I'm here presenting to the 3Com EMEA sales organization.

It's a pretty complete week of content, events and expectations. Although the team will be here until Thursday, I'm departing on Thursday morning.

My administrative assistant booked the travel and then left early to go on vacation for a few days. That's when I discovered the opportunity for the travel reservation industry.

There's been a pendulum swinging. Ten years ago, SABRE was the information database for 25,000 travel agents booking 40% of all tickets. Today, the Internet is a prime source of travel bookings, but for more complicated travel plans, it's not measuring up. My recent experiences prove that this model is less than perfect.

I needed to make a change to my travel plan (I hate non-refundable tickets because they charge you for changes, and there are always changes in my travel plans) and since my admin was away, I thought I'd call the call center myself.

Well, it was an hour on the phone, waiting while the agent, June, did her best to validate my service requests. Fortunately, I had a speaker phone, and kept the music-on-hold on muted speaker, while I carried on my daily work. After about 80 minutes, where my requests were not quite fulfilled – I needed to be assured that there was DC power in my assigned seat for the flight – June came back and graciously requested that she be allowed to hang up and call me back when all the processing was complete. That way she could do other work for her employer (accept calls from China confirming travel plans for other clients) in the gaps while waiting for the airline in question to respond properly.

June had to put me on hold, and then had to call around to each airline to confirm their in-flight power configurations. It might have been a short call, if only the airline call center personnel knew the answer, had it at their fingertips and were organized to handle calls quickly and efficiently (they weren't). Especially poor was Iberia.

Travel reservations are a prime opportunity for integrated voice-data applications. Despite the huge number of reservations made every day without human support, there are still millions of reservations requiring the expert attention of a live human being skilled in travel management. And, in that case, having computers and telephones both on an IP network can facilitate screen sharing and effective screen and key stroke history between client and agent.

This could improve the ease of agent transfers to specialists and give the enterprise better 'meta-data' about best practices and work flows in the agent-centric call center.

My experience shows that telephony is still the lowest common denominator, even though Instant Messaging may have been the more powerful service. Next time, I'll just leave all the changes to my admin. Argggghhhh!

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