John Bevan, chief executive, dnata Travel Europe, explains plans for Gold Medal and Travel 2 to request client contact information from agents to help aid customers in the event of an industry crisis.
Thomas Cook’s collapse showed us why agents need to be ready to share customer data.
Ours is primarily a service industry. As such, our first concern must be for our customer – whether they have booked direct or via an agent. If they’ve had a good time, feel looked after and get value for money, they will return to that channel in the future. It’s the simple virtuous circle of good customer service, and the basis of loyalty.
But that circle was sorely tested in the immediate aftermath of the Cook collapse. In the preceding days, as the news moved from the business to the news pages, I spoke to all our key business heads and finalised plans for the eventuality of a failure. As we ran through all the scenarios, I felt that we had good levels of control in place. I was reassured that our businesses had managed large scale disruptions before, from the ash cloud to Monarch and other failures.
I’m glad we did. I think that we took more than 30,000 calls across all our businesses on the Monday – and are still dealing with the fallout.
But while a very difficult situation was made worse by the incorrect information posted on the CAA website, what complicated our lives further – and unnecessarily, in my opinion – was that we started receiving duplicate bookings for customers who had already booked one of our Gold Medal or Travel 2 packages via a Cook agent.
While huge credit goes to key airline and retail partners who acted swiftly to help manage the issue, I couldn’t help but ask how much better it would have been if we could contact clients ourselves to reassure them that their holiday was safe and secure?
As agents don’t pass on customer contact information to us, we had no way to communicate to the thousands who were rebooking – which caused significant confusion at a time when clarity and speed were of the essence.
The Cook crisis showed again that our industry can lose sight of the most important person, the customer. We have one of the most complex travel industry infrastructures in the world, and although it is supported by the best consumer protection, it has not kept up with the pace of change. It has become too complicated for us, let alone the people we are all here to serve.
There are understandable reasons why agents want to hold on to their clients’ information, and we’ll always respect those – but our industry will never be immune to crisis, when the needs of the customer have to take priority.
So with that in mind, once this peak season is out of the way, we will begin requesting the lead passenger’s contact information from the agent as part of the booking process. We will hold that data separately and securely in adherence to GDPR legislation from the time the booking is confirmed, to the day after the customer returns from their holiday – at which point it will be erased.
But by sharing this limited amount of data, I believe we will be better able to fulfil our legal obligation to look after and care for customers when they need it most.
Many hard lessons were served with the collapse of Thomas Cook, as they are after every crisis. However, it’s time for outdated protectionist practices, that ultimately put the customer at a disadvantage when they need our help, to be consigned to history.
John Bevan is chief executive of dnata Travel Europe