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Some Technology Suggestions for Airline Customer Service Mon 30 Jul 07

Suitcase_kristian_mollenborg This past weekend I had the misfortune of traveling on United Airlines.  It was a rather frustrating and difficult process typified with customer service as everyone simply going through the motions.  This does not appear to be unusual.  In addition to this there were two significant instances where United could have easily excelled at customer service but instead chose to needlessly inconvenience their customers.  To be fair to United I've noticed that all the other airlines have also chosen to ignore these opportunities so I'll make this an open post to the airline industry on some simple technology suggestions to improve your customer service.

1. Notify people of their connecting gates while they are still on the plane.  Due to a delay in leaving Vancouver we were late in arriving in Denver and people were naturally anxious about making their connections.  The flight attendants announced that they no longer received connecting gate information and asked people to check the monitors after leaving the plane.  Connections to Kansas City and Chicago were apparently particularly tight.  A few minutes after their first announcement they did announce the connecting gates for Kansas City and Chicago which of course frustrated everyone else that was left with no information.

Announcing connecting gate information used to be commonplace and as this example it can still be done if airlines really wanted to do it.  I'm not sure why the don't do this anymore.  Presumably it is because the attendants are busy with other important duties which makes a prime opportunity to use technology to improve customer service.  Since the data exists and they already know which connecting flights are of interest to each incoming flights passengers why not either use the video monitors (if the plane has them) or put up simple announcement monitors with this information.  It would provide people with the information they want and not tie up the attendants.

If they really want to do it right, they'd also include the connecting flight status.  There is nothing more frustrating to arrive late, make a mad breathless dash across the airport only to learn the connecting flight is delayed.  Why not relieve passenger anxiety by letting them know that before they even get off the plane? 

2. Don't make people wait for the baggage at the carousal when you already know it didn't make the connection.  Although I've seen airlines transfer baggage in much less time than we had in Denver our baggage stayed in Denver.  When we arrived in Houston we dutifully waited, and waited (United was very slow in delivering the baggage).  After watching all of the baggage from the plane come out on the carousal it finally became undeniable that our bags did not make the connection with us.  When we went the baggage customer service office the agent was quickly able to look up our claim check number and confirm that our bags were still in Denver.  This of course begs the question - if you know a bag didn't make the connection why do you insist on adding to my frustration by making me wait an extra 30 or 45 minutes and then make me come ask you about it?

Given the technology that already exists and the information they already have they could have simply posted a message on the display board listing the passenger names and origination flights where baggage missed the connection.  This way people could go straight to the baggage office rather than waste time fruitlessly waiting for the baggage to appear on the carousel.

If they really wanted to do it right they could notify the flight attendants on board the plane who could tell me  about it and what I would need to do before we even landed.

If they really, really wanted to do it right they would use the information they already have in their systems and pre-fill out much of the claim form and making the best of a bad situation.

If they really, really wanted to do it right they would have some take digital photos of the stranded luggage and get it to the people in the final location to help them find it once it did arrive.  Seeing that along with a pre-filled out claim form that I know about before I landed would really impress me that they cared about their service and were trying their best to correct a problem.

If you look at these suggestion all except the last one (the one concerning digital photos) have very little impact on their operations or add to their labor and shouldn't impact their cost in any significant manner.  All of these use existing technology and information they already have in their systems.  All they have to do is put them together.  It is simply a matter of taking the time to view things from the customer's perspective and implementing the simple technologies to improve the customer experience.

Airline industry - what are you waiting for?

What other suggestion do you have for the airline industry to utilize technology to improve customer service?

"Suitcase" photo by Kristian Mollenborg

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