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What Banks can Learn from Airline Customer Service Failures

Topics: Customer Service
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AirplaneWe live in a world where instant is an expectation. We can get online and order just about anything with a mouse click, we have instant messaging and television on demand. With all of the amazing technology advances around us we still have a long way to go to provide realtime servicing assistance. If we can book an airline ticket or apply for a credit card in realtime, the ensuing interactions should be just as painless. Unfortunately they often aren’t, but they could be.

Here are two examples, courtesy of the airlines. It only takes a few seconds to select a seat when you are booking an airline ticket online. How could changing that seat be an hour long ordeal? Here’s how. The flight was on US Airways, but it was operated by United Airlines. I couldn’t access my reservation online so I called United. The United customer service representative (CSR) referred me to US Airways who in turn referred me back to United. Why? Only United was authorized to make the seat change but they could not find my reservation. US Airways found my reservation, but were not authorized to make the change. In this case, two airlines with different systems were unable to communicate—same flight numbers, same passenger names, but different confirmation codes for the same reservation. Obviously, their systems were not designed for the realtime, multi-carrier world of today.

Within two weeks of this experience several hours were lost trying to manage flight cancellations and rebooking through United again. We spent hours waiting in line at the airport to speak with the help desk because our flight delay was going to result in a missed connection. When we finally reached the counter, they couldn’t find a new connecting flight to get us to our destination in time for our business meetings. By this time our incoming flight had been cancelled entirely, so the airline refunded our tickets. In hindsight that was the wrong decision. When we attempted to rebook flights the next day, the fares had doubled. The flight cancellations were due to mechanical problems with our plane so we assumed the airline would work with us. On our first call we were given the option to keep the same fare with a $150 change fee per ticket. When we called back to rebook under those terms, we were told we had to pay the full fare and there were no other options. Several phone conversations later there still wasn’t a satisfactory resolution.

There are several factors that caused the lack of a realtime (or even reasonable) response in these scenarios from system barriers to a lack of integration and inconsistent policy. The same issues apply in other industries, including banking. Whether you have legacy technology that is unable to respond in realtime, multiple systems that can’t communicate with one another or a lack of consistency across customer interaction channels, the complexity of any business environment should never impact the customer negatively.

Banks are particularly vulnerable due to the typically siloed nature of their lines of business and multiple channels for customer interaction. If a customer walks into a bank branch after attempting to apply for a credit card online and the CSR is unaware of the offer and unable to assist, there is a lost opportunity. CSR’s need insight into the customer experience across all channels, the right information to assist every customer and the authority to make decisions in order to positively impact customer service overall. What could be seamless transactions turns into frustrated customers, who may take their business elsewhere if any of these elements are missing from the service arsenal. With branch culture changing from merely transactional (i.e. check cashing, deposits, etc.) to a greater emphasis on sales, this is even more critical today as well as the future of branch banks.

There will always be situations where realtime is not possible but it is critical to make customer interactions as uncomplicated as possible. Returning to the airline example, I cringed when I had another missed flight connection shortly after the United Airlines experiences. This time I was flying on a different airline. To my surprise Delta automatically rebooked new connecting flights for all the passengers impacted by the delay automatically. No waiting in line, no hassle, just boarding passes delivered right into our hands for the new flight. If Delta was able to achieve that, there’s no reason others airlines and industries can’t follow suit.

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Karen Gordon

About Karen Gordon

Karen Gordon has worked in the marketing group at Zoot Enterprises for the past 6 years and has more than 18 years of experience in management and public relations. While earning her master’s degree she learned the importance of promoting an organization’s image and creating a positive buzz about its offerings. In her role at Zoot, Karen leads the company’s public relations program. When she’s not chasing down technology reporters you can find her on the nearest tennis court chasing fuzzy, yellow balls. Follow Karen on LinkedIn, or Twitter @karenrgordon.

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