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Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Our National Carrier

Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Our National Carrier

You can put in multiple channels of customer service, but if all you’re doing is providing more outlets for bad customer service, you’re just stuffing up in more ways than one

If last month's columnwas a tale of a surplus of service, then this is a tale of, well, I'm not sure what . . . You be the judge. It's also a tale with a lesson: You can put in multiple channels of customer service, but if all you're doing is providing more outlets for bad customer service, you're just stuffing up in more ways than one.

My husband felt Qantas erred when it deducted frequent-flyer points, even though he'd cancelled a stand-by upgrade at the gate when it meant we wouldn't be sitting together. Ever the optimist, he rang them and expected it to be resolved quickly. Here's what transpired over a 45 minute phone call.

A nice young man named Matthew explained to my husband that once an upgrade has been granted by the system, the customer has to cancel it no later than 24 hours before departure or the points will be deducted.

How, my husband asked, could he cancel a stand-by upgrade that we only found out about once we showed up to check-in? Matthew suggested it may have been our fault for not leaving US contact numbers, although he also suggested perhaps the airline would not have rung anyhow.

Sensing entry into a mobius loop, my husband asked Matthew if there was anyone available who would have the authority to restore his 50,000 points? "Not really," Matthew said.

So my husband asked for the name and e-mail address of the manager of customer relations. "There's no person - no manager, as such," Matthew said. He did give my husband a postal address in Sydney and suggested he write to "them", but didn't quite know who "them" was. "Well," my husband said, "can you tell me the name the executive in charge of the frequent-flyer program and give me that person's e-mail address?" Matthew did provide a name, but he didn't think this general manager of relationship marketing had an e-mail address. He suggested my husband could instead go to the Qantas Web site and send a comment via the "Feedback and Comment" section. However, Matthew advised against that because "it takes longer".

Oh come on, Matthew, my husband argued, how could it take longer to use the Internet than to send a letter to a postal box? "Well, that's because when you use the Web it goes to the Internet guys who have to process it and then send it on to the right people," Matthew said. (Which must be difficult since none of those people evidently have an e-mail address.)

Anyhow, since this is getting as long as a flight to London, here's what happened. He did go to the Internet, did get a couple of e-mails back from a woman named Sue-Ellen and did finally get his points restored. He was so grateful, he wrote back to Sue-Ellen to thank her. He got an instant reply - you guessed it - because his thank-you had generated "an automated message" which needed no reply and had no person at the other end.

At the risk of having a drink spilled on my lap next time I fly, I can only think that Qantas has gone to great lengths to automate the type of customer service we have come to expect from their cabin crews. Now, if I could only figure out what else we can do with those restored frequent-flyer points . . .

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