This has nothing to do with healthcare, but it’s the most priceless example I’ve seen in a long time of Not Customer-Oriented Thinking, and perhaps Scary Workflow, both of which do apply to healthcare sometimes.

United logoAs a Boston-based traveler, I have United and StarAlliance as my main airline network. Last night I tried to merge my United and Continental frequent flyer accounts (post-merger), and it didn’t work because my name’s slightly different in the two systems.

(Hm, that is a common problem in healthcare. Anyway:)

To resolve this I had to fill out a form on the United site, and get my issue into their system. I did it, and 2 minutes later look what I got: an out-of-office email from their computer:

Out of Office AutoReply: Web Request for Mileage Plus – General Member

Thank you for contacting the Mileage Plus Service Center.

We have received your email and are committed to responding to your inquiry as soon as possible.

Our current response times are longer than normal due to unusually high volumes. Please allow up to 7 days for a response. We appreciate your patience and ask that you do not send follow up emails prior to this time, as it may result in further delays.

A reminder… you can visit us any time at www.united.com/mileageplus.  While online, you can manage your profile, set up your preferences and request retro credit. You also have the opportunity to print your membership card, update your account details and view current promotions.

If you have not yet traveled and need assistance with your travel plans (reservations, fares, flight information, rescheduling or seat assignments), you can access www.united.com for additional information. If you prefer to speak with an agent, phone numbers are also available online at www.united.com/contactunited.

Sincerely,

The Mileage Plus Service Center

Wow. Aside from simply looking clueless, this suggests that unlike most modern businesses, United’s customer loyalty program doesn’t have a system that tracks open support issues. Such systems allow managing workflow, tracking statistics for continuous improvement, etc. But I bet these emails are just going to an in-box on some PC somewhere. An actual Outlook inbox, not a system.

And someone set it to send an out-of-office auto-response. And they didn’t even edit the subject line, so instead of “We received your request” it says “Out of Office.”

I especially like the threat that if you email them again (“do not send follow up emails”), it’ll cost you (“further delays”). :–)

If anyone from United is out there and would care to correct me I’d welcome it. Until then, I’ll just be amused – and wait.

Lessons for healthcare? Not all IT implementation requires being a genius. Sometimes all you need to do is think how this will look to your customer.

(Being an empowered consumer I would ordinarily write to them about this, but I received my warning and I’m not willing to risk it… :–)

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