Call centre customer service?

By: Alison Knocker

Date: 10 August 2011

It was every mother’s nightmare. A call at 4am to say that our gap year daughter was seriously ill in some far flung foreign corner. There followed a confusing series of calls, or rather failed calls, from me to our daughter’s extremely capable travelling companion, during which I tried to follow their progress from rural Laos to Vientiane airport and then on to a hospital in Bangkok.

Having established just how ill the poor girl was, we booked a flight to Bangkok the following evening for me to join her. However, during a subsequent call to the hospital, I learned that her temperature had reached 43 degrees, and having worked that back into a more understandable, and terrifying, Fahrenheit reading, I decided not to wait 24 hours, but leave immediately.

But BA was not designed with frantic mothers in mind. I went onto their website, but having made my request, a message popped up telling me that I could not change my flight online less than 24 hours in advance. 

So I called the customer services number provided on the website. As with so many call centres, you are politely told to press ‘one’ for this service, ‘two’ for that, and so on, and then that selection leads to further choices. Eventually I arrived at the final stage, only to hear another air-hostess voice informing me that, owing to unprecedented demand, they were unable to answer my call, and would I like to refer to their website? Aargh!

In such circumstances, patience is in thin supply. I dialled the number several times, always with the same result. I never got through. What is a passenger to do? Surely I won’t have been the first person ever to want to book or change a flight only a few hours ahead of the departure time? If the website cannot cope with same-day changes, why don’t they have a dedicated line (‘press nine for immediate departures’) to avoid this problem? I can (almost) excuse inadequate manning of phones for low value consumer goods, but for an expensive flight, where time is likely to be key, surely they could do a bit better?

For the record, I did manage to change my flight and I did get to Bangkok, and our daughter is now fully recovered. But another time I would like to find an airline that relieves rather than compounds the stress. Or maybe I’ll just forbid gap year roaming.

Alison Knocker is Operations Director at BHP Information Solutions, publisher of the Donuts.

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