Category Archives: Travel

I was in the US for a month for summer holidays. Here are a few reflections.

I love the US. How can I not? I was born and raised there and it was my life for 26 years. I also love Spain. The more time I’ve lived in Spain the more I’ve become used to the Spanish way of living… and actually become Spanish. It’s been 13 years and the most recent years of my life.

It was great to be home with family in the US, which was the main objective, and also to have my kids immersed in English for a whole month. After having spent such an extended time there, there  are some things that stood out out in my mind that I wanted to share:

  • Where do kids in the US play? I have no shame in admitting that many times we googled “playgrounds” to see if there were any decent public play areas near where we were staying as we moved around. Turns out this isn’t an easy feat. In Madrid there are so many around where we live in the suburbs that you could probably go to a different, nice playground every day for a month without repeating.  Also where we live in Majadahonda we have a large, shared pool in our apartment complex that all the kids go to every day during the summer – no invite required. We found some good parks that we visited near Boston, but they required driving 20+ minutes to get there and there weren’t too many kids. This just made me wonder “what did I do as a kid?” I remember playing out in the street in my neighborhood, but I think the big thing is the US is going to friends’ houses and having your kids play with theirs with playdates. There’s nothing wrong with this, but the plus of having great public playgrounds is that you don’t have to be social with other adults for your kids to have fun. I don’t exactly consider myself an introvert, but it’s nice to just be able to go to a big public park where no one knows you and let your kids run around and make friends or not. If they hit someone or steal a toy the consequences won’t be personal.

Here are some pictures of some typical parks in the outskirts of Madrid.

  • Drive thrus. Surprisingly (and fortunately) this hasn’t yet made its way to Spain in the same magnitude as in the US. I had forgotten how prevalent drive throughs are in the US. This first hit me one day with my sister as we pulled into Dunkin Donuts. I told her I’d be out in a second to which she replied, “but we’ll just go through the Drive Thru”. Honestly it hadn’t even occurred to me. The coffee shop, the banks, the pharmacy, the car wash – you name it. Life made easy, but is it too easy?
  • Customer service can suck in the US as well. As you may now if you’ve read my blog, Customer Service/Customer Experience is something that is important to me. I’ve written many posts about not-so-great customer experiences here in Spain, as this is still something that has a long way to go. However, I discovered during our trip that it’s not all roses in the US either. We had a wonderful experience with Rentalcars.com (Hertz being the provider for a rental car) in which we were given a pick up location for the car that no longer exists. The hotel where we went to get the car no longer has a Hertz office there. When I contacted the Hertz office they were about to close in 20 minutes and were of absolutely no help. To make a long story short they ended up hanging up on me after saying they wouldn’t do anything and left us with no way to get back home and without a rental car. The best is that Rentalcars.com had already charged us for the entire two week rental. Note: do not use Rentalcars.com! The best thing is definitely to go directly with the company, even if you end up spending a little bit more. In the end we had to pay for an uber back to our house and then having to deal with Rentalcars.com on the phone so they could refund the payment they’d already received. Then we had to reserve a new car…
  • Coffee. Once you get used to the European coffee it’s hard to go back. Punto.

Overall it was a great trip home, but I still don’t see myself moving back to the US any time soon. I don’t think I would have a full month of vacation to be writing a blog like this, to start…

 

 

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My Abusive Relationship with Iberia

I’ve written how my experience moving to a foreign country with a basic level of the language was humbling and made me more accepting of circumstances (and people) and more relaxed.

However, there is one thing that can always manage to make my blood boil. No matter how long I’ve been abroad I just cannot tolerate bad customer experience. There still exists a strong mentality, at least here in Spain, that the customer is wrong. After having worked for several years in the Customer Experience research team at Forrester Research (https://www.forrester.com/Customer-Experience) back in Boston and having researched and documented the high correlation between positive CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE, consumer loyalty and positive business impact ($$), it still boggles me how there can exist this mentality and bad treatment of customers. Maybe there are still some businesses or sectors where consumers don’t have much of a choice, but with the way the world is changing so rapidly with digitalization, AI, paradigm breakers in existing sectors (think Uber, Amazon, Amazon Go, …) I don’t think this mentality will work forever.

Iberia and I have an abusive relationship. Sometimes I like being close to him to get to the end result (get from Madrid to Boston and vice versa without having to go through a layover). However, there are other times when I can’t even stand looking at him, when he disrespects me and even hangs up on me.

