Recently, I made a last minute booking to attend a conference in Newark, New Jersey. So late was the booking that I was the last person to book on a plane departing from Manchester, UK to New York, JFK.
The Thursday before takeoff, I received an email from Thomas Cook Airlines explaining that my plane had been changed to a new aircraft operated by AirTanker and there was no need to worry. Following this, I got a call on my mobile from Thomas Cook late evening Friday having finished the working week. They regrettably informed me that because I was the last person to book the flight and that the new aircraft had less capacity, I would not be able to board on Monday.
The alternatives offered by Thomas Cook were not exactly satisfactory. Option one was to travel down South to London Stansted, just outside London, and the alternative was to board the same plane but a day earlier. With a young family and juggling birthdays, this was unacceptable so I decided to push back and complain.
Getting inbound calls from Thomas Cook is one thing, trying to call them is something else. I spent at least 1 hour and a half on hold with phone call transfers from one department to the next. The customer experience needed a lot to be desired with each department passing the book.
Thankfully, on Saturday I was called again and a few hours later having pushed back again I managed to stay on the original aircraft. I could have got 600 euros of compensation for my flight being cancelled. However, I wanted to see if Thomas Cook could solve my problem.
So here is a little bit more into how I tackled the situation which involved a multi channel approach. Alongside taking to the phones and being one hour on call waiting, I also conducted a live chat via the Thomas Cook website. The irony of live chat was after much back and forth I was advised to call the contact centre, which seemed counter intuitive. Other approaches I made included emailing various Managing Directors and the CEO himself to complain about the mishap.
Now, you could say that this extra dimension of contact added complexity to the situation or you could also see if one department talked to each other. The reality was that the left hand was not talking to the right and an audit trail of my customer journey wasn’t easily accessible for staff. This lack of communication and joined up thinking came to a head when shortly after I received a call from a customer service agent that I could stay on my flight, another person rang me to continue to apologise about that fact I had to move.
Now, I’m told Thomas Cook are bringing in new business processes from September and they are aware of the broken process of automated email informing customers they don’t need to worry when they do.
The whole experience got me thinking about what if there was a better way. Coincidentally, I was journeying all the way to America to attend the Voice Summit AI, which is all about how voice can bring about a better customer experience through new technologies. Thomas Cook is an airline company, not a technology company, but this traditional travel agent could massively improve productivity and profitability whilst increasing customer experience with a voice first approach.
In my kitchen prior to departing, I asked Alexa to ask SkyScanner for flights to New York and after a few qualifying questions I was made aware of the options and prices. What if Thomas Cook had an Alexa app which could answer my question. Perhaps I would not have had to wait one and a half hours on the phone? All I needed was the reassurance of what stage my query was at and the next steps in the process. Using instant voice messaging, I would have heard the empathy of the Thomas Cook customer service team and they would have had an audit trail of who said what which would be instantly searchable.
I’m sure all travel agencies will adopt Alexa skills, instant voice messaging and other artificial intelligence to make the customer experience delightful. It’s just a pity that the business to consumer technology space always seems to be ahead of the business to business tech capabilities.
We have Alexa Echos and other smart speakers in the home but these new opportunities such as multi modal voice experiences have yet to be realised in business. The sooner business adopt voice controlled technologies for a new era, perhaps we can all be saved from IVR and more traditional call waiting, which bears the most terrible music jingled and the words “We thank you for being patient, your call is important to us we will be with you shortly”. In the now economy, saying “We will be with your shortly” will let your competition win. What customers actually want is instant gratification and if they can’t get this with you they will go and shop elsewhere.
Voice first allows all staff in your business to search all the conversations with customers including the boss.
Sean Gilligan is a UK based entrepreneur and author of the book “Flexible”. Sean for the last 15 years has run Webanywhere in Chicago, Leeds and Katowice Poland. Sean is number 67 in the Worldwide Listing of Corporate Learning Movers & Shakers 2018. Sean is a bootstrapper and has not taken on outside capital to grow Webanywhere in 3 countries and has recently founded Ventures Anywhere his start up arm which includes Sound Branch.