Don’t fail at scale: a lesson from airline push alerts

By Rachael Harper, Research Manager –

Push notifications can provide a convenient, satisfying way of communicating with large numbers of customers. But without careful execution, they can also create highly dissatisfying experiences on a large scale.

A recent experience of my family provides an example. As we prepared for an American Airlines flight, I decided to download the airline’s app. I had read that, this year, American had finally caught up to Delta and United by offering boarding notifications via app.

However, the notifications confused and irritated us rather than helping. Instead of notifying me of multiple flight departure time changes before I sat waiting at the gate getting worried, I instead received the alerts well after we had already landed at our destination.

These mistimed boarding alerts ended up drawing my attention to their untimeliness and unhelpfulness.

Of course, American Airlines just officially started providing these notifications this month, so there are still many kinks to iron out.

It’s best, of course, to prevent these kinds of problems before they happen.

Many utilities have discovered problems only after launching outage push alerts via text, voice or email.

Customers sometimes receive alerts far too late to be useful (especially during large-scale events), or they receive incorrect information (e.g., they receive a restoration alert, but the power is still off), or the estimated time of restoration they were given is inaccurate. Sometimes these problems arise from inaccuracies in the connectivity model – that is, meters in many places aren’t associated with the right transformer – problems with customer contact data or system gaps.

Chartwell’s Outage Communications Leadership Council discusses these things frequently. Members experiencing these problems share their solutions with one another in a collaborative, sharing atmosphere.

If you are interested in membership in our Outage Communications Research Council, reach out to me or to Tim Herrick,