How many times have we heard that the Great Resignation is to blame for corporate shortcomings these days? Companies of all sizes, from small businesses to major multinational organizations, are struggling to keep up with demand. When they fall short, what’s behind that failure? Well, if simply repeating something makes it true, then the cause is a lack of employees.
Certainly, staffing shortages can and will cause business to slow, but that shouldn’t lead to the large-scale disfunction we’re seeing in businesses today. The Great Resignation has simply become the scapegoat du jour—after all, it’s human nature to seek external sources on which to pin our failings. More often than not, though, we must look internally to find the true cause. Leaders of struggling businesses would do well to consider what they might be doing differently, and what advancements they might be resisting.
We’ve covered all the topics in the past, from employee experience to how business owners resistance to change is slowly killing them . The critical issues here are training, processes, and systems integration and, most importantly, the impact these elements have on customer service. We addressed the critical importance of customer support in a report published a year ago (The Importance of Customer Support to Keep a Business Financially Viable), but in the current climate, it’s worth a second look.
Too many times over the past few months, we’ve all found ourselves spending needless time on customer support lines, contending with “longer than normal wait times” and poorly trained representatives. I recently waited on hold with JetBlue for more than seventy minutes in order to speak with a representative. The kicker? The only reason I was calling in the first place was to resolve an issue that JetBlue had created. The situation was exacerbated by a breakdown in the company’s online platform, which precluded any resolution outside of calling support. We’ll get into this more in a bit.
Unfortunately, this is becoming more the rule than the exception. And, while companies of all shapes and sizes continue to blame hiring shortages for their inability to offer adequate support, we’ve spotted something else at work here. We’ll use the JetBlue example to illustrate the fundamental breakdown in systems, processes, and training that is plaguing not only the airline, but many businesses today.
The fundamental breakdown and challenges facing JetBlue
I’ve been traveling for years and have become a bit of a pro at booking air travel. Naturally, when it came time to make arrangements for a family vacation to Disney World, I took on the responsibility to reserve flights for the entire family. My go-to airline has typically been JetBlue and as a result, it was my first choice. Troubles with JetBlue first arose when I discovered that they cap online bookings at eight people and do not offer group sales for parties smaller than ten. This meant it was simply impossible to book a flight for my family of nine online and I would have to call JetBlue directly.
So, I picked up the phone. After a 90-minute wait, I reached a representative, who assured me that JetBlue’s vacation team would be able to help (and also be able to book other items such as rental cars and airport transportation) and transferred me away to that line. After an already 90-minute wait to speak with someone, I was greeted with an automated message informing me that the current hold time to speak with someone on their vacation team would be more than 120 minutes. Given the wait time of more than two hours, I hung up and tried the main sales line again. I was greeted by another 90-minute wait before reaching a second representative. Unfortunately, the second rep was unable to help because the names, identification, social security numbers, and addresses I had gathered constituted insufficient information. I was informed that I would also need email addresses for each of the nine members of the party, including the five- and six-year-old children traveling. However, the representative did offer a work-around to JetBlue’s online booking cap: he guaranteed that creating two separate bookings would work and allow me to book online.
Now back to where I started, I attempted to book travel for the family once again. I was able to book the flights online, but promptly encountered an error message: “Your flight is booked, but something went wrong issuing your ticket. For further assistance, please contact us so we can get things sorted out.” I was once again forced to call the customer support line. Following another 90-minute wait, I was informed that the confirmation number I’d received with my online booking did not exist in JetBlue’s system. The representative was then required to restart the booking process, re-selecting seats and re-applying TruBlue points and credits from a prior trip cancellation. Unfortunately, 45 minutes into the process, the representative misallocated the credits and was forced to start over. Now 30 minutes past the end of her shift, she was contending with instructions from her manager to wrap up the call and send me back to the JetBlue website to rebook. Aware that something was broken and not wanting to sit on hold again, I asked her to hold and quickly attempted to rebook via JetBlue’s online portal and encountered the same error message. This prompted the manager to approve the continued support call. Unfortunately, after quite some time had passed, the representative was stuck with only half of my party booked and the other half without travel. I asked to speak with a supervisor and was transferred not to the supervisor but to another hold line, where I waited for another 120 minutes. The supervisor I finally reached was able to rectify the situation, but not before taking more than a hour to do so. After all this, you might ask, what was the root of the problem? An incorrect credit card number provided by a family member; I only learned this several hours after the initial booking via an email that was sent. The total call time for this single flight booking? Just over six hours.
After all this, I thought my JetBlue saga had come to an end. But nearly five months later, I woke up on a Sunday morning to three separate emails titled “JetBlue booking confirmation.” This was a bit concerning, as I had not recently booked any flights and the emails did not provide much more information, beyond suggesting that they had made changes to the flights I’d booked nearly five months earlier. Attempting to confirm that the original arrangements were still in place took another two hours due to a broken website portal, which would not allow me to access or review any of my flight details. I was forced to make another phone call to support. I encountered yet another 90-minute wait and, once again, another ill-informed customer service representative.
Roughly eight hours dealing with JetBlue, much of it spent just waiting, gave me plenty of time to contemplate the company’s plight. I realized that JetBlue’s is a problem of quality, not quantity—the company is not lacking in employees, but rather in trained employees and functional systems to support them. If the website were better maintained, much (if not all) of the time I spent with JetBlue support could have been avoided. If we assume even a small percentage of others waiting on hold were also calling to address avoidable issues, we can easily imagine that a few simple fixes would drastically reduce the burden on the support team. And, again, we believe JetBlue is not alone.
Overall, we believe there are a few lessons that JetBlue and others can draw on this scenario to not just improve on customer service but also drastically reduce support call times with the staff they have on hand today:
Look for gaps in your offerings. JetBlue’s website caps multi-party bookings at eight and does not allow group sales for fewer than ten. This apparent oversight was the root of the entire fiasco. JetBlue is a major provider of travel to Orlando, which as the home of Disney World, a family vacation hotspot. The airline should certainly be capable of supporting parties of nine or of any size, either by raising the online cap or by providing proper training to staff. Interestingly enough, other airlines allow for bookings of parties up to 10 on their websites.
Is your company falling into the same trap? Consider reviewing your own service offerings. Consult with clients and take in employee feedback as part of the process. Spend time with your own products and online portals so you can find those gaps and issues before your customers do. Remember: in the scenario above, almost all of the frustration and call time could have been completely avoided had JetBlue’s website been flexible enough to accommodate larger parties.
Broken systems integrations create major problems. The six-hour marathon support call could have been completely avoided if the system had simply returned a payment verification error. The fact that this was not even apparent to JetBlue’s support team, let alone to the customer, shows how fundamentally broken the connection is. It’s easy for some to brush off staff frustrations with redundant work, but don’t forget that disconnected systems affect your customers, too.
Ensure you are taking the time to properly integrate your various systems. Application and department silos are a thing of the past. As this example shows, something as simple as a payment verification should be fundamental, and yet can become an invisible Achilles’ heel if mismanaged.
Fix your frontline employees’ application stack. A major challenge that arose in the scenario above stemmed from the difficult and time-consuming nature of navigating JetBlue’s applications. The simple act of booking flights via customer service took entirely too long, and something as simple and presumably common as the use of rewards points and credits should not throw a wrench in the works.
Management and systems architects should take the time to sit with front-line support agents and understand how the systems are truly being used, while also identifying hang-ups in the process. Remember, the longer it takes the team to navigate your systems, the longer those support calls will be. Even shaving off a few minutes in a support call can have drastic effects for high-volume call centers.
Quality-check your website to avoid overloading your support staff. Let’s not forget that the credit card issue was far from the only one. JetBlue’s web portal consistently failed out at several stages. Even simple actions such as reviewing a change in an email created errors. This unacceptable state of affairs certainly generates needless support calls. These are the kinds of issues that arise when no one is quality-checking the customer experience.
Do it right the first time—remember that flawed communication only necessitates further communication. My second interaction with JetBlue was prompted by three erroneous confirmation emails. Had the automated emails clearly communicated the details of the situation, the entire series of events that followed could have been avoided.
Don’t settle for insufficient employee training. Even when all of the above points are sorted flawlessly, the need for customer support can still arise. That’s why you have a support staff, after all—you want to ensure that your customers’ every need is taken care of. It’s therefore critical that you prepare your employees to address any issues they may have. Representatives should have thorough training on all systems and processes, a holistic understanding of your customers’ usage of your offerings, and complete support from their supervisors. They should be able to promptly and accurately diagnose any challenges your customers may experience, and they should have the authority, or be able to quickly reach someone with the authority, to make things right.
My tale of JetBlue woe is just one example of how the above challenges can destroy your customer experience and ruin relationships with long-standing clients. Fixing your website customer experience will lower your call volume significantly. Fixing your support training will lower your call times significantly. In the end, you don’t need more employees to do good work: You need to enable your employees and the good work will follow!
It’s time companies stopped blaming trends and buzz words for systemic challenges. Consider that it’s not new employees you need, but rather proper tools, processes, and training to support your existing teams and allow them to successfully do their jobs. Take this advice to heart, and you might find that you do not need more employees to stay competitive.