Friday, July 11, 2014

This a Job for an English Major!

When I majored in English Language and Literature and then went on to earn an M.A. in the same subject, the question often was--"What are you going to DO with those degrees?" or  "How are you going to get a job?" The common argument for the "usefulness" of the Liberal Arts was that I was going to know how to think, how to do research, how to write, how to express ideas--to teach, to persuade, etc. Now I find out that I--were I a recent graduate--could help airlines apologize, according to this article in The Wall Street Journal, as "Carriers Deploy Software, English Majors to Tell Angry Fliers They're Sorry for Mistakes in Flight":

United Airlines, which had the highest rate of complaints filed at the DOT among major airlines the past three years, has a team of about 450 customer-care agents handling general issues and refunds. Add to that 400 people handing (sic) frequent-flier program issues and about 100 answering baggage-related letters and emails.

Delta Air Lines employs 150 people in Atlanta and Minneapolis to email answers to angry—and complimentary—customers. Many get letter-writing training and are experienced airport agents used to dealing directly with customers.

Airlines say they try to make responses conversational and personal. They aim to apologize and acknowledge the problem, providing more information about the particular situation after research, then offering some compensation as a goodwill gesture, such as some frequent-flier miles. Letters are signed by an employee, though many use pseudonyms.

Complaints are sorted by complexity and by the value of the customer—top-tier frequent fliers and big spenders get priority. A low-level customer may get 3,000 frequent-flier miles for a canceled flight, while a high-value customer who complains is soothed with 10,000 miles.

Agents research incidents to verify and provide explanations. Complaints also are tracked so airlines can peg frequent complainers trawling for extra miles or discounts.

Customer feedback is compiled into reports for top executives, and individual letters—complaint or compliment—do get forwarded to supervisors and employees, airlines say.

American Airlines uses a library of responses built over the years that agents can search and then customize. That allows for consistency and accuracy in responses. "We've gone completely away from corporate-speak to personally showing empathy," said John Romantic, American's managing director of service recovery.

The print article contains additional detail about Southwest Airlines, which employs 200 agents just to respond to customer complaints and compliments. "It's an entry-level job for college graduates. Southwest also employs proofreaders, often English majors."

My first job out of the graduate school as as a proofreader at an advertising agency.

As I was pursuing those degrees, however, my ideal was Blessed John Henry Newman's--that a liberal education was a good in itself, as knowledge is a good in itself, without needing application or usefulness to prove its worth. I'm certainly not sorry about that.

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