Chris Kranky

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Voice needs to get better

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

British_AirwaysWe may believe voice is done, but perhaps it’s just resting.  Recently, I had the misfortunate of wanting to change my reservation for a British Airways flight, a simple day change request, nothing too taxing. Unfortunately, the BA website felt this was too complex and indicated I couldn’t make the change online.

British Airways does nearly $17 billion in revenue with a fleet of nearly 300 planes, this isn’t a small operation. But their voice systems seemed designed for an era long since past. First, I dialed their primary USA 800 number. The surprise it rang busy. Multiple times. How is a call center that busy? I then went to the web and found another 800 number for BA.

Ringing this number, I was surprised when a nice gentlemen with a strong Indian accent immediately answered. He was quite polite but seemed confused how to handle what I thought was a simple change request. He apologized repeatedly as he explained to me in painstaking detail what he was going to do to effect this seemingly massive request. After repeating my data multiple times, struggling with my last name he asked me to spell it using the NATO phonetic alphabet (hint best not attempting after drinking). At this point (still on my computer), I tweeted my anger at British Airways (joining a long list of dissatisfied customers it would seem).

The irony is that 10 minutes later, WHILE STILL ON THE PHONE WITH BRITISH AIRWAYS, BA responded to my ‘tweet’ asking how they could help.



In the end a total of 41 minutes consumed, my nice Indian gentlemen believed he had changed my flight request (he wasn’t 100% positive, but felt highly confident) and then advised I would have to pay an additional $25 fee for the call center service.

It’s no wonder no one wants to talk on the phone anymore.

Could this have been handled differently? Yes. Unfortunately, BA has max’d out their 1970’s call center technology and perhaps there is a need for a total rethink about customer engagement. Is voice still important? Yes. Let’s look at this again.

I couldn’t do something while on the BA website (changing a flight is a odd request after all), but there was no “click to call” button on the page. Had there been a click to call button, I wouldn’t have had to learn the NATO Phonetic Alphabet again.  BA could have automatically known all about me (without me wasting 10 minutes explaining who I was – I know who I is already). Once I’d explained my request, why couldn’t we switch back to a simple chat window. There was no need for me to listen for 40 minutes as this nice gentlemen hunt n’ pecked his way to success on the IBM 3270 terminal emulator. I would have been happy with text or chat message or perhaps a short voice interaction “I’ve completed your request is there anything else I can do to help today?”

The issue is voice is effectively a type of data and needs to merge, swivel and morph with the other data types. Treating it as a singular stand alone system is dinosaur. Moving from the web, to chat, to voice and back down the stack again seamlessly is what is needed.

This is exactly where the WebRTC technology should have kicked in.

If the call center cost is $0.70 per minute this call cost BA $28.70 thus they lost money on my call despite levying a $25 fine on me for enduring the call.