I am visiting several clients in Toronto next week, and I’d planned on flying up using a non-refundable ticket booked two months ago. I have high standing in the airline’s loyalty program, and when I had to delay my return to the US by two hours on my return, I expected smooth sailing. I checked seating on the web, and the flight was wide open. I went onto our intranet travel site and found the reservation locked, meaning I couldn’t change it online. Every reader knows what happened next: To fly on the later flight, my $307 round trip ticket would need to be re-ticketed at the new, lowest fee of $840, plus a $150 change fee and $20 service charge for phone service. The ticket agent assured me I was receiving the absolute lowest fair, as the highest economy fair is $2400. NYC/Toronto. No exceptions for level in loyalty program, frequency of flying, total money spent, years as a customer, or the fact that I have four other family members who are also in the loyalty program. Why no exceptions? Fare calculation is an automated, robotic process, and it supersedes calculations of customer loyalty, profitability, spend and ‘influencer’ status. The challenge in changing a process is that each of these functions and processes is owned by a different individual and/or department. Creating a holistic process that computes the best interaction down to the level of the individual traveler is possible, but the change required to coordinate the effort is beyond what most businesses can achieve.
How often is that happening in your organization? In your business? Do you know? Are you sure you know? Have you verified what you believe you know through direction interaction with a sufficiently meaningful statistical slice of the customer base? If all answers are ‘yes’ then you will sleep well tonight. More likely you are strapped with the sometimes grim reality that software costs, development costs, personnel and maintenance and outsourcing costs just suck down too much of your already tiny budget. How then, do the great companies manage to improve customer processes? Well, from what I am seeing it is where sales, marketing, customer service and IT come together under an initiative blessed by the CEO and driven by a chief customer officer (regardless of what they might be called on the business card).
If you have an example or an anecdote of how you pulled off an improvement to the customer experience, post a comment – I know the rest of us will benefit.
And, by the way: I took a credit on the non-refundable ticket, paid the $150 change fee, and found a flight on another carrier for $50 less than my original ticket with my airline, after fees. Loyalty? Am I loyal to an airline? Why be loyal with a company that fails you during ‘moments of truth?’ The irony is: the marketing budget to ‘win loyalty’ far outstrips the IT budget for customer service.
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