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Let’s be honest; people fly to get from one point to another. I’m not looking for miracles. However, I do expect to be treated with respect, especially when there are loyalty programs involved. So, what happened the other day? Well, it goes back to 6 months ago when I tried to use my frequent flyer “avios” to purchase tickets for Boston for the summer. I figured I had enough points that I could buy my ticket and one of my child’s. As it turns out it’s almost impossible to use avios to buy tickets during high travel season. Eight months prior to the planned travel dates there was only 1 seat available that could be purchase with avios (my husband called 5 minutes afer I did and there were no longer avios seats available). In the end I purchased my seat with avios and had to pay almost 200 euros in taxes. Makes you wonder to what point it’s really worth the avios…

For my two kids (ages 5 and 2) it was impossible to apply any of my avios. I purchased their tickets for almost 2000 euros, but in order to get assigned seats for them to be near me we’d have to pay another 200 euros. I said I think it would be their mistake to try to put a 2 year old screaming for his mom in a different aisle, but I think I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it in a few weeks. I’m pretty sure someone will prefer to switch with me if Iberia won’t give us seats together than suffer 8 hours of screaming…

On top of the kids’ tickets I also purchased some sort of travel insurance that wasn’t very clear at all over the phone but made to seem as though it was an essential part of the purchase. Next thing I know I had an extra 108 euro charge on my card. When I called a few days later to ask for more information about the insurance I had purchased I was told I’d receive it via email (the same email through which I received the tickets). Nothing came. Honestly out of pure laziness of having to call Iberia again and wait on hold I put it off for months.

The other day I called Iberia to ask about the insurance policy I had semi-consciously purchased. They confirmed that I had purchased a policy for both of my children with Allianz insurance, but to receive information about the coverage I would have to speak directly with Allianz. I asked what information I would need to provide to Allianz when calling (I’ve had enough experience with being bounced back and forth) and was told that with my ticket locator number that would be enough.

Next step- I called Allianz. Not surprisingly they were unable to find my information, policy, etc. They said that likely Iberia had made a mistake and that unless I had a separate payment on my account for the insurance that it was never purchased. They were unable to look up any more information with my name or personal data; I even tried repeating my email twice (another thing I’ve had enough experience with is people not understanding me on the phone with my accent) spelling out each letter like “M as in Madrid, A as in Alemania…” Nothing.

Screenshot 2019-07-03 at 22.56.09

Their solution: send an email to a generic Allianz sales email with a proof of payment from my bank account from January. That’s when I hit the table (literally) and tried to politely express my anger at their complete lack of efficiency as I had a ticket right in front of me. As I saw I was getting nowhere the conversation ended. I immediately found the information and sent an email titled “URGENT” with the information they requested. To my surprise they answered me within a couple of hours with the information I had requested and the full policy coverage. I have to say I was impressed with this part of the service, but was it really worth it for Iberia to put me through this hassle? Talk about making things not easy for the customer.

As it turns out, despite having repeated my email address twice and having the agent repeat it back to me, he somehow had managed to completely butcher it with about 3 letters and a period missing.

So, I’ll fly with Iberia in a few weeks, and maybe things will be smooth between us for a while, but at some point we’ll hit a bump and it will go back to rocky. For now I’m not going to end our relationship as I’m still getting the final results I’m looking for, but once something more attractive comes along with less hassle (and baggage) I will be first in line. My next challenge: try to understand the insurance policy.

To be continued…

Iberia, how about a little logic over the rules?

Is Iberia a great airline? Not really. Does Iberia offer great prices? Not so much. Does Iberia have a good cross-channel experience? Eh. So, why do I keep coming back for more? Well, Iberia happens to be the only airline that offers direct flights to Boston from Madrid (during certain months of the year), and with a two year old in tow there really isn’t any other option. So this fact puts it on my “better than other options” list. Also, Iberia has an executive devoted to Customer Experience (Dimitris Bountolos), something which I think is great given my interest and sometimes annoying persistence with this topic here in Spain. (Note: after writing this post I’ve discovered that this VP of CxP no longer exists at Iberia. Go figure).

The other week I finally sat down to finalize my summer plans and buy tickets home. As usual I had to make things a little more complicated, just to challenge the system I guess – I wanted to use frequent flyer points for my flight and buy my son’s ticket separately.

