Today was traveling on behest of a large corporation, so the travel arrangements were made through them. It all went about as routinely as could be expected on the last weekend before Christmas… for me.
Unfortunately the guy I am supposed to meet here had flights going through D.C. that were on a collision trajectory with a snow storm on the east coast today. Flight cancelled.
OK, I need to continue on, then shift my departure out 24 hours – hang around here another day.
Fortunately at the bottom of the itinerary emailed by the corporate travel company is the handy “In case of problems” etc. phone number:
CONTACT xxx TRAVEL 1-800-3xx-xxxx
So I call the number.
A couple of layers of voice menu prompts (including a reminder that airlines are implementing luggage policies, please check your airline’s web site – totally useless information that only delays the response I am trying to get), I end up with the “hold music” being reminded periodically that “Your call is important to us…” etc.
A human comes on the line and I am cheerfully informed that this is not the 800 number I should call. I am reminded that MY reservation was made through the online system (which it was not, I talked to a human being when I made it), and that I need to call “them.” And, kindly, I am forwarded to “them.”
After 20 minutes of hold music, my plane is boarding, so I have to drop the call.
Try again from the seat.
Different initial operator who makes a little more effort to make me wrong for calling the ONLY number that they print on the itinerary they send, otherwise same result. They are closing the cabin door, I have to drop the call.
There actually is a lesson here.
What defines how well a process or system works is not so much the individual components, but the interfaces between them. In this case the “interface,” if you can call it that, is the hapless (and irritated) customer. I am the one who has to integrate various otherwise separate components of this fractured process.
The other story is the reason they were likely so busy today. After all, a major snow storm socked the east coast and caused havoc in the flight schedules that went through there. I am sure there were plenty of people who were impacted, and calling them for assistance re-booking flights, etc. And after all, there really is no way to predict when that will happen so they could be prepared, right? The really cool thing about 21st century communications technology is that you can can not only monitor live weather conditions and radar in real time, if you need to react, “extra people” don’t even need to leave home to be available… they don’t even need to be in the same state or even country. It is possible to plan and prepare for extraordinary mind-boggling never-forget-it customer service, if it is important to you.
In the end, it is about making a conscious decision about the experience you really want your customer to have, and then structuring your processes, deliberately, to deliver that experience – and be sensitive and alert you when they do not. It is not that big a shift from “serving customers” to “customer service,” nor does it cost more in the long haul. “Quality is free” – if you understand how to do it.