Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How Consistent Is Your MultiChannel/Partner Experience?

Image courtesy of Hyougushi
Gone are the days of griping about baggage fees. The airlines have provided us with some new things to gripe about to forget those baggage fees! (You know the old saying... if you have a headache, smash your thumb with a hammer, and then you'll forget all about your headache.)

Last week, I wrote about customer effort and provided some tips to reduce the customer's effort in order to improve the customer experience. I was going to include the story I'm about to write with that post and decided that it was really worthy of a post, and a lesson, all on its own! As you read this story, you'll understand why. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy!

Last week, I was booking a flight on Expedia for myself and my kids for this summer. I searched for and chose my flights, selected my seats, and booked the flight. Sounds easy, right?

Not so fast...

When the confirmation email arrived from Expedia, I had a seat for the outbound flights on American, but my kids didn't! (We were all set for the return flights on United, though.)

Now, anyone who has traveled with young kids knows that this can send you into a panic almost immediately.  Sorry, but I need my kids sitting next to me; and my guess is that the other passengers will appreciate that, as well. Two squirmy boys on a flight can be a challenge for me, let alone for complete strangers. (My kids are well-behaved, but a long flight can set the crazies in motion!)

Back to the experience. I went to the Expedia site and kept trying to select my seats (there were plenty available) on their Seatpointer, but to no avail. Why did it let me select them when I first purchased the tickets?

Finally, I went to aa.com, logged into my account, pulled up my reservation, and got a message that I couldn't assign my seats online for that flight, that I would have to call customer service to do that. Oh, let the fun begin!

Here's the gotcha, the thing that's going to make you forget about baggage fees, especially if you're traveling as a family this summer: aisle and window seats are now considered "preferred" or "premium" seating. And that means it's going to cost extra to sit there! Have any ol' middle seat you want, at no extra cost, but not window or aisle seats. Can I just say, that's not family friendly at all!

So I called American Airlines. This is now channel #3, if you're keeping count. The Expedia site was the first one; aa.com was the second one; and then calling American by phone is the third channel - all that to accomplish what should be a fairly simple task to complete online, via channel #1.

The AA rep suggested that there are middle seats available at no additional charge in rows 12, 17, and 22. Really? I asked her if that was family friendly. She didn't seem to care. As a matter of fact, she didn't react or think twice about it. Instead, she suggested that I could either pay $24 per seat to guarantee three assigned seats together, including those precious aisle and window seats. OR, I could just try to get my seats assigned when I arrive at the gate.

That's the point where I became a bit irate with the rep and said, "What? So I can be at the mercy of two gentlemen who would be so kind as to give up their seats (for which they've paid a premium) so that my kids can sit next to me?" Get this. She said, "Yes." How $#@&^ ludicrous is that?!

What we have here is someone going by the script. She could very easily ignore the script, waive the fee, and allow my kids to sit next to me without gouging me on top of an already ridiculous fare! In the end, I had to relent and pay the fee so that the three of us can sit together.

So, let's run down where we are so far.
  • The partner experience is not working. If your partner is going to offer customers the ability to select and book seats, then honor it. I believe that you are responsible for choosing partners that will honor your commitment to your customers and deliver a great experience on your behalf. Put an SLA in place. And make sure they live up to it.
  • The multichannel experience is broken. If I go to the website or if I call you, I should be able to do the same things. The experience should be seamless. As a matter of fact, if I book online, it's because I'm savvy enough to complete said transaction online; I don't want to have to call you to complete/finalize the deal. Any of it.
  • Allow the customer to engage with you or complete a transaction using whatever channel is most convenient for her; and make sure the entire transaction can be completed in that manner.
  • Your agents run on a script and have no authority or ability to break from it. Sometimes your reps need to forget the script and just do the right thing.
  • You don't know your customers. If you did, you'd never recommend that a mom and her kids are OK with being separated.
O, but wait, it gets better! You know me by now; it's never a short story!

You see... that was only the first leg of the outbound trip. I still had to get our seats for the second leg!

You're going to love this! For the second leg, the rep actually said that I should go online to request my seats! I had already told her why I was calling. I was online. There was a message on your site that said that I couldn't book my seats online and that I had to call customer service to do so. Now I'm calling you. And you've completed half an assignment and want to send me away to complete the other half, when in two clicks, we could be done?!

Is this really how American operates, or did I just enter the Twilight Zone?!

Wait, here comes the kicker!

The rep proceeds to tell me that, if she was going to have to book those seats for me, she would need to charge me $25 per seat because I had booked my flight through a different channel. Shame on you, American Airlines. You must be kidding. It had nothing to do with the (quality of the) seats themselves (they're back by the bathroom) and everything to do with the fact that I booked through Expedia, not through American.

I had already told her that I had tried to book my seats through the original channel but couldn't, then went to their site, where I was then instructed to call to book the seats. Brace yourself: she then said that I needed to take that up with Expedia. O, I love that... the "not my problem, not my fault" attitude.

In the end, perhaps she realized the absurdity of it, and she waived the fee to assign my seats on the second leg of the trip. But then, just so we could break one more CX law, I had to give her my AA# so that she could email me my confirmation. I had already provided that information on the ticket through Expedia AND on the automated system when I called American. Why did she ask me for it?

Let's look at some of the other customer experience faux pas committed here:
  • Creating confusion or providing confusing messaging across channels
  • Charging the customer because your multichannel experience is inconsistent or because you and your partners aren't working together cohesively
  • Playing the "not my problem" card
  • Not personalizing the experience
  • Asking for information you already have
I was thoroughly flabbergasted by the time I hung up. Honestly, all I could do was laugh. I can't say that I'll never fly American again; with the consolidation of the airlines and the routes that American flies, I don't have  much choice, really. The one that does have a choice, though, is American. They can choose to rise above it all, fix their multichannel issues, and put the customer first.

To wrap this up, here's a great quote from an article about the recent J.D. Power and Associates Airline Satisfaction Study; airlines should take heed.

Despite the need for some carriers to charge unpopular fees, they can gain a competitive advantage by focusing their efforts on process efficiency and positive interactions with the staff and crew. Carriers that find innovative ways to provide passengers with greater control, save them time, reduce hassles and make the airline experience more enjoyable and comfortable will reap satisfaction benefits.

2 comments:

  1. What a wonderful article Annette. The key takeaway for me was to empower the rep to make a decision on her own rather than stick to a script that was itself written by people not particularly concerned about the customer experience.

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    1. Thanks, Ateeq, for reading and for your comment. Your takeaway is key, for sure. I'm guessing that, if the call had been with Southwest, it would have been a different story. (I probably wouldn't have had a story then!)

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