Step 1: When I tried to do this on the web site it wasn’t possible since you can’t mix buying two tickets by different methods. And if you want to buy a separate ticket for a two year old you have no other choice but to pick up the phone and buy the ticket through an agent.

Step 2: So… I picked up the phone. When I spoke to an agent to try to buy both tickets, mine with points, he told me the only way to see my options and do this was through the web site. Then I would have to call after and buy my son’s ticket over the phone since there’s no way to buy a 2 year old ticket through the site.

Step 3: Back to the web. Buying my tickets using my avios through the site – easy enough.

Step 4: Right after that I called Iberia customer service to buy my son’s ticket to make sure there wouldn’t be any problem getting seats on the same flight. I didn’t have any problem doing this. And Iberia didn’t have any problem charging me 90% of an adult fare for his ticket (one of the things you don’t think about when you’re young and reckless and decide to move across the ocean…). I of course tried to be reasonable and say that I could have him sit on my lap for the 8 hour flight (no way would this be possible), but apparently age is the determining factor here. Between 2 and 12 years (no scaling) you get a fantastic discount of 10%. Good thing I already flew with him twice while he was younger…

I figured, well, at least everything is set and the tickets are now a sunk cost. After hanging up the phone and reviewing the tickets in my email (and happily seeing a 20€ fee for buying my son’s ticket over the phone even though there was no other option…) I remembered one very important thing – our seats.

Step 4: Back on the phone. And this is where it got amusing. The agent who attended my call informed me that it would be free for me to pick my seat now since I have a loyalty card, but I would have to pay over 40€ to assign my son’s seat next to me! She quietly suggested I could wait until checking-in at the airport. Talk about logic, Iberia…

Step 5: Time will tell. I’ve decided to take a “gamble” and see what happens at the check-in counter this summer. Call me crazy, but somehow I don’t think Iberia will put my 2 year old next to a random person, with his mother aisles away. And if this were to happen I can absolutely guarantee that Iberia itself would be willing to pay me to switch seats!

 

Note: I’m currently waiting for an Iberia Kids loyalty card. Maybe this will change the situation…

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Can airlines really deliver good experiences? Listen up Iberia Customer Experience!

Iberia, I know here in Spain you actually have a Customer Experience director (not a common job title in this country), so, read on…

Let’s face it – most airlines are pretty similar. Unless you’re taking advantage of frequent flier miles, the reason you pick one over the other is price, plain and simple. In my case, the only reason I might pick Iberia is because they have direct flights to Boston from Madrid, not because the service is great – or even that good. I think we’ve just resigned ourselves to the fact that flying is what it is – a means to get from one place to another and something that you have to put up with. (maybe you’ve seen one of my earlier airline experience posts).

So, is it possible to create a good experience?

Yes! I think it is possible to break old thinking and barriers and create something new with flying. Take a look at this article about a design consultancy’s idea “Poppi” for reinventing the airline experience:

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/07/design/airline-future-uber-airbnb/index.html

For example, instead of having customers be upset and complain for being stuck in a bad middle seat, why not let those who want a free gift choose  to go with that seat? Why not make the luggage experience more hassle-free? Why not think of ways to make the waiting time at the gate be better?  Poppi might not be a reality yet, but I hope it follows in Uber’s footsteps to shake things up.

Finale: Delta/KLM and the broken stroller

At the beginning of January I reported my experience traveling across the ocean with an infant alone and arriving in Amsterdam to a destroyed stroller (see: Delta/KLM and the broken stroller). At that point the customer experience with Delta/KLM was pretty good as they responded quickly to my official online claim and agreed to pay to repair the stroller or for a new one. Now, a month and a half later I can officially say that that this issue has successfully concluded, but, not without a little snafu of course.  We immediately went to the store where we had originally purchased the UppaBaby and were told that the damage was not repairable. We left our information as the distributor had to get back in touch to give the store an official cost estimate. Five days later when I still hadn’t heard anything back, I called the store and was told that the distributor was out of the office for a few days (or did they forget?). In any case, a few hours after the call I received by email the pro forma invoice totally the damage at 601€. I immediately forwarded everything to Delta/KLM, and a few days later received a pleasant email apologizing again for the damage and saying that I would be receiving 499€ in my bank account in a couple weeks. What a minute… I would have to pay the 100€ difference?! KLM email To this email I responded that this was not acceptable and again attached all documents as justification. Since Delta/KLM had been so efficient in responding to my online messages previously I was expecting a rapid response. However, two weeks later I had still not heard back and finally was forced to pick up the phone. Why hadn’t I just picked up the phone in the first place? Well, as the customer service game sometimes goes here in Spain, the number to call was not toll-free. And I was unable to find a free alternative number (See When It Doesn’t Pay to Call Customer Service). I was pretty adamant about not paying to call their customer service, but at the end of the day I had no choice as they were not responding. Fortunately, when I finally called, the customer service rep was extremely nice, apologized again, and within 5 minutes had reviewed my record, confirmed there was an error and immediately issued the processing of the remaining 100€ to my account. Phew. Final KL email Overall, there was a bit of a disconnect between the information sent to Delta/KLM and the final result, as well as the last email that didn’t receive a response…. however, in the end, I have to say that I’m pretty happy that the airline is taking responsibility and paying. Maybe they’ll be more careful in the future since, for them, they basically just paid back my plane ticket. Note: if something like this ever happens it’s very important to file the claim directly at the airline incident desk in the airport when it happens.

