Yesterday I tried bringing a little humour to the this whole Icelandic volcano mess with a clip from Family Guy, but not too long after putting up that post, I was on the phone with someone working in an airline call centre who was telling me just how crazy things have been since the crisis hit. I’ve known of colleagues stuck in foreign lands, and a friend whose wedding plans were thrown into disarray, but take a look at the numbers below to really get a feel for one other area significantly impacted by all of this.

In a normal week this call centre receives around 79,000 calls of which 50,000 are answered. Makes sense, as some people hang up as soon as they are put on hold, only to call back later. In the past week on hold times grew to 2-3 hours as the call centre received 518,000 calls of which 65,000 were answered. The number should have been even higher than 518,000 as they did not have enough lines and some people trying to call could not even get through to be put on hold. A herculian effort just to answer 30% more calls than are normally answered. It must have been a very stressful place to be working, and a week they won’t forget in a hurry.

I was speaking to another person this week who was personally impacted with his travel arrangements, and he told me that he checked the airline website, and then double checked by calling the airline. This has really got me thinking about how airlines can reduce the pressure on call centres during massive disruptions. If many people still pick up the phone to double check (and I suspect the traveller I spoke to was not an isolated case), what can be done to either reduce the impact of this behaviour, or eliminate it completely?

One idea would be to ensure the website, as well as the emails sent to passegners, are clear on where the information came from and at what time this information was really given to the airline – ie. the time the decision was taken. In addition, some text explaining that the call centre relies on exactly the same source of data and maybe even some text explaining that call centre staff look at the website for the information they communicate to passengers that call. Of course it is no use saying this if it is not true, but once the dust settles, I would strongly enourage all airlines and their call centres to take a look at how they can improve communication to passengers in preparation for the next crisis – and do so in a way that ensures the impact of these redundant inbound calls is significanly reduced.

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