Where It's all going wrong
Last week I had dealings with a large UK phone company and a bank. Both involved long and meticulous conversations and a lot of time was taken, whilst details were typed into "the file". This would be okay, were it not that I had had the same conversations with someone else in each of the relevant outfits and had already waited whilst "the file" was updated, last week. This was the case the week before and the week before that. I have come to the conclusion that it may be easier just to video my proposed conversation and then, go and make a cup of tea or go for a hack or climb Everest or something.
I regret to say this, but I know we can be just the same in travel - at least those larger agents employing latter-day agents can. As to OTA's, they are past masters at confusing "updating the file" with "solving the problem". Many airlines' reservation agents, I fear, fall into the same category - even ones tasked to deal with agent queries.
Some (not all, I grant you) agents in travel are not travel agents at all. They are operatives, given a process sheet and have no real holistic knowledge of travel. If you ask for a point of view, you will not get one.... as I found out the other day, asking a major airline how they best felt a client could take some (fairly valuable) paintings with him. I think the East of Suez person managed to repeat the same words at least 5 times, if not 6. No understanding of the issue or the question... just turn to the "baggage" response and repeat, ad infinitum.
There you are! I just said "asked a major airline". Fact of the matter is, I didn't. I asked some person in a call centre somewhere East of Suez who understood about as much of my question as I would grasp, if you asked me a question relating to space rocket propulsion.
Automation of procedures has this insidious ability to take us to this Orwellian world.
Everyone can give an answer, but it is the same answer to every question - at least to every question that falls into a given tick box category. This is wrong. People answering the phone do not need to be just "nice" - they need to be empowered to make decisions. To do that, the troops need to understand the problem. To understand the problem, people need to have a holistic knowledge of travel, not just the ability to work a GDS and apply a policy. Real savings only happen when the agent has the ability to look at something and think/ say "Hang on ...."
Pay rates don't help. As automation takes over, as robots appear and as AI starts to rule so more and more of this holistic training goes by the board. The danger is that the holistic knowledge gets absorbed into AI (including the invariably incorrect holistic knowledge) ; The life known to Winston Smith becomes reality.
Sometimes the client is their own worse enemy. They have "found" this and that flight on some website. Apart from needles and haystacks springing to mind, many websites are just plain wrong. And stupid. Very stupid indeed. (And there are some very big websites that are the most stupid of all) Cheapest, as I keep saying, can cost you a fortune. There is only one person who can understand your itinerary and only one person who can suggest the most cost effective solution. He or she is not on a website - they are on the end of a telephone.