Travel Hell

CASE STUDY 2:   Travel Hell

The Challenge:

During the summer of 1999, the going was tough for many air travelers. Planes were full, airports congested and storms wreaked havoc with schedules, air traffic and airline personnel. Passengers were complaining to their elected officials – they wanted a “Passenger’s Bill of Rights.” Congress was sympathetic – their own lives were also being disrupted by airline delays, cancellations, congestion and confusion.

The airlines wanted solutions too. The chaos was costing them millions in operating expenses. Customer satisfaction and loyalty was at an all time low. While business was good, the high volumes were creating conditions that were miserable for customers and employees. Airlines came together with the Air Transport Association (ATA) to craft a Customer Commitment – a pledge to meet essential performance objectives – intended to fend off a campaign for a regulatory fix. A major airline decided to exceed the promises made in the ATA proposal. In October 1999, this company launched plans to institute a global strategy to ensure its Customer Commitment was a promise that every employee could keep.

The Solution:

The company’s Chief Marketing Officer asked us to design a series of “Solution Sessions” to engage multiple disciplines to develop a dramatic and systemic approach to enhance their customer experience. We designed sessions to address key pain points:

  • Ticket Refunds
  • Wheelchair Handling
  • Flight Status Communications
  • A Global Service Recovery Strategy


Customer Commitments for Ticket Refunds, Wheelchair Handling and Flight Status communications were met by year-end 1999. In all three categories, service standards were exceeded and all-time best performances were achieved.

  • Ticket Refunds – Met the commitment of 7 days – cutting response time in half
  • Wheelchair handling – Slashed wait times 96%

Continuing to raise the bar, the Service Recovery Strategy was launched in July of 2000. The intention was to recover customer confidence and loyalty when unforeseen service failures, like storms or ATC outages, occurred. We designed a Solution Session that engaged over 80 employees – capturing every customer touch point – to develop systemic fixes to this chronic customer service dilemma. Among their recommendations:

  • Established a Service Recovery Center – 24/7 system-wide coordination and support for customer contact employees handling service failure events and escalations
  • Ensured each station had a service recovery plan that linked with the Service Recovery Center – including essential supplies and “irregular operations huddle” protocol
  • Mobilized off-site resources to assist with passenger re-routing. this included innovative approaches for translation services and vendor coordination

The Impact:

“…the work we did n that Solution Session made the biggest different to customer service in my 17 years at DFW. We now do everything proactively. We think about our customer needs first and how we can help — without passengers asking or having to wait in line. Now, with IROPs (irregular operations), we are ready”  –  Airport Customer Service Supervisor, DFW, June 2004