When the Premium Customer Experience isn’t so ‘Premium’

I may be especially sensitive to customer experiences because I work in the field & hence why this story I am about to share is so startling. It brought back all the stories I read in Jeanne Bliss’ book, “Would you do that to your Mother.” The only major difference – the company was staunch on its response – why yes, I would. It’s her fault, not ours.

If you travel often, you may hold one of those fancy credit cards that give you access to over 1000 Priority lounges globally. I am one of those with first world problems. In fact, I don’t have one of those cards but two from two different companies because my husband travels often and as spouses, we get access to each other’s slightly different perks.

Most recently, I traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia (B.C.) on my way to visit my family in Interior British Columbia. Since I had an hour between flights, I pulled out my AMEX and 2 Priority Passes and proceeded to a ‘Plaza Premium Lounge’ in Terminal C. The woman chose my AMEX, swiped it and handed it back without much a welcome. I didn’t sign anything and thought it was odd that she didn’t slide my Priority Pass card as well. Since I was tired from waking up at 4 AM to catch my early SFO flight, I didn’t think much of it and walked in thinking they probably just need my AMEX to give me free access.

I enjoyed some quiet reading, a coffee, and a biscuit and then proceeded to my flight to the Interior B.C. When I arrived, like most of us do, I checked my email on my iPhone as the plane taxied to the airport. My husband had forwarded me a $54 charge from the Premium Lounge and asked why I was being charged. Later on that afternoon, I called AMEX and asked them why they charged me for something I never signed for and for something I typically have as part of my yearly fee. They told me they couldn’t see the charge yet but to call the Lounge and have it reversed as clearly this was a mistake. I called the 1-800 # on the back of My Premium card and that is when the term ‘customer experience’ kicks into play.

I explained to the agent my predicament and politely asked for a charge reversal explaining I had two priority pass cards and would happily read them to her. The woman proceeded to lecture me on the policy:

  1. I can’t help you.
  2. You need to call the lounge directly and take up the issue with them.
  3. No, I am not allowed to give the lounge’s phone number (YES she actually said this!)
  4. It is up to you to make sure you read each lounge policy and ask if you are being charged for coming in. —> What does this mean? Am I supposed to read up on each lounge policy before I enter?

Instead of stooping down to her rude answers, I asked to talk to a manager. The manager reiterated the four points above but I did convince her to give me the lounge’s direct number…except for the line ‘conveniently’ dropped when she was about to give it to me.

Not wanting to deal with the above experience again, I called the Vancouver International airport and asked for the terminal C Premium Lounge number. The attendant gave me the number but when I called, the person who answered said I have the wrong lounge and gave me another lounge number. I left three messages on the answering machine over the next three days, never receiving a callback. Yesterday, I finally got through and a woman said,”I’m sorry this happened but I’m new here and my manager isn’t in.’ Can I take down your number and call you back?” Of course, I didn’t get a callback – ye – if ever…

Today, (ie. Aug 25th), on the way back to the USA, I stopped at the lounge, not for a coffee, but to talk to the manager. The three people who did talk to me told me they couldn’t help me because I didn’t insist the attendant to swipe my priority pass and that I should go back to the 1-800 on the back of my card and talk to a manager.

Floored, I grabbed my cards that I showed them and walked out.

I emailed the support as a last resort explaining my wrongful charge and pretty much received the same story – “your problem, not mine.”

Writing this story can either upset me or make me chuckle because it doesn’t even seem possible that in 2018, a company with 1100+ lounges around the world would allow its customers to experience this type of event. Short of going back to AMEX and asking to dispute the $54 charge, one is left to wrongly pay a charge they should have been charged.

I do hope the head of the customer service at Premium Lounges reads my blog as I would like to offer free advice on improving customer experiences in their lounges.

  1. First impressions matter: If an employee is working at the front desk, teach them how to greet customers – with a smile and with communication that tells the customer which card gets them in free and which card results in a charge. When I compare the Premium lounge experiences to other lounges, it is far from a pleasant first impression. Anyone who works in customer success or service will tell that it is the first impression that matters most during a customer journey because if you don’t have an initially good experience, it is a slippery slope from there
  2. Be Honest: Do not let a customer in the lounge without signing a receipt that you email or print that shows them EXACTLY what they are signing up for, including a charge. I have no idea why my credit card was swiped and not my priority pass. I feel cheated and taken advantage of. If I had a piece of paper that showed me what I signed up for, then the onus would be on me for not having read my receipt with a charge before sign it.
  3. Provide ‘Real Customer Service’: this means to offer a way to file an issue and feedback with a timeframe on the expected response. Why do you offer phone support when the person on the other end can’t help me? Each avenue I took led me to a dead end, rude person or spinning wheel.
  4. Read Jeanne Bliss’ Book, “Would you do that to your Mother?”:  It gives real-life examples, like mine, where companies recognized they had a broken customer experience and reinvented it to provide customer satisfaction while still making money.

I’ve had far from favorable experiences with other companies but through communication with the support, I have been always able to get some sort of resolution that left me feeling we compromised but got through the difficult experience. After being a Priority Pass Holder for years, this experience has really moved me enough to write about it. I hope other customer experience leaders will read this as well and recognize the power of the voice-of-the-customer. With Social Media, the influence of friends-telling-friends, and the choices we have in products, mediocre or bad customer service isn’t good enough anymore.

On a positive note, I called AMEX back after my poor experience with the phone email support and they gladly agreed to dispute the charge. They quickly understood the issue & agreed the partnership AMEX and Priority Pass Holds is important and would never charge a client a fee without having them understand:

  1. Exactly what they are paying for – provide a receipt, SOW etc depending on what industry you work for. Don’t beat around the bush. It will come back to bite you and cause churn.
  2. Show empathy
  3. Smile

It’s time to rethink your customer experience from the customer’s point-of-view and start again.


Published by Customer Growth Advisor

Emilia D'Anzica is the founder of Customer Growth Advisors. The company was acquired by Winning By Design in December 2018. She is a senior technology business leader with nearly 20 years of delivering customer outcomes. Leveraging extensive comprehension of and talent for customer success transformation, Emilia is a valuable asset for tech, e-retail, recruitment, HR, communications, and telecom industries seeking expert assistance with digital transformation, building a customer success team from scratch, customizing professional services, creating exceptional company cultures, and establishing scalable operations and processes. Prior to launching her own consulting firm, she was the Vice President of Customer Engagement at WalkMe™ for three years where she built the customer success team and customer marketing team across four global locations. The team won a 2016 Customer Service Award from Stevie's as a result of her transformational work. Previously, Emilia served as a Director of Customer Success for both BrightEdge and Jobvite, scaling programs and teams globally. Emilia has been recognized as one of the “Top-25 Customer Success Influencers” and a 'Top 100 Customer Success Strategists' by Mindtouch. She was also recently named as one of the '7 most influential women in Customer Sucess'. Emilia has served as public school board member and part of a Parent Action Coalition in San Francisco, making a lifetime commitment to supporting public schools because it was those teachers who had the largest impact on her future. In addition, Emilia served on two SaaS advisory boards, Crowdvocate, and Catalyst, and has been on other boards over the past decade. Emilia holds a Masters of Business Administration (MBA), with Honors Distinction, from Saint Mary’s College of California. She focused on global strategy and competition. She attained a Bachelor of Arts Degree with a Canadian Studies Major, and a Social History Minor, from the University of British Columbia. You can contact Emilia at Emilia@winningbydesign.com.

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