As I type this, I’m on hold with Delta Airlines. When I first called, I simply wanted to talk to one of their reps and get a couple of fast questions answered about my travel plans. You’re given the option of speaking to a real person by saying the word “representative” into the phone, but before you can get to this person, you have to speak (slowly and clearly) where you’re flying from, where you’re flying to, what date of departure and what date of return.
The machine mistakes my departure date for another month and comes back with they can’t book my flight because it’s not within the next 367 days (or some large figure like that).
I try and try (by pushing “0″ and saying the word “representative”) and finally I’m moved on to a real person. But not before waiting another 15-20 minutes. Delta had the only non-stop flights for this trip I was considering, so I waited this out.
If another airline had a non-stop flight, I definitely would not have waited it out and Delta would’ve lost a paid passenger.
All in all, I understand the big airlines need to cut costs. And of course having a machine (or a web site) handle their reservations saves them the expense of paying staff. And if most (or possibly all) of the airlines are using an automated system to deal with their most valuable commodity (their customers) then I can see how they would justify using it throughout.
The logic goes from Delta execs: well, we’re not really going to lose customers because of automating our interaction with our customers because the other airlines are doing it too.
And maybe that logic works for the big airlines and large corporations. But do you really think so? Who wants to be handled by a robot that sometimes hears what you say but often does not correctly hear you.
The moral of this story is simple.
The less you interact directly with your customers and the more you put answering machines, automated tellers, automated phone systems in place to deal with your public, the more likely you’ll see a percentage of your customer base erode away.
You may think you can handle a much larger number of people with the automated approach and you may be right. But you may also be losing some quality customers who will not be eager to speak highly of your company and possibly just the opposite.
I do realize we’re moving ever closer to machines doing more and more of our work. But when you put them between your company and your customers, especially new customers, I think the downside is greater than most people can immediately observe.
If someone wants to speak to a real person at your company, I recommend highly you make it VERY, VERY EASY for them to do so. And FAST.