Recall that I previously mentioned having been given some information on an even earlier call. Yeah, that was last Wednesday. Six days ago, I spoke with “Hasan” who was helpful and told me they had the bag in Istanbul. Hot damn, we were in business! I e-mailed all this to the owner of the bag along with an e-mail address he needed to send his address to and provide his claim reference number. He called, spoke with a different person, and was told they had no record of his bag. Uh, ok, that’s a bit odd, but maybe someone misunderstood and perhaps “B” does sound like “E”. (By the way, this is why I use the NATO phonetic alphabet when reading letters on the phone so ASBTK is actually Alfa-Sierra-Bravo-Tango-Kilo.) Anyway, this info on failure to find his bag came back to me on Saturday which is when I resumed my call saga and ended up with the haughty fellow who claimed the airline had no way to track bags. Sunday, I spoke with the same “Hasan” again! This time, I was armed with the shipping address to get the bag home so I gave my own e-mail and phone number and took down the information again to ensure it was correct and sent my own e-mail to atalf@tgs.aero. (TGS = Turkish Ground Services.) Two days later (today) and still no reply has led me to spend an uncannily large portion of my afternoon on the phone trying to speak with a real human instead of 11 rings and then dial tone.

I have made 25 calls today. I am sure of this, much like I am sure I possess the correct bag documentation, because I get an e-mail every time I use my PIN to make an international call. (The cost is not the issue as these route through our network, so the incremental cost is negligible, but the satellite routing does result in a bit of a lag during calls that adds to the difficulty.) I believe I have spoken to an actual person about four times. All other calls have not been answered. The sum total of my experience today is that my will to live has been crushed by the heartless automatons of the Turkish Airlines phone system. In all seriousness, this has been the most demoralizing customer service experience of my life. I called the number and extension to reach the department where “Hasan” works. I did not get a chance to speak with Hasan. Instead, providing the same information today as I had previously given to Hasan, I was told that the claim was now too old for them to see in their system and that they would transfer me to the Insurance (?) department. Sigh. I used the word recursive earlier so you might be able to guess what happened when I spoke with the folks in the Insurance department. That's right, they referred me back to where I had come from. If you ever call Turkish Airlines at +90 212 463 6363, press 9 for English then extension 15740 you get the starting department. If you enter extension 15640, you get Insurance or whoever they are. The sad thing is that I have called these numbers so often, I do not have to look them up to enter them here. They are now deeply burned into my damaged psyche. Also, if you're ever in a similar situation, you can try +90 212 468 4848, press 9 for English, then press 7 for missing luggage and +90 212 444 0849 and again press 9 for English, then press 7 for missing luggage but neither of those numbers were particularly helpful.

And now I am here. I have just entered all the relevant information into the Turkish Airlines web form and received their delightful automated reply. At least I know their system has this claim somewhere in the queue. However, even their online form is quite aggravating. It could not accept any phone number unless it was entered with no spaces. However, it had no separate field for the country code so it’s just one continuous number that is not clearly a non-Turkish number. Additionally, the flight information fields are required, but there was no red asterisk by those field indicating they were required. Also, you can only enter one flight number, which is silly since you cannot easily indicate your trip had multiple legs. All this was clarified in the text I could enter along with the recourse I have attempted thus far. We shall see if any headway can be made via this method. I can only hope for a resolution by next Tuesday lest I spend another post lambasting the shoddy customer service of Turkish Airlines.

Edit: I am aware that ASE is actually the airport code to the airport in Aspen, Colorado. The guy mentioned it was a U.S. airport during the call in the context that ASETK could not possibly be the code on the tag since Turkish Airlines does not fly there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not too optimistic finding the bag!