This week’s edition of IT Hiccups focuses on the two different customer service reactions to IT errors, a nice one by Amazon UK and a not so nice one on the part of Singapore Airlines.
According to the Daily Mail, a student at the University of Liverpool by the name of Robert Quinn started to receive a plethora of packages from Amazon at his family’s home in Bromley, South London that he hadn’t ordered. The 51 packages included a baby buggy, a Galaxy Pro tablet, a 55-inch 3-D Samsung television set, a Sony PSP console, an electric wine cooler, a leaf blower, a bed, a bookcase and a chest of drawers, among other things. In total, the 51 items were worth some £3,600 (US $5,650).
The Daily Mail reported that Quinn called up Amazon and asked what was going on. According to Quinn, Amazon told him that people must be “gifting” the items to him. That surprised Quinn, since he didn’t know the people who were supposedly gifting him the items. Quinn told the Mail that he speculated that there was some sort of computer glitch affecting the Amazon’s purchase return address labels, since the items all looked as though they were meant to be sent back to Amazon by their original purchasers.
Quinn told the Mail:
I was worried that people were losing out on their stuff so I phone Amazon again and said I’m happy to accept these gifts if they are footing the cost, but I’m not happy if these people are going to lose out. But Amazon said ‘it’s on us.
The Mail checked with Amazon, who confirmed Quinn’s story. While not confirming that a computer problem affecting its return labels was the cause for the errant packages, Amazon didn’t go out of its way to deny it.
Quinn, who is an engineering student, later told the Mail that packages were still arriving. Quinn indicated that he was going to give some of the items he has received to charity, and then sell the rest to fund “an ‘innovative’ new [electric] cannabis grinder” he was designing.
Whereas Amazon played Santa, Singapore Airlines decided instead to take on the role of Scrooge last week. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, when Singapore Airlines uploaded its business class fares for trips from Australia to Europe into a global ticket distribution system, it instead mistakenly uploaded its economy fare prices. As a result, instead of paying US $5,000 for a business class ticket, travel agents sold over 900 tickets for $2,900 before Singapore Airlines fixed the problem.
Singapore Airlines decided that its mispricing mistake wasn’t, in fact, its problem, but the travel agents’. The Herald reported that the airline, “told travel agents who sold the cheap tickets that they will have to seek the difference between the actual price and what they should have sold for from their customers, or foot the bill themselves,” if their customers want to fly in business class.
Singapore Airlines admitted, according to a Fox Newsstory, that while it had recently “recently reassigned a booking subclass originally designated to economy class bookings to be used for business class bookings from December 8, 2014,” which could cause confusion, “the airfare conditions for the fare clearly stated that it was only valid for economy class travel.” In other words, we may have screwed up, but the travel agents should have caught our error anyway.
Scrooge would indeed be proud.
Last year, both Delta and United Airlines decided to honor online fare errors, in the latter case even when fares were priced at $0.
Update: The Daily Mail is now reporting that Singapore Airlines has decided to honor the mispriced tickets after all. Tiny Tim must be rejoicing.
In Other News ….
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.