Volcanic Ash Flight Crisis a Missed Opportunity in Customer Service


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A volcano in Iceland has devastated our world by spewing clouds of ash high into the air and interfering with passing planes. This has caused real chaos in Europe during the past week or so.  Much discussion is in play about whether it was or was not safe to fly through this ash last week but really that is just the normal human reaction of proclamation by hindsight… and not the real issue.

People from all walks of life were caught out by this incident. On the morning of April 15th I was personally due to fly to Belgium for a meeting early the next day. On the tube on the way in I heard the news and very quickly, and it seems smartly, rang the travel agency and told them to book me on Eurostar – I got the last seat out and back! The news for the last few days has been full of pictures of people suffering the pain and anguish of being separated from loved ones, their homes and their jobs. Many were complaining that they just did not know what to do.  For those of us who travel regularly we can sometimes be dismissive of those who don’t, and stumble around as a consequence… but this time it was different.

Here at Jacada Europe we had a few folks who were out of place.  One of our Israeli team was stuck in London, one of our London team was stuck in Israel – both had an office to go to.  One of our German team was stranded in Sweden and due home on Thursday night.  He patiently waited for a flight until Saturday then took charge himself.  What followed was a journey of trains, ferries, buses and more trains (including a terrorist security alert on the German rail network!).  In the end it took him from Saturday at 7am to Sunday at 10pm to get home to his wife and kids, stoically reporting that it was “an adventure”.

But here is the missed opportunity.  I have heard dozens of stories of people calling the customer service emergency number for their airline or travel agent to experience dismal service.  Another member of our team waited 75 minutes listening to hold music, while trying to rebook. When I called to book Eurostar the travel agent had no real idea of what was going on and I made the decisions for them;  everyone I spoke to said the response they got from the customer service agents was  “I don’t know what to do, sorry.”

Information is king, they say – and the truth is that even when you cannot help people get home, you have a moral obligation to help them feel like someone cares.  What should have happened? Customer service agents in these call centres should have been saying “I don’t know when you will be able to fly but don’t worry, we will get you home eventually, can I call someone for you?  Here are some safety tips.  Here is what you should do to stay well whilst these problems are resolved”, etc.  Perhaps this would not have gotten people home any sooner but maybe, just maybe,  it would have reduced the stress for a few,  and would have cost these companies nothing.

Today we saw the Royal Navy repatriating a few people who got stuck in Spain.  Flights will be going through the night and with luck everyone will be back where they should be by next week.  Perhaps next time we will have learnt to do a better job by our fellow humans.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Guy Tweedale
Guy Tweedale, Senior Vice President, European Operations, has more than 18 years of experience in the IT industry. He brings a wealth of knowledge in the enterprise software arena to Jacada, with a strong focus on business process automation and enhancement in key areas such as customer management, field-based activities and financial control.


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