British Airways has announced the impending closure of its Jacksonville call center, displacing 280 jobs. Sadly, this is not an April Fools’ joke.
The news broke last week, but a conversation I had today with a British Airways call center agent brought the issue to the forefront of my thoughts. I was booking an AerLingus ticket for a client (Boston to Dublin is still one heck of a good deal for 12.5K Avios each way in economy class with a tiny fuel surcharge and there is ample award space available) and the agent just seemed really down.
I mentioned that I had read about the closure of the call center and he almost teared up, stating that he had worked for BA for eight years and had no idea how he would provide for his family when the call center closes at the end of this year.
A British Airways spokesperson stated–
Following a global review of our call center operations, the decision has been taken to close Flytele, our call center in Jacksonville by the end of December 2013.
The reason for this change? Money.
In a statement, the spokeswoman said the decision “has not been taken lightly” and is part of the company’s efforts “to ensure our customers receive the best possible service at the right level of cost, operational effectiveness and flexibility.”
The company’s Jacksonville call center operational costs are “significantly higher” than its other call centers and its closure is based purely on costs, she said. She did not elaborate on the difference in costs of the Jacksonville call center to others.
But despite my heart aching for the agent I spoke with today and the many competent agents I routinely deal with, the British Airways call center had three things working against it and therefore I am both sad at the loss of jobs but hopeful something better will come out of this.
First, the call center has more than a few agents like Sherri and dealing with them is like nails on a chalkboard. Such rudeness and incompetence is simply inexcusable and also very inefficient. Second, hold times are generally bad, particularly in the evening hours. 30 minutes hold times are an indication that BA does not have enough people working. Last, and perhaps most important, is the limited operating hours of the call center–only 8am to 8pm each day.
Talk about inefficient.
I realize Americans take 24/7 service for granted, but when Avios redemption can only be completed through an in-country call center (i.e. I cannot call the UK call center after hours if points are being pulled from a U.S. account), a 12-hour gap each day makes running my award booking business inefficient and more importantly, inconvenient for the North Americans who may be too busy during the day to book their vacations.
So what I hope for in a new call center is both 24/7 support and competence. The Air France/KLM Flying Blue call center in Ontario, Canada–also with limited hours–is horrible and I fear we’ll see something like that–or even worse, something like bmi’s old Indian call center. But then again, this is all speculation–maybe we’ll get lucky and BA will move over to Winston-Salem, North Carolina and recruit some of the lovely geographically inept agents from US Airways who may find their own positions squeezed out post-merger.
For the many bright and competent agents at the BA call center–with a special shout out to Gary (who was not the agent I spoke with today)–I wish you the best and truly am sorry to see your positions eliminated. I hope that BA decides to open a new call center in the U.S. and you are offered jobs there, though I cannot see that happening if high operational costs is the primary concern and Florida proved to be an an environment too hostile to operate in.
We might soon be wishing for Sherri back…