Buying a plane ticket can be a weighty investment. Be it a trip to visit relatives, attending a wedding, a graduation ceremony or simply going on a well-earned holiday, passengers put their faith in an airline's ability to get them to their destination on time. When this goes wrong, for whatever reason, travellers require care and attention from their airline or online travel agent (OTA) to put things right.
Recent Civil Aviation Authority research has shown that only 29 percent of customers are satisfied with how travel providers deal with common issues such as flight delays. When flight disruption happens the main causes for complaints are related to how well informed flyers are kept, the friendliness of customer service agents, and the level of compensation received. The CAA report is yet another stimulus for airlines and OTAs to improve their complaints handling process.
Solutions may be found in the form of next generation technology that helps to streamline the customer service process and fast track communication with travellers during difficult circumstances.
The truth is, many delays and cancellations, such as the freezing fog that recently affected UK airports, are unavoidable and out of the control of airlines. However travel providers have a responsibility to the customer during these difficult circumstances to keep them informed of the status of their flight. In 2015, 83 percent of airline disruptions were beyond the control of airlines, however customers still expect to be adequately compensated when unavoidable delays occur. Predictive software is being used by industry pioneers and promises to revolutionise the ability of carriers to act on warning signs of disruption.
When things do go wrong, passengers want things dealt with swiftly and efficiently. The obstacle for booking agents, and a cause of a great deal of waiting for travellers, is the maze of complicated fare rules which means changing tickets is more difficult than a quick refund or resell. Artificial intelligence is increasingly being utilised by travel providers to ensure compliance with booking rules. We are seeing the proliferation of speech analytics which is able to better recognise the needs of a delayed customer, speed up the complaint resolution process and fast track communication with passengers.
Travellers also expect a multi-channel service which is accessible on all of their devices. Passengers are using more than one channel to manage their travel plans such as websites, apps, SMS and other digital platforms. In this new marketplace, bookings must be amendable via all platforms, meaning that social media is becoming much more important as booking agents strive to serve the passengers of the future. Many airlines have seen how social media has been used by customers to voice complaints but now an increasing number of carriers are harnessing the way it can serve as a useful channel to stay in touch and provide a personalised service. They are especially mindful that millennials are brand agnostic and do not have the same brand loyalty of previous generations.
With talk of robotic customer service agents, artificial intelligence, and increasingly advanced analytics coming into the industry, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that human booking agents are here to stay for the foreseeable future. An airline's reputation with a passenger is only as good as the last interaction they had with a member of their staff and that is why it is so important that customer service teams have all the help they can to get this right, including technology tools.
2017 will see the introduction of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) services by the CAA where customers can get an independent and legally binding resolution to their travel issues. Travel firms not wishing to be embroiled in public disputes will be eager to invest in new technology which can make travel disruption as pain free as possible for not only their customers but themselves as well. Keeping passengers happy in times of need will require travel companies to stay up to date with the latest technology whilst also providing new channels of communication to keep customers informed.