So, I recently decided to visit family and friends in bay area for the Thanksgiving holiday. I usually fly American Airlines and mostly book my travel on one of their portals called aavacations.com. The interface is a little hard to navigate and is not as intuitive and pleasing to the eye as some of their competitor’s but you usually end up with money saving deals, so I do not mind a little walkabout on that website.
I located the flight search form and input travel information like time and date of flight etc and hit the search button. Unexpectedly, I encountered a message that declared “No flights were found”. The exact message and a screen shot is attached below (Image 1).
Being in a hurry to be in time for a meeting and not wanting to be further frustrated, I found another travel site and booked my travel.
Incidentally, later in the day, I was planning for a business travel and went to the American Airways website again. I entered the required information. Lo and behold, the same message appeared as before. Now I know this is not a functionality issue. I have booked on their website exactly the same way before many times and it works. I tried different destination, dates, originations etc. None seem to work this time.
I kicked the tires some more by selecting flight only, hotel only, hotel + car only and other options available on the drop down on the website’s booking page. Interestingly, all other options worked except the option where you can select Flight, Hotel and a car. This ruled out my suspicion that may be, just maybe they do not have a hotel or a car to offer with the flight.
Really? If that were true there would be severe supply shortage of rental cars at American airports!
Perhaps this is an application error. May be their IT moved a code that broke the search function. As far as I am concerned this could also be a data quality issue. Look closer at the screenshot I attached. On the right hand side you will see a message saying “No flights found”. This is just not true, when you search for the flights only option, you do find a bunch of flights! So there is a type mismatch between whatever the issue is and the message they are conveying to the customer. It gets even more interesting (or frustrating, depending which way you look at it) – there is yet another button on lower-right side of screen that says “Start Over”. Guess what, clicking on that button does not start you over; instead it leads to another cryptic, completely meaningless message that I have shown in screen shot # 2 below.
This whole experience boils down to this – American airlines may just have lost a pretty regular customer who brings additional revenue in fees by booking not only the flight but also the hotel and a car. I don’t know how many other users experienced this, but it may be several hundred if not thousands. And even if a fraction of them decide to defect to another provider, it would represent a significant revenue loss for the company.
What is the moral of this story – I work with customers on data quality improvement initiatives and constantly look out for instances where poor quality hits where it hurts most – for most companies it is the revenue loss, or lack of good will with their customer. When one hears about data quality, they tend to think it is an internal IT matter that will take care of itself over time, or someone will someday come along and FIX it! On the contrary, with the even big (ger) data, data quality is not only not being fixed, it is also leaving the corporate firewalls and seeping into the interaction your customers have with your products. I just demonstrated a real life example where lack of quality leads to frustration and a sub-optimal customer experience. This is entirely avoidable by implementing a robust, and comprehensive approach to how your applications create, use and manage data.
Though the problem at hand is a difficult one, there are solutions out there. We will continue this discussion and take a look at some of these solutions in next installments of this blog.
So long until then!