After more than two long years of staying close to home due to the pandemic, Americans finally returned to the skies this summer. Almost 8.76 million people passed through TSA checkpoints over Labor Day weekend—the first holiday weekend to surpass pre-pandemic levels of airline travel.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Some even called the summer 2022 travel season “Hell.”
“This is an extraordinarily difficult season of travel,” Marc Casto, president of leisure brands in the Americas for Flight Centre Travel Group, told The Washington Post. “It’s a confluence of multiple forces all hitting at the exact same time, which has resulted in a poor experience for everybody involved.”
Even the U.S. government says that things need to change. “Airlines need to step up their game,” Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, said of this summer’s travel woes. Things have gotten so bad that on September 1, the Department of Transportation launched an online dashboard to help air travelers keep track of cancellations and delays.
Among the airlines’ biggest customer frustrations? Waiting on hold to speak with an agent. But when customers are offered an option for reliable and seamless interactions with agents, flying can be a bit less of a bumpy ride.
Create better CX with omnichannel service
One way that airlines can help passengers cope with delays, cancellations, and other travel mishaps is to take an omnichannel approach to the customer experience (CX).
Omnichannel CX is a strategy that creates connected and consistent customer interactions across channels. These channels include phone, email, social media, chat, and instant messaging. With an omnichannel approach, customers are able to seamlessly interact with support agents—no matter what channel they choose.
This approach helps both airline customers and agents, as there’s less frustration when customers don’t have to repeat their travel travails when they switch from mobile messaging to email. And CX agents are in a better position to help customers when they are able to maintain the context of all conversations across multiple channels.
“Many of the larger airline carriers take a siloed approach to their messaging—three different systems sending notifications to customers about three different things—that’s not a unified strategy,” explains Bill Paulsen, RVP of Sunshine Conversations at Zendesk. “Ideally, you want to be able to consolidate the messages that go out to customers. So, if a call has to be escalated to a live agent, the agent will have context about the conversation from the automation tools that are in place.”
Airlines that employ this approach are better equipped to face challenges brought on by the pandemic, inflation, labor shortages, and even run-of-the-mill weather delays. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022, companies that lead with an omnichannel approach performed better across key CX metrics—they had faster response times and higher customer satisfaction scores.
What’s up with WhatsApp
Realizing its customers had different CX expectations in a post-pandemic world, LATAM Airlines, one of the largest airline groups in the world, completely overhauled its customer service offerings. The airline has long used Zendesk Suite, and it added Sunshine Conversations in January 2020 to be able to better handle WhatsApp conversations.
Most of LATAM’s interactions with its customers are through WhatsApp—and the Santiago de Chile-based airline ranks as one of the app’s top users in the world. Meta’s free messaging app is popular in Latin America, where many mobile carriers still charge customers for text messages.
WhatsApp is a revenue generator for LATAM, as passengers can use it to upgrade their seats and make meal selections and other purchases. LATAM can also proactively address service issues with the app, automatically alerting customers of gate changes or delays. WhatsApp messaging enables most customer inquiries to be resolved via self-service before they need to be escalated to a live agent. This way, airlines can be proactive and stay one step ahead of alerting customers to travel issues.
When a customer is notified of a travel issue, the WhatsApp bot allows customers to take action—they can rebook their flight, send the airline an address to forward lost luggage to, etc. As the WhatsApp bot takes care of simple CX issues, live agents are free to focus on more complex problems and not be overwhelmed with issues that can be easily addressed with self-service.
With its new messaging platform, LATAM Airlines is now able to:
- Proactively update customers on check-in status and flight changes
- Coordinate handoffs between bots and live agents for travel inquiries
- Share conversations between travelers and flight staff across multiple back-office systems
7 best practices for fueling airline customer experiences
There will always be things that are out of agents’ control when it comes to air travel. Weather delays, cancellations, and lost luggage are a constant—if frustrating—part of flying. The variable is how agents respond to customer concerns. With an omnichannel customer service experience, agents will help make flying a little smoother for their customers. Here are seven tips for winning airline CX.
- Drive additional revenue
Make it easy for customers to upgrade seats, order meals, and complete other purchases through self-service tools.
- Offer 24/7 support across multiple channels
Let your customers choose how they want to reach you—whether it’s via a mobile message, live chat, social media, email, or a phone call.
- Provide self-service options
When done well, self-service tools can boost customer satisfaction and drive efficiencies for your airline.
- Monitor social media
An unhappy flying experience detailed on social media can quickly go viral. It’s essential to have a team in place to help resolve situations before they get out of control.
- Proactively communicate with customers
Airlines must keep travelers in the loop about flight delays. No one wants to be late, but if customers are given a quick heads up, they’ll be more forgiving.
- Get feedback
Sending surveys at various touchpoints—such as after buying a ticket or interacting with a flight attendant—will provide valuable insights on how to improve the travel experience.
- Use AI-powered bots
Deploy chatbots across channels to help triage tickets and answer common customer questions—quickly and easily.