Knowledge Musings

Musings about knowledge management as I go about my daily life

Friday, March 28, 2008

T5 Knowledge Holes

I'm currently involved with a couple of projects where a crying need is for reliable consistent information; where people can be assured that they are accessing the most up to date and authoritative version.

Think of the poor people at Terminal 5 (T5) at London Heathrow airport who lack such information (my daughter is travelling out of there tonight, so I have a personal interest). One person on the radio this morning, having come early to get a replacement flight for one that was cancelled yesterday, said that on arrival this morning (where the indicator boards now seem to use the euphemism "Inquire Airline" rather than "Cancelled") had to phone her destination (Glasgow) to find what was going on.

I recall my travelling days. If you knew at the outset that a flight was delayed 4 hours, you could make other arrangements. But too often it was "more information in an hour". It's the same on any public system. If information provision is poor or misleading, rumours spread, people get frustrated and it does nothing for customer service "I will never fly BA again - ever" said the lady this morning. I more or less made that vow about five years ago, when what was once an excellent airline seemed to lose the plot, thinking they could fleece business people for fares several times that of economy, but where the basic standards were declining. After all, the front end (business and first class) end of the plane always lands a few seconds later than the back end anyway!

And travel is not the only domain where lack of, misleading or inconsistent information upsets customers. Most of us can think of situations where customer-facing staff give out factually wrong information or give out information with a "take it or leave it" attitude.

Therefore up to date and reliable information should be at the heart of customer service:
  • Don't deny the situation (the Heathrow website at the time of writing prominently displays terminal 5 and the pleasures and comfort of the new terminal; even its hot news is dated 8th January!)
  • Think: what does the customer need to know when things go wrong
  • Customers want certainties, not maybes; to know about alternatives, and even get help with remedial measure (booked on a non-BA connecting flight last year that got cancelled, the airline automatically rebooked us on a rival flight while we were still in the air on our first leg)
  • Best deliver bad news and improve on it, rather than keep making incremental promises that cannot be kept (I was delighted when the new sofa that was going to take another month arrived within two weeks)
  • Ensure that those with the authoritative information have good channels to get the information to customers and customer-facing staff (you don't want your staff saying "you know as much as I do")
  • Bring back scenario planning - it's what we used to do quite a lot of; "what if the government changes?" "what if the oil price reaches $200 a barrel"; "what is the worst disaster that can strike our company?" (in 1985 our managers came up with some apparently whacky off-the-wall ideas on that one; some ideas that with today's terrorist tactics are not unusal today).
All of which means that you have clear information policies that can cope with sudden change. And that you have in place the mechanisms to gather and rapidly update key information. But most importantly of all that you have ways of moving it quickly to those who need it, and that you customer-facing staff are properly trained to assess it in terms of what it means to different categories of customers.

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