A @United #VRM story with a happy ending

ProjectVRM 2015-02-01

Yesterday I left my iPad on a United airplane and got it back. How it happened is a story of sCRM (social Customer Relationship Management) and VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) at work.

The flight was United 934 from Los Angeles to London. When I arrived at around 11am, I did my usual checking around my seat for things easily lost and forgotten: my wallet, passport, earphones, camera, lens cap, phone, iPad, USB and AC power cables and so on. And, as always, I looked under and around the seat and in the seat pocket in front of me.

Where I failed was with the seat pocket. The iPad is a new-ish one (an Air), which is much thinner and lighter than my old one (the original model). It was stuffed with thicker magazines, barf bag, Sky Mall and so on, in the pocket-within-the pocket. I didn’t see or feel it when I looked in there. It wasn’t until I got to London and set up my laptop and other gear that I realized I had forgotten it.

After going through about ten minutes of self-recrimination for my stupidity, I called United and got walked through the process of filing a lost item report, deep inside the company website. Then I called Heathrow’s lost & found number, which (it turns out) is an independent contractor that works only with certain airlines and terminals. United and Terminal 2 are not among them. Then I fired up my FindMyiPhone app, but alas the iPad was offline. (It’s a Verizon/CDMA model, while all my other cellular devices are T-Mobile/GSM, so it won’t work outside North Amercia; so it’s Wi-Fi only.)

Then I went on Twitter and started this exchange:

  1. @United just left my iPad at Seat 31k of UA 934 at Heathrow. Can you have somebody check on it before the plane turns around? Thanks! #vrm

  2. @dsearls (3/3) turned in. They checked with the supervisors. This link http://bit.ly/1y7rCHq  can also help. Hopefully it turns up.^CA

  3. @united Thanks for your help. I’m at LHR now and I’m told it’s found. Awaiting delivery. #vrm

  4. @dsearls Great news..I had them looking for it. Thanks for flying with us. Happy New Year.^CA

    6:45 AM – 13 Jan 2015 · Details

Between #2 and #3, my wife said “Go out there.” This had worked for her a few years back when she forgot her carry-on bag in a shuttle van from Logan Airport in Boston. Se went out there and got help from lots of friendly human beings — especially the police, with whom she sat watching video cameras, live, to spot the van in which she left the bag.

I had the same good luck at Heathrow.

When I got there I went to the check-in kiosk in front of the United counter at Terminal 2, where a pair of kind young professionals immediately went to work helping me after I told them my flight and seat numbers. The woman looked up the flight and the gate, got on her phone and called somebody she knew who was in a position to locate the iPad. (I’m assuming this person was at the gate, but I don’t know for sure.) After a few minutes of conversation, she said, “We’ve got it,” and told me it would take about 45 minutes to ferry it in from the gate. After about that much time, her male co-worker brought over the iPad, had me punch in the code on the front (to make sure it was mine), and I was on my way.

The VRM part of this was all human, and depended on the good will (and available time) of the people involved. The only facilitating system in place was cellular telephony. @United’s lost & found, and sCRM system might have brought back the iPad in the long run, what worked was face-to-face interaction.

Is it possible to scale that? I think so, but we can’t depend on vendors alone to do the scaling. In fact, I think they’ve gone as far as they can. (In @United’s case by monitoring social media closely,  with human beings.)

We need standardized tools on the individual’s side — first person technologies — that scale across multiple vendors. (In this case, for example, across United, Heathrow and public safety systems.)

I have thoughts on specifics here, but before I get into them, I’d like to hear what readers say. (I’m also late for a meeting.)