Delta-KLM broken stroller experience 3

Delta/KLM and the broken stroller (continued)

I must admit that I was quite skeptic about the response I would receive from the damage claim I filed with Delta/KLM. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

Technically, there really shouldn’t have been any question since they broke the stroller during my transatlantic flight from Boston to Amsterdam. (see International Travel Alone with an Infant…) However, as I’m not used to what one would exactly call “good” customer service, I was expecting the worst and a 1000 euro loss.

In order to move the claim forward I had to fill out additional information on the Delta web site and was requested to upload additional information (images of boarding pass, stroller damage, original receipt). Strangely, there was no open comments space to write any additional information. I wanted to tell my side of the story, so I uploaded a pdf document titled “URGENT” with additional information to let them know that they destroyed the only stroller I have and the urgency of the matter.

Tip: whenever you travel, don’t throw away anything (boarding passes, tickets for checked  baggage, tickets for baggage checked at the plane door, etc.) until the entire trip is over and you’re sure you don’t need it anymore. And, if anything happens, make the damage claim asap, directly in the airport where it happened at the service desk, if possible.

First, I received an automated email from Delta/KLM thanking me for my claim and letting me know that usually they responded within 10 days, but due to delays I should expect a longer wait time. Wonderful. So much for my urgency.

Delta email 1

However, much to my surprise, five days (4 working days) later I received a personalized email apologizing for the damage and telling me how to go about getting the repair/replacement done and how Delta-KLM would pay for it! I’m now in the process of getting the necessary paperwork from the store to finish this claim and get reimbursed.

Delta email 2

Mistakes and problems happen. What is important is the way that the companies deal with these mistakes and the overall experience for the client. So far, Delta-KLM is getting a good grade in my book!

International travel alone with an infant, a layover, and a broken stroller (Part II – Delta/KLM)

Unfortunately, similar to the trip with my infant at 4 months, I had a negative experience on the trip back home to Spain that marked the entire trip.

The plane ride from Boston-Amsterdam went more or less smoothly after securing the baby bassinet. (Note: I was told at check-in in Boston that they couldn’t assign me the seat with the baby bassinet. Apparently the only way to do this was to go to the counter at the gate and request it. I still don’t understand why this was not possible as I was given the baby bassinet on the way going…) Tip: make sure to get to the gate early to be the first to request the bassinet. I was the first in line and was able to get my seat switched, but if I hadn’t been lucky… Also, note that the bassinet weight limit is 25 lbs (printed directly on the bassinet), although the flight attendants mistakenly told me it was 10 lbs before attaching it to the wall.

When I arrived in Amsterdam with my infant half asleep and my 3 carry-on bags in my arms, I stepped out of the plane to find my (not cheap) stroller completely broken (and dirty). Delta had completely broken the stroller frame on both sides, and I was unable to put my infant in it. Not the best way to be greeted when you’re traveling alone and have a layover to catch. Fortunately, the Delta/KLM agents in Amsterdam were helpful and accompanied me to the KLM desk to file a damage report on-site and helped me to tape up the stroller enough to be able to put my infant in it to walk to my next flight. Tip: buy a cheap stroller for traveling. We only have one expensive stroller and traveled with this one, but damage to a 200 euro stroller isn’t as bad as that to a 1000 euro one…

broken side 1Broken stroller frontBroken stroller side zoom

Now the next test will be the response to the detailed damage claim that I just filed online with Delta. Supposedly I should receive a response in 10 days. To be continued…