When IT lets you down

During a recent United flight I was amazed and disappointed to hear the staff blaming our 30 minute departure delay on their new “customer service computer system”.

The background to this is the merger between United and Continental and that because Continental owned their computer system but United leased there’s it made financial sense to switch to the Continental system – especially as it is apparently a more powerful system. The rationale to unify on a single system is also good as it could take two customer service personnel – one from United and one from Continental – to assist passengers flying on routes operated by both carriers.

So what went wrong?

In the first instance the change was seen as merely an IT change – not an operational change – and the complexity of switching was under estimated.

Staff appeared to lack knowledge of the system with just one person operating several kiosk as other personnel lacked the training to help and so were forced to look on helplessly.

This could have been overcome by training more staff in the system in parachuting experts from Continental in to help – or even placing United representatives with Continental reps prior to the change to gain hands on experience of the system.

Instead we are left with a farcical situation where an IT system causes more trouble than it fixes and staff are left to deal with frustrated customers .

This quickly erodes staff morale and builds resentment to the system change. It also leads to a destruction of customer goodwill that had already been seriously damaged by the “United breaks guitars” episode.

This has turned an IT change into a public relations gaffe that could have so easily been avoided.

[i should mention this is my first blog from my iPhone so hopefully there aren’t too many typos!]

  1. Matt,

    Historically, merging the system in a merging and acquisition deal is on of the biggest pain points. System integration is one of main areas to cover as part of due diligence. Considering that we are in the world driven by technology, bringing in firms with two differenct system hs far more importance and significance than just a mere adaption of powerful IT system.

    From what you have described, the language of "Continental System" or "their system" just emphasizes how the underlying technology is tied to cultural difference.

    And any negative PR would only make the crack more bigger. The faster the fix, the better is for everyone. Otherwise, we can increase the count of failed M&A.

    – Ram

  2. Thanks for your comments Ram – really thought provoking. What scares me is that folks know that IT integration and staff training on new systems is a major pain point – yet they ignore these issues to save on costs while risking reputational damage!

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