Booking.com likes to ride on the humble beginnings of one man in a small office in Amsterdam whose formula for success was pretty simple: working hard to get it right every day for their customers.
But like many companies who have scaled quickly, processes have become more important than customer service – which is a fairly reasonable indicator of a company losing its way, particularly one in the business of serving customers.
Unfortunately, I experienced this first hand last week when the accommodation that we had booked fell through. At the time, Booking.com confirmed that the additional cost of replacement accommodation would be covered. To cut a long story short (as it is certainly a familiar story), a week later and a refusal to refund the additional agreed cost, I have hit a process-driven rabbit hole in which (apparently) only lawyers are allowed to communicate with the company.
Efficiency at the expense of service
Anything that can be put in a process can be automated, and anything that can be automated can be done by a computer or robot. However, as they scale, the likes of Booking.com have overlooked that if you try to put everything into a process, you lose your ability to provide adequate customer service to humans. Good customer service does not only come from efficient processes, but by allowing front line staff the flexibility and initiative to ameliorate, not exacerbate, customer problems.
With the increasing pervasiveness of AI, the future of customer service is changing fast. I have been testing chatGPT (an AI chatbot developed by OpenAI) to see how much can be automated by AI in a service environment – and therefore by extension – what will be the roles of humans in service-oriented organizations. So, as a test, I thought I would ask it to write a Christmas poem – which it did in seconds:
Booking.com, oh how you disappoint,
Not refunding extra costs, oh what a disjoint.
I booked a cozy cabin for Christmas time,
But it fell through, and now I’m left to chime.
I thought you were reliable and true,
But now I see, my trust in you was misplaced, I rue.
Your customer service, oh how it’s lacking,
No empathy, no care, just a cold shoulder and backing.
Christmas is coming, and I’m left with a hole,
No warm cabin, no fireplace, no mistletoe.
My plans are ruined, my heart is heavy,
Thanks to you, Booking.com, oh so petty.
I thought you were a friend, but now I know,
Your loyalty is fleeting, your promises, just a show.
Booking.com, you’ve let me down,
I’ll never trust you again, without a doubt.
The ability to accurately replicate speech that AI has so rapidly achieved is uncanny, and will undoubtedly have a huge impact on service roles in a very short period of time (if it has not already). But reading between the lines of this computer-generated poem would suggest that a certain care and attention is missing, just as was missing in my recent experience with the process-driven customer service of Booking.com.
So as we move into a new year, leaders of service companies should reflect how far AI has come as well as recognizing its limitations – not only in chatbots – and why in 2023 we need to re-orientate jobs to bring out the best in human skills and leave AI to do only those processes which should be processed.