- By Sherril Hanson
- February 1, 2023
A recent report from Onholdwith.com shows many airlines are not meeting expectations when it comes to hold times. Powered by Fonolo, this data, coming from an online database of Twitter complaints, showed that airlines occupied the top three spots as the worst hold-time offenders. Furthermore, airlines accounted for seven out of top 10 worst hold-time offenders, as measured by the volume of customer complaints on Twitter. This data points to airlines potentially not using technologies that can alleviate this problem, and it also demonstrates how important it is to incorporate social media into Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs.
The travel industry is still facing many challenges, not the least of which are operational issues and the continued staffing shortage. According to Fonolo CEO Shai Berger, airlines simply have not been prepared and are not leveraging the right tools to work on the problems. “It just goes to show how important it is for contact centers to have a crisis plan in place,” says Berger. “But businesses need to take action before an emergency strikes — and from what we can see, most airlines missed their opportunity to do so.”
“Contact centers shouldn’t think of callbacks as a simple add-on. Instead, they should consider how this tool fits into their customer experience strategy,” says Berger. “Eliminating the need for hold time is the first step. But if you don’t have the tools and infrastructure to serve your customers effectively, you put your business’ credibility at risk.”
Callbacks can help smooth out spikes in demand for live agents, reduce abandoned inbound calls and from a CX perspective, improve satisfaction by giving customers back their time instead of having them wait in a queue for hours or minutes. However, callback systems are just one tool airlines can use.
With the amount of friction points travelers are now experiencing due to flight cancellations and the resulting need for communication regarding rebooking, refunds, and credits, the problem of heavy inbound contact and potentially long wait times will not be going away any time soon. An omnichannel approach is crucial. Verint’s Guide to Digital-First Engagement for the Airline Industry pointed to a big channel shift that took place during the pandemic as consumer preference moved toward the use of third-party messaging services, such as Apple Business Chat, Twitter, WhatsApp, and others. Verint expects there to be a 15x increase in customer conversations occurring over private messaging channels when passenger numbers go back to pre-pandemic levels.
Airlines should be–and many are–working to offer customers other avenues to contact them. Shifting toward digital communications and away from voice is a strategy that carriers are investigating. Volaris Airlines has deployed a fully operational omnichannel CX operation that emphasizes WhatsApp and automation as primary communication channels. Self-service for issues that are uncomplicated and in less need of human intervention is also important to offer. Enabled with AI, these tools can be effective and accepted by customers. Self-service is now desired and expected in the hotel industry.
Aside from technologies that can help alleviate customer communication volume, the research points to the obvious need for strong social media and reputation management. Tempers can really flare when travel goes sideways and customers are not shy at all about voicing their discontent. Disconnections, transfers, hold times longer than an actual flight, and rants about repetitive messaging and bad music are all laid bare on social media. While there is a long list of issues that airlines are confronting as the industry moves beyond pandemic travel, social listening will need to a priority area and part of any strong VoC program.
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