Airline flight volumes are down, but airline customer communication is at an all-time high due to issues of flight cancelations, refunds, and credit and voucher requests. Airlines saw an increase of 300 percent in monthly conversations around flight bookings, at a time when global passenger numbers have been trending around one-fifth of 2019 levels, according to research conducted by Verint, The Customer Engagement Company.
The research provides an inside look at the airline industry’s consumer communications challenges during a period of unprecedented disruption and the need for transformation. As the airline industry begins to rebound and rebuild, it is “landing” in a radically new world of customer engagement challenges.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel has become a more complex customer journey ‒ fraught with new questions, concerns, and high-flying anxiety levels. Meanwhile, cost-cutting measures over the past decade have left many airlines with antiquated support systems and overwhelmed contact centers ill-equipped to handle the surge.
Additionally, significant channel shift has taken place over the past two years, with consumer preference growing for use of third-party messaging services such as Apple Business Chat, Twitter, WhatsApp and more.
Verint researchers say we could see a 15x growth in customer conversations on private messaging channels when passenger numbers return to pre-pandemic levels.
Verint’s Guide to Digital-First Engagement for the Airline Industry explores the fundamental changes experienced by the airline industry since March 2020 and the digital-first engagement imperative to meet the needs of the modern consumer.
“Technology will increasingly change the way we fly, and airlines must change their focus from cost containment to customer centricity,” says Evan Kirstel, a business-to-business thought leader and prominent influencer in digital transformation.
“Leaders in the industry need to commit to a wholesale shift in strategy. Innovation requires airlines to look beyond the obvious, via an in-depth and 360-degree view of customer needs. This entails first understanding customers, and then building the operations, processes, information, and tech necessary to deliver on their needs,” Kirstel continues.
The report provides several recommendations for airlines:
- Develop a digital-first engagement strategy with proactive analysis of customer conversations to understand trends. This enables deployment of the right automation in the right channels to scale effectively while still retaining efficiency, effectiveness and customer satisfaction.
- Consider integrating private messaging channels to support the shift in consumer behavior toward digital channels. These channels enable the brand to build rich asynchronous experiences