Why Booking.com and Other Services Failed

Booking.com likes to borrow the success formula of a man from humble beginnings in a small office in Amsterdam, and his formula for success is very simple: work hard every day and do good things for customers.

But as with many rapidly expanding companies, process became more important than customer service—a fairly reasonable indicator that the company had lost its way, especially in the customer service industry.

Unfortunately, I experienced this firsthand last week when the accommodation we had booked failed. At the time, Booking.com confirmed that it would cover the additional cost of changing accommodation. Long story short (because it’s sure to be a familiar story), after a week of refusing to refund the additional agreed fee, I ran down a process-driven rabbit hole that (obviously) only allowed lawyers vs. firms.

Efficiency at the expense of service

Anything that can be put into a process can be automated, and anything that can be automated can be done by a computer or a robot. However, as they scale, companies like Booking.com have neglected that if you try to fit everything into one process, you lose the ability to provide enough customer service to a human. Good customer service doesn’t just come from efficient processes, it also requires front-line employees to be nimble and proactive in improving rather than exacerbating customer problems.

The future of customer service is changing rapidly as artificial intelligence becomes more pervasive. I’ve been testing chatGPT (an AI chatbot developed by OpenAI) to see how much AI can automate in a service environment – and by extension – what role humans will play in a service-oriented organization. So, as a test, I thought I’d ask it to write a Christmas poem – and it did it in seconds:

Booking.com, oh you’re such a disappointment,

No refund for the extra, oh what a disjoint.

I booked a cozy cottage for Christmas,

But it fell through, and now I can only be smug.

I thought you were reliable and true,

But now I understand that my trust in you was wrong and I regret it.

Your customer service, oh how lacking it is,

There is no empathy, no concern, only watching and supporting.

Christmas is coming and I left a hole,

No warm cabins, no fireplaces, no mistletoe.

My plans are ruined, my heart is heavy,

Thank you, Booking.com, oh so stingy.

I thought you were a friend, but now I know,

Your allegiance is fleeting, your commitment, is just a show.

Booking.com, you let me down,

There is no doubt that I will never trust you again.

Source: ChatGPT

The ability of AI to accurately replicate speech that has been achieved so quickly is incredible and will undoubtedly have a huge impact on service roles in a very short time, if not already. But reading between the lines of this computer-generated poem, I can see that there is a lack of care and attention, just as it was missing in my recent experience with Booking.com’s process-driven customer service.

So, as we head into the new year, leaders of services companies should reflect on how far AI has come and recognize its limitations—not just in chatbots—and why in 2023 we need Repurpose jobs to bring out the best in human skills and let AI do only those processes it should handle.

happy holidays!

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