Nice Meeting You Again, Again

May 11, 2015


Yesterday, I placed a call to an airline to get some assistance with changing my flight. It wasn’t a difficult request (checking on the possibility of standing by on another flight), and the call should have taken 1 or 2 minutes, depending on whether the answer was no or yes. As you’ve probably already figured, that’s not exactly what happened.

After dialing the number, I was transitioned to an automated voice recognition system with questionable listening skills. Miraculously, the system recognized the phone number I was calling from, and welcomed me back. However, despite knowing who I was, the system did not happen to also have access to my flight information. I did my best diction coach impersonation at an inappropriately loud volume in order to ensure the system understood my answers to the following questions:

  • Departure date (today)
  • Departure city (Dallas)
  • Destination city (San Francisco)
  • Approximate departure time (6:00)

After a series of garbled video game noises, I was presented with two possible flight options: one that went non-stop to San Francisco, and the other that first flew to Charlotte (yes, the one in North Carolina, at the opposite coast of the country) and then on to San Francisco. Which of these two, the first flight or the second flight, was mine? I selected the first flight (and the only sane option), and was rewarded by being told that they had found my flight.

Now, four minutes later, the system finally thought to ask me why I was calling. I politely explained that I wanted to change my flight, and after more garbling, I was told that there would be an 8 minute wait for an agent. The good news is that I didn’t have to wait on hold – the system would call me back when it was my turn! How wonderful, I thought. That’s a nice improvement. But before I could revel in the one positive element of this experience, the system asked me to enter my phone number. The same phone number that they recognized when I first called. I obliged, and also recorded my full name, confirmed that I entered my phone number correctly, and hung up.

12 minutes later (not 8), I received a call back from the system that said “This is a call back for valued customer. When they are available press any key.” I was finally connected to a real person, who asked me to provide the same flight information again, and who, in 1 minute, told me that standby was not available. I think it may have been quicker to drive to the airport and ask there instead.

This is but one example of many right now that highlights the importance of technology and data systems integration into the customer experience. I have one colleague who has been unsuccessfully trying to change his name in the system with one retailer for roughly a year. No matter the channel he attempts the change (website and in-store), within a month he is back to receiving communications as “LASTNAME MIDDLENAME” instead of “FIRSTNAME LASTNAME.”

Customers are becoming more discerning about who they share their contact information with every day, and they expect that companies who collect that information will use it to make the experience better. Sadly, piecemeal attempts to roll out components of improved functionality can fail if they are not broadly implemented and well integrated. In the above situation, I may have actually had a better experience if the system hadn’t asked me for any information, remembered my phone number, and told me right away they would call me back later.

In short, don’t ask me what my name is if you don’t have the intent (and the ability) to remember it the next time we interact.