offers $50 compensation for delayed travellers

As offers to pay users who encounter delays or mistakes, could customer service become a means of securing...

As offers to pay users who encounter delays or mistakes, could customer service become a means of securing competitive advantage for online businesses?


David Bicknell

A recent survey bemoaned the paucity of customer service in financial services organisations trying to get to grips with the Web. It was taking five days to get a reply to an e-mail, and that was one of the better responses.

The Onyx/Market Elan survey reckoned that not enough organisations were treating the "e" channel as one of their key sales channels. Instead, the attitude appeared to be that an e-mail from a customer via the Web was one that could somehow be forgotten for a few days, or - more conveniently - lost.

But, now, customer service on the Web could genuinely become a selling point, after US Net travel specialist decided to make customer service a key competitive factor by offering to pay for foul-ups.

Not only will Biztravel offer guaranteed payments of $100 for flights arriving 30 minutes late and $200 for those arriving an hour late, it will also compensate for its own mistakes, paying out $10 if you don't get to speak to someone within 90 seconds of a connected call or don't get an e-mail response within two hours and $50 if your request is not resolved within 48 hours.

Biztravel explains, "We will pay you for any unmet service needs or poor service attitudes. We want to do a great job, and we want you to tell us when we're not." It introduced the service after polling 4,000 customers.

Of course, there is no smoke without fire, and you might ask why Biztravel is unilaterally putting this in place unless it really has to. Companies generally only take positive steps to do something about their image when it's clear they need to.

But at least it is a start. It would be tempting to think that such attitudes might apply here. But somehow, I doubt it.

US attitudes to customer service - albeit superficial in some cases - are different to those over here. I'd like to think that UK customers will choose on the basis of good customer service, but usually there is such a low expectation of good service - even a blind acceptance of mediocre service - that it probably won't.

But, as companies open up their supply chains to suppliers and partners, there is no reason why customer service should not be just as important an issue for internal-facing operations as it is for those that are externally-facing.

Maybe the result of a future Market Elan/Onyx study will show an attitude change. In the meantime, don't expect anyone to jump through hoops to get back to you. That way, you won't be disappointed when they don't!

Anew survey on application service provision (ASP) by the Information Technology Association of America has suggested that about 20% of 1,500 respondents currently use an ASP but 50% do not plan any such usage in the future. Prospective ASP users prefer services on a subscription basis (71.4%) over per-transaction basis (19.5%) and services based on a one-off fee (12.6%).

Respondents' main concerns are ASP suppliers' stability, longevity and security. The respondents who do use an ASP said drawbacks include integrating the software with existing applications and concerns about the long-term viability of the ASPs themselves. Those who don't currently use an ASP were also concerned with security and loss of control, as well as being locked into a contract. Case still not proven yet, I think.

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