Is CX Still in the 20th Century?

Last week, I was supposed to travel from Frankfurt to Amsterdam to speak at the local meeting of the sales enablement society. As usual, I used the easy online booking capabilities of my favorite airline weeks ago.

Just as I was getting ready to leave for the airport, a message popped up on my airline’s mobile app. “Your flight has been canceled.” Oh no! And “Call our service center for alternatives.” The first friction of the day.

I called the service center and spent 19 minutes (!) on the line until a service agent took my call. I had already done my research and learned that there was another flight at 16:20, which wouldn’t be ideal but better than anything. Of course, I also checked the availability while I was waiting on the phone: only four seats left in economy class, and 3 in business class.

By the time I had explained the problem to the agent to draw his attention on the alternative flights, of course, the available economy seats were no longer available, and only one business class seat. No surprise. Timing matters. I asked him to give me an upgrade and book me on this business class seat (given my customer status it should be a no-brainer anyway). He said OK, but he would need to get this approved. I should wait, listen to the music for a moment. Sure. I listened to the music. And then, he seemed to come back. But no! I was cut off the line! Seriously?

I cannot even express how frustrated, powerless and helpless I felt in that very moment. Immediately, I called the service center again. After another 18 minutes (!), another service agent took my call. It turned out that there was no information about my previous conversation in the system (really?). It’s almost unbelievable as not only this airline informs me all the time that all service calls would be recorded to improve the quality of their customer service. Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity? However, I explained the situation again, and guess what: the 16:20 flight didn’t have any availability anymore. You can’t make this stuff up.

Would I like to travel from another airport? No, it’s almost two hours before the initial flight time, and five hours before I was supposed to deliver a presentation. No way. The cancellation was due to storms, she told me. I couldn’t believe it. I am living 30 min away from the airport, and there was no storm at all. Maybe on the way to Amsterdam? She didn’t know. Would have been helpful, because if that would have been the case, another flight via Hannover (which is what she suggested then) would probably not solve the problem. I could end up in Hannover with another canceled flight, also far away from where I was supposed to be. She was, of course, keen on booking me to the Hannover flight because from her perspective the issue was solved then. It was not for me. Simply because I spent almost an hour on the phone with them (while in parallel talking to the event organizers to find a solution because I would be very late), I couldn’t finish my travel preparations, and should be at the airport at almost the same time. Overall, a negative customer experience.

I solved the problem differently because I made a commitment to speak at this event and I do care about the customer experience of my audience. So, I booked a train instead.

I got a nonstop high-speed train that would bring me directly to Amsterdam. I would be late, the event organizers would make it happen, to move my slot to the end, just before the drinks. I ended up in the train, with time to work and to write this post.

What are the lessons learned when it comes to customer experience?

  • Engage and equip your service agents to be honest and clear in their messages:
    It’s not building credibility if the service agent doesn’t know more than the customer. And, if that’s the case, why call them in the first place? In this case, the reasons for the flight cancelation were important, because if it happened due to bad weather conditions (at the departure or arrival airport), an alternative flight doesn’t make a lot of sense. If the flight was canceled due to a technical problem or for economic reasons, it does make sense to look for alternative flights. The service agent couldn’t answer these questions. So, I decided to book a train instead.
  • Empower your service agents:
    Time is critical in those cases. I am an airline customer with quite a few miles and a certain status. A service agent should be empowered to make the decision to upgrade my ticket to business in such a situation when timely decisions have to be made. If so, the problem would have been solved, and I probably had forgotten that I was waiting for 19 min on the phone. I’d probably had a neutral or even a positive customer experience. In this case, my experience was negative.
  • Integrate your sales and service process with seamless technology:
    There is nothing more annoying than being forced to deal with totally unnecessary but time consuming frictions that cause additional trouble. In my case, it was on all levels: process, technology and capacity. Especially if there is an urgent issue to be solved as in my case, you cannot force customers to feel powerless and unable to take care of themselves (and force them to wait for 19 min before you take their call!).


Customer experience matters. It drives customer loyalty, customer retention and revenue. To achieve this goal, providing an exceptional customer experience is mandatory, not optional. Building on a CX culture (that is the case at this airline), it’s essential to implement processes, technology, and capacity that translate this culture and strategy into actions that are meaningful for customers.

Questions for you:

  • How do you handle the call center experience for your customers? When do you force them to call you instead of providing an online option?
  • How do you ensure a frictionless experience for your customers? And if not existing right now, what are the steps you undertake to get there?
  • How empowered are your service professionals in your organization?


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