Customer experience leaders are hard at work assessing the year that was and planning for the future. By most accounts, no group has more to dwell on than airline contact centers.
After a chaotic summer that saw 3X the number of traveler complaints than pre-pandemic levels, airlines spent much of the year in the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons:
- Airline passenger spent total of 11 hours on hold to customer service
- Lufthansa Cancels Nearly All Flights in Frankfurt and Munich, Stranding 130,000
- Overwhelmed airports lose luggage, leave travelers in dark
- Wasn’t Airline Customer Service Supposed to Be Fixed by Now?
Heading into the new year, airline contact centers are among the 95% of leaders planning to implement automation in the next 12 months. The reason is simple: automation addresses several of the key challenges that led to all-time low customer satisfaction scores.
From workforce management to mass cancellation events, here’s the why and how behind airlines’ race for Contact Center Automation.
Why the turbulence?
The nationwide labor shortage that defined the economic summer didn’t spare airlines. Staffing challenges impacted contact centers directly and indirectly as shortages stretched across business units leading to more delays, cancellations, and baggage incidents. US airlines canceled at least 35,000 flights in a two week midsummer stretch, leaving passengers “frustrated amid rising travel disruption due to lack of staff and high demand.“ In all, workforce shortages resulted in larger spikes in inbound calls and longer wait times across the board.
Rebound pandemic demand
Despite above average fares caused by record setting fuel prices, travelers hit the skies in droves this summer as pandemic restrictions eased. Oftentimes, this caused mass confusion with inconsistencies in travel requirements between countries and airports. “Obviously as demand has surged, that continues to put more pressure on the phones. As international [travel] is opening, that puts more pressure on the phones,” Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian said in April. Heading into 2023, travel is expected to continue rebounding and airlines are focused on providing reliable service before they set their sights on flight growth.
Sky high customer expectations
Today’s customers want fast, efficient service more than anything else, but they also want personalized customer care over whichever channel of engagement they prefer. In other words, expectations are high. In the world of air travel, frustrating experiences have become low hanging fruit for customers to publicly call out companies who fail to meet their expectations. Whether or not these experiences are the contact center’s fault, customer service represents the front door of airlines and will continue to garner notoriety if improvements aren’t made.
How Replicant guides a smooth landing:
Built for the ups and downs of travel
Customer experience leaders choose automation because it enables them to provide no-wait service to every customer without increasing costs. In fact, Replicant reduces costs by 50% on a cost per contact basis while resolving 90% of calls on first touch without agent escalation. During irregular operations events where cancellations lead to massive spikes in demand, automation scales infinitely to meet real-time customer demand. Compared to the low containment rates of IVRs, automation is built to fully resolve common use cases like reservations, rebooking and outbound flight updates so contact centers are protected from high-volume spikes.
First-class experiences for all
Replicant’s Thinking Machine provides end-to-end customer service that lowers average handle times by 50%. With an advanced NLU brain, customers are able to speak naturally in any language they choose and converse as they would with an agent. On the other side of the phone, agents are freed to focus on traveler issues that require a human touch, like families stranded at an airport or security issues that compromise customers. In both cases, customers with common requests are able to get service immediately, and agents are relieved from the repetitive calls that eat into their precious time.
Ready for takeoff
Even as technology improves and AI becomes more mainstream, automation can be a daunting proposition for both customers and contact centers. But with Replicant, contact centers can launch a comprehensive solution and start resolving calls in just weeks without taking on resource-intensive projects. Replicant’s industry-leading resolution rates are backed by millions of conversations and pre-trained models are ready to deliver natural conversations without heavy development cycles. The Thinking Machine is SOCII, HIPAA, PCI and GDPR compliant and ready to integrate with any combination of CCaaS, CRM and telephony platforms.
Airlines will use several strategies to respond to the chaos of 2022. In one extreme example, Frontier Airlines has already eliminated the phone option entirely from its customer service offering. This is a dramatic step to address the rising costs of operating call centers and the challenge of hiring and retaining agents.
But it’s safe to say the move won’t help combat the plummeting American customer satisfaction index, as travelers are directed to engage with Frontier on WhatsApp for flight issues. Conversely, the hybrid approach of Contact Center Automation will continue to rise in popularity, freeing up agents to handle urgent requests and allowing routine questions to be handled with zero wait times.