Booking Reservations Without Reservation

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For Reservation Center, neutralizing conflicts with its clients had been akin to a lawyer going to court and presenting a case with no solid evidence. The company acts as a supplemental call center for many of the nation’s larger travel agencies. Its 50 employees begin working when these other agencies shut down their call centers for the weekend—typically at noon or 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Its agents field about 20,000 callsa month from travelers who have booked their transportation, hotel, and rental car arrangements through these agencies.

So when a passenger arrives at the airport at 7 p.m. on a Saturday only to find that his flight has been canceled or delayed, he might call his travel agency with the hope of getting on a different flight. He also might call to change his seat assignment or to reroute his trip.

Those calls are automatically routed to a Reservation Center agent instead. As one can imagine, incoming calls can be more panic-stricken than usual, especially considering the amount of travel that takes place on the weekends.

Working on such a last-minute basis presents problems, like when a lack of seating in the economy section of the plane forces an agent to bump the customer up to first class, or when a flight doesn’t leave at the time requested by the customer.

"What you run into sometimes is that we get a call from the travel agency, and they say, ‘We just got a call from Mrs. X, and she says that when she called she specifically said to book her in business class, and you booked her in first class. She doesn’t want to pay, and we don’t want to pay, so we want Reservation Center to pay that $300,’" explains Jim Day, chief operating officer atReservation Center. "It turns into a he-said-she-said thing."

When Day came to the company in May 2005, he knew Reservation Center needed a way to resolve the problem. He began pushing his departments to look for a solution.

Despite Reservation Center’s smaller size and limited hours of operation, Day says the need for an application that could archive customer calls was "so clear when you saw what we were doing and what we were up against in terms of additional cost when we couldn’t defend ourselves."

The company determined that the best way to prevent future accusations by customers was to log and record all the company’s calls. Solutions with those capabilities, however, come with a hefty price tag. In Reservation Center’s case, it was $80,000. "It was something I wanted right away, but [these solutions] don’t come cheap, so it took awhile to get it approved, and thank God it did," Day says.

Though Reservation Center spoke with several other vendors, the company ultimately turned to Aspect Software’s Quality Management program. The company had already invested $500,000 in Aspect’s automatic call distribution (ACD) system, which automatically tracks the next available agent and routes calls accordingly.

Another selling point for the Aspect Quality Management system was the fact that it could use the same terminology as the Aspect ACD system, allowing for greater ease of use and familiarity for employees operating the program.

The system, which provides 100 percent call recording and logging, also allows Reservation Center to enhance its call center operations by using the recorded interactions to grade agents and provide them with feedback. This works particularly well because Reservation
Center’s employees all work from their homes. Without a centralized location and recording of their customer interactions, agents would have no way of being evaluated firsthand by their supervisors.

While the Aspect Quality Management solution has many uses, T.J. Kuhny, director of quality management solutions at Aspect, has noticed an increase in use of the program solely for call recording. "[Call recording] really applies to any market, and we’re seeing more customers go to 100 percent recording because of what it can do for them," he says. "Some customers really just need to make sure their calls are recorded, and they need to go back for legal reasons and listen to those calls to make sure they know what was said."

Once Reservation Center purchased the application, Day says three departments within the company— operations, which is responsible for the company’s call center agents; IT, which did most of the face-to-face work with Aspect during the installation; and customer service, which works with both agents and trainees—became involved in the installation. Each department had to be trained to use the system as well.

Aspect officially delivered the finished product to Reservation Center May 31 at 9 p.m. "They promised it by June 1, and we got it within three hours of the due date," Day states.

During the first day after the implementation, Day says, Reservation Center avoided paying a $750 fee when a customer refused to pay for a first-class airline ticket. By pulling up the recording of the call and sending it to the travel agency as a .wav file, Reservation Center was able to prove it hadn’t made the mistake— all within 10 minutes.

Reservation Center isn’t the only company to benefit from these quick resolutions. "The [other] agency is no longer put in the middle, so they like it," Day adds.

Reservation Center is constantly looking for new travel agencies to take on as clients, and Day says that operating with Aspect Quality Management is a strong selling point. "It’s a sales tool," Day says. "When we’re out selling to prospective clients, they’re excited to
hear we record 100 percent of the calls and archive indefinitely."

Though Day says achieving a return on the company’s investment is "going to take awhile," he remains confident in his decision to purchase the solution. He also remains confident in his choice of a vendor, citing a best practice that he says made all the difference. "I
would tell [other companies] to be as clear as a bell on what it is they want to do, what their needs are," Day says. "Not all companies, even if they’re in the same industry, necessarily want the same out of the system. Real specificity [adds to] the likelihood that the vendor
will provide the right services."

In addition, Kuhny says companies implementing similar software should focus on their employees. While it is ultimately the job of the company to decide which course of action it will take with any new program, working closely with call center agents is of paramount concern, he advises. "You want to make incremental improvements so agents can see success initially," Kuhny states. "Sometimes agent  feel like they’re being watched, they resist, and don’t participate in what the quality improvements could be for the whole company."

For Day, discussing his company’s new program during a recent conference call with representatives from American Express Travel solidified the decision to implement Aspect Quality Management. "At the end of the call, I opened it up to questions, and the first person on the call said, ‘I just want to comment on your use of DVR and that it is absolutely invaluable,’" he says. 

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