Intelligent Service: Learn to Deliver the Value the Customer MOST Appreciates


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My daughter and I were going to visit her grandparents in Singapore,

Intelligent service

= Service appreciated and valued by the customer

= Service that is profitable for the business

leaving from the United States. I wanted to use my accumulated United frequent flier miles for the trip, but the seats were not showing up as available online. I called the Mileage Plus line and spoke with a woman who booked us to Singapore via Shanghai and back from Singapore via Sydney. An unusual route. But I was very pleased because she had used imagination to help me achieve my goal.

Intelligent service in this case needed a human because the computer system could not display the route online. If it had, I would have booked online and saved United the cost of the call and the time to service me. The representative was intelligent. The system wasn’t.

Because it’s rare, there’s cause for celebrating intelligent service. With this single transaction, I gained a glimmer of hope that makes me consider traveling United more often. And yet, given the speed at which customer service is improving, I would still call this episode yesterday’s intelligent service.

Figure 1. Yesterday’s Intelligent Service

Imagine this world of intelligent service:

United Airlines has a history of all the flights I have booked for myself and my family. I am a frequent business traveler, making two to four domestic and international trips a month—all to the same places. When I need to make a booking for an upcoming flight—I click on a United button on my monitor. After answering a question only I know the answer to, I get a screen that shows pictures of business travel and leisure travel options. I click on one. I’m asked, “Is this your round trip to Atlanta and Oklahoma City, leaving Sunday or Monday and returning Friday or Saturday? I select “yes.” And the entire itinerary is shown with pricing options and possibilities of upgrades, depending on how many miles I have on my frequent flier card.

With one click, I’ve chosen the perfect combination, provided my payment information and completed the air transaction. Next, I’m shown hotels, available through Travelocity, Expedia, Priceline and Orbitz, with the best options based on my preferences. Price conscious, I choose the Priceline “Name Your Own Price” and get my hotel rooms in two cities. Finally, rental car availability and prices are displayed. One more click—and I’m done.

Finally, a question: “Is there anything we could do to improve your experience?” I click on it. A woman’s face appears on my screen, and a voice says, “Mei Lin, we are so glad to have you back and eager to know what we can do to improve your experience. My name is Susan and I’m your United Concierge.”

I say, “I have a wedding anniversary coming up and we want to do something special to celebrate, say a 2008 cruise in Europe.”

Susan says, “Give me 24 hours, and we’ll send you a menu of special packages that will offer you options that reflect your cruise preferences. You are one of our most frequent business travelers, Mei Lin, and we are here to make your life everything it should be.”

I say, “Susan, you are a gem! I’m looking forward to hearing from you.”

True intelligent service is still in the future. The path to delivering such service is being pioneered today by leading organizations through competency development and organizational learning—and the extraordinary leadership of individuals who care deeply about their employees and the lives of their customers.

Mei Lin Fung
Institute of Service Organization Excellence, Inc.
Mei Lin Fung, blogs on ebCEM – evidence-based Customer Experience Management. The Service Leadership Transformation Program developed in an innovative public private partnership with Avaya and Oklahoma State University received the Phillip Crosby Golden Medallion in 27. Her curriculum has been implemented by Microsoft Telesales in China, and Johnson and Johnson in Asia. She designed the first US Department of Labor approved Contact Center Apprenticeship Program in Oklahoma. Blog: Learning to Earn Customer Trust by Mei Lin Fung


  1. Dear Mei Lin!

    As a long-time airline professional, I found your article most interesting. If you ask me, the future you imagined is well on the way.
    In principal this type of intelligent technology for the most part already is propably here, actually.
    The idea and the goal to strive at more intelligent services is most valuable; not only in booking or check-in services but also to a larger number of touchpoints through-out the whole chain of services!

    Regards, Mr. Pertti Ollila


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