Virgin America : Flagging up problems

Customer issue management is neither serious nor comprehensive enough.

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The Site

Virgin America, a California-based US domestic airline, alerts customers to problems with its online systems in a way that is not serious or comprehensive enough. The feature Virgin America customers have being experiencing severe problems with a range of on-site features including flight booking and trip management since it switched to a new online reservation system at the end of October 2011. The home page now includes a red-highlighted News Alert banner at the top, above the header, with a link to an ‘Advisory’ page that details the known problems that the site currently has. The home page’s central carousel includes as one of its four panels the message ‘If you’re experiencing web issues: Pardon our jetlag. We’re putting the finishing touches on our new reservation system, and we appreciate your patience’. A Learn more link leads through to information headed ‘We’re shaping up our back end’ that includes a short overview of and apology for the problems, related news alerts and a set of FAQs. The same page is reached from a smaller panel on the home page that uses the identical headline. The News Alert banner is not present on pages other than home, including those in the Book travel and Manage travel sections.

The Takeaway

Virgin America appears to be making a good job of managing the ongoing nightmare in which it finds itself, but the people on the receiving end of the problems might not be so happy with its treatment of them. While the tone of its messages to them – ‘Pardon our jetlag’, ‘We’re shaping up our back end’ – is in keeping with the airline’s brand of informal bonhomie, it seems misplaced and condescending when what customers want is reassurance that their issues are being treated seriously. The clumsy re-pointing of existing material means it goes only part way in convincing them that it is. For anyone arriving at the home page, the News Alert link is prominent and does lead to a detailed status report and advice. The panel in the carousel is less satisfactory as a high-profile link, however, because it is only intermittently visible. And both it and the static ‘We’re shaping up’ panel lead to a page that was clearly prepared for the run up to the switchover. This much is obvious from the self-congratulatory tone of the page, including the FAQs, even though an overview has been added by way of a postscript, As for anyone coming directly to the booking and management sections – to check-in online, for example – they will only become aware of problems by encountering them.
First published 29 November, 2011
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