As someone who embraces technology, I prefer to make all my travel arrangements online since it’s usually faster and less expensive. Two weeks ago, for example, I booked a business reservation online through an airline’s website primarily because it cost several hundred dollars less than my usual online travel service. The booking process was great and the terms and conditions stated that I could cancel within 24 hours and my purchase fee would be refunded.
When the dates of my trip changed the next morning, I jumped online, cancelled the trip (there was large fee to simply change the ticket) and booked a new flight. I thought little of the matter until a week later when I checked my credit card and found identical charges for each ticket. I immediately emailed the refund department. When they didn’t respond after three days, I emailed them again.
Finally, I called the reservation number, only to be met with my favorite message: “all agents are currently assisting other callers but your call is important to us and will be answered in the order that it was received.” After waiting for about 10 minutes, I spoke to an agent who said the fee was valid as I had not cancelled the ticket within 24 hours. After composing myself (no small task), I calmly explained that I had, in fact, had cancelled within the 24-hour window. They retracted the fee.
This underscores a fundamental problem, which typically occurs when organizations fail to fully implement automation across the entire business process. I suspect there was a manual determination in the case of my cancelled ticket, but there are often no effective checks and balances to ensure the end-to-end customer process is executed effectively.
Ironically, one of the attributes of effective service management is ensuring that requests for service, or a refund in my case, is logged and remains open until the transaction is effectively executed. The lack of responses to my email clearly indicates that this airline’s processes are not well run. This was reinforced when the agent who processed my refund said I should never cancel online and expect a refund because the process doesn’t work!
In this case, the email process didn’t work either. A week later, I received two emails telling me that my email is important to the airline but I had yet to receive a reply to my refund request.
Some people tell me that service management is no longer relevant in this new era of mobility, automation of everything and business developing its own services. In fact, I believe that opposite is true: service management is more important than ever.
If you are going to instrument automation, then you need to track the requests and their execution, escalate where relevant and so on. You do need to design your services properly, ensuring that the appropriate processes are in place and that you can instrument events, audit checkpoints, alerts and escalations where relevant. The critical aspect here is that a well-designed process supporting the business service is becoming more relevant with the dependence of business on technology. That said it is a continual improvement process so be prepared to iterate over time.
If you’ve had similar experiences, please share them or tweet me @RobertEStroud. I’d really like to hear from you.
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