In the process of confirming my airfare to Honolulu (HNL for those who understand airport codes), I looked at my flights and connections. Two connections each way, three flights out and three flights back. But, two flight segments did not have seat assignments for my ticket, but they did for my wife. So, what do I do? I click on the “view/change seat assignments” hyperlink on the airline website, but the reponse tells me that the seats are not assigned, they are unable to assign the seats, and I will have to see a gate agent in order to do that. So, because I would like to sit next to my wife during the trip, I phone the airline to get the seats assigned.

So what does Airline A say? Since I booked the travel with a partner airline, Airline A is unable to assign the seats on a different airline, even though Airline A sold me the connecting segments on the partner airline as part of my overall travel from ATL (Atlanta) to HNL. Now consider that I’m a BA by nature, so I ask if that’s true, then why does my wife have her seats booked but I don’t – especially since both tickets were purchased on the same transaction? The CSR cannot explain that, and the only answer is that Airline A cannot book seats for Airline B and I will have to get my seat assignment at the gate. She did offer me an alternative, to contact Airline B myself and try to get my seats assigned.

A call to Airline B and another CSR. This CSR cannot find my record because he needs HIS airline’s flight confirmation number, NOT Airline A’s number. Well, of course I don’t have that since Airline A never gave it to me – it’s a field shared internally between the two airlines, but not the customer. Finally, after several minutes of manipulation, he is able to get to my flight via the flight number instead of the confirmation. He also tells me I do have a seat assignment and guess what? Both seats are right next to my wife. Happy? Of course, but why did I have to go through all of the heartache to get that information? The airlines had made a customer go through a lot of trouble because they had failed to perform interface analysis.

When the two airlines had decided on a merger, they needed to understand what data had to pass back and forth. While they had a system working successfully from a booking perspective, they were not working from a customer service/self-service perspective. Here are some things to think about when considering interfaces:

  • What processes are going to use the data in the interface? In the case of the airlines, they sucessfully booked a single traveler through multiple flight segments, but forgot about the process to assign seats or change seats. And from the CSR’s response, it appeared they forgot to train the CSRs on what to do if someone calls and requests a seat assignment.
  • Who is going to use the data from the interface? Maybe you cannot have a customer change his/her seat assignment in a self-service web mode, but how about a CSR doing it on behalf of the customer? Data that Airline A needed was not available, and in fact, they didn’t even know my seats were assigned. So the interface hampered the ability of Airline A’s CSR to assist me with my situation. On the flipside, when I phoned Airline B about getting my seat assignment, they needed their own confirmation number, but I never received that number in an interface.

Bottom line, as a BA, you have to think through the interface. What processes am I affecting with the interface? Who are my stakeholders (hint – they may actually be an external customer)? Who needs to see the data? Who needs to act on the data? What data is needed in the interface to satisfy the processes? Who gets notified when the data changes or is updated? By understanding this information surrounding an interface, you put your organization in a better position to avoid service failures.

So how about you? Do you have any interface “horror stories” you can share? And what did you learn from it that you took away and reminded yourself never to do?

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