Example: How documentation can save money on support calls

September 30, 2014


I have flights back to Australia from the USA in November. I leave from Salt Lake City (SLC), fly to Los Angeles (LAX) on American Airlines (AA) landing at Terminal 4  (T4), then have to transfer to the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at LAX to catch my Qantas flight to Sydney and my connection on to Perth.

Everything was fine until I got a message from Qantas that my AA flight from SLC had been cancelled and they’d put me on another flight. My original flight left SLC at 4:25pm, getting to LAX at 5:30pm, leaving me plenty of time to make my Qantas flight at 10:20pm. If you’ve never traveled through LAX, you may not realize that having PLENTY of connection time there is a MUST. Too many things can go wrong if you don’t — late arrival of your flight, time to transfer from one terminal to another, long TSA security lines, etc.

My new flight leaves SLC at 6:50pm, getting in to LAX at 7:45pm, which in my opinion is cutting it fine for making that connection, even though the Qantas staff said that the connection time was within their guidelines. (The only other flight out of SLC is at 12:50pm and that would mean a very early start from where I’ll be staying — some 2 hours out of SLC — and then a horrendous 8+ hour wait at LAX, all before another 14+ hours in the air, 5+ hours at Sydney airport, then another 4+ hour flight to Perth, followed by a 2-hour drive home.)

When I check in at SLC, I’ll be checked all the way through to Perth, so I’ll get all my boarding passes then and I won’t see my bags until I get to Sydney, where I have to clear Australian Customs before transferring to the Perth flight. So I won’t have baggage or check-in to contend with at LAX — just me and my hand luggage.

So what does this have to do with documentation and reducing the cost of support calls?

As so many things can go wrong to delay my AA flight out of SLC (weather: snow, storms, high winds over the Rockies — it will be mid-November, after all; delays: in take-off because of other flights, late arrival from wherever it’s coming in from, etc.), I’m skeptical that I’ll make the connection to my Qantas flight. So to mitigate some risks, I decided to find out if there’s some sort of transfer system for people connecting to international flights at LAX from one terminal to another without going through the TSA security lines again.

I searched on the internet but found mixed information (some dated information indicated that there used to be a tunnel between T4 and TBIT for international transfers, but it’s been closed for several years now). I also found some information on the Qantas website (http://www.qantas.com.au/travel/airlines/airport-guide-los-angeles/global/en#transfers). Although this web page told me that there was a shuttle between the two terminals after 4pm, it didn’t tell  me two important bits of information — whether I’d have to go through security again (thus carving off 10 to 45 minutes from my already tight connection), and how often the shuttle buses run. Both factors are really important for me in deciding whether to take the shuttle or run the risk of walking the 10 mins from T4 to TBIT and facing the potentially long TBIT TSA security lines, oh and going through Customs and Border Protection too.

Reading between the lines in the information on this web page (see screen shot below), the implication is that I won’t have to go through security again, but this isn’t explicitly stated. The first highlight in the screen shot states that you have to go through security in the first scenario, but the second scenario — the one that applies to me — doesn’t state whether you have to go through security again or not.


As I needed to know this information to make an informed decision, I called Qantas. It took at least 5 minutes for the Qantas rep to confirm who I was and to understand my question (she thought I was arriving from Santiago, not SLC!!). However, she didn’t know the answer to my question, so she put me on hold while she went to find out. Some 10 minutes later she got back to me and said that she spoke to ‘someone who’s familiar with LAX transfers’ and said that no, I wouldn’t have to go through security again as the shuttle bus is airside. After asking her, she also said that the shuttle was every 7 minutes.

Now, that’s pretty simple information but it’s NOT available on the Qantas website.

So what’s the cost of not having these two simple pieces of information on their website?

  • 15 minutes of a Qantas representative’s time on a support call that I wouldn’t have needed to make had it been written on their website in the first place; this 15 minutes includes her having to go off and ask someone else, whose concentration is also interrupted for some minutes
  • 15 minutes of my time on hold or talking to the Qantas rep
  • 30 minutes of my time trying to find information that didn’t exist on the Qantas website (nor, to be fair, on the LAX website or the AA website, both of which were even harder to find information on than Qantas’ website), and puzzling over whether the line ‘Proceed to your departure gate’ meant that I had to go through security again or not.

Two simple pieces of information could have ‘saved’ at least 30 minutes of wasted time (15 + 15), and possibly up to an hour (15 + 15 + 30). And that’s just for ONE person.

Extrapolate that out to the potential numbers of people who might need this information, and you can see how that time would add up very quickly. Let’s say only 500 people needed this information in a year (hundreds of thousands of people travel on Qantas from LAX to Australia each year so this is a very conservative number), and let’s say that they all spent 15 minutes talking to a Qantas rep (that’s a combined 30 minutes for the person’s time and the rep’s time), and finally let’s say that a Qantas phone rep’s hourly rate is $30 (I’m guessing all these numbers). That’s about 250 hours in one year spent on just this one question. Some 125 hours of that (i.e. $3750 at the $30/hr rate; $6250 at $50/hr) is for the Qantas reps’ time, so even if you just cost it from Qantas’ point of view (i.e. ignoring the cost of their clients’ time — and frustration), that’s starting to add up to a bucketload of money. All for two missing pieces of vital information to a person connecting from an AA flight to Qantas at LAX.

And now extrapolate out all these ‘little’ support calls they get that could have easily been answered on their website, and you’ll start to see how relevant and comprehensive documentation could save Qantas lots of money in repetitive and unnecessary support calls.

Bottom line: If it’s not classified information and if it helps your customers make an informed decision, stick it on your website and make it discoverable. Free up your support reps to deal with important calls, not annoying little stuff like this.


Further to this… I’m on a codeshare flight to New Zealand (Qantas and Emirates),  which was a ticket purchased direct from Qantas. Nowhere on the ticket that I could see does it tell you that you have to check in at the Emirates counters not the Qantas counter! I didn’t find this out until I got to the front of the line and was told to go to Emirates to check in. Fortunately,  the Qantas line I was in was short as was the Emirates line,  but had I waited in line for 30 minutes to be told this I wouldn’t be happy,  especially if I had to wait another 30 minutes in the Emirates line. And if I had a pack of kids and / or was running late,  I’d have been very unhappy. A simple note next to the terminal number on the ticket that said to check in at the other airline’s counter could have saved a lot of frustration for the customer… and the Qantas check-in staff who would be the brunt of customer frustration. Another case of good documentation saving money and customer and staff frustration.



  1. It comes down to the same old advice.
    1 Know what/when/how/why you customer will be doing something with your product/service.
    2 Develop a scenario of what they will do, including the mistakes and events that can happen along the way
    3 Then give them the information they need to do what they are trying to achieve with your product.

  2. Also
    Have some empathy for your user.
    Understand their state of mind when they face your product: overly happy and eager, excited, intimidated, rushed, sad, worried, bored, stressed, and so on

  3. If you decide to walk to TBIT, there will “only” be security. There is no customs or border patrol process when you leave the US like there is in Aus. The AA checkin agent in SLC will fulfill the requirements for documenting a person leaving the country.

  4. And just imagine someone whose first language is not English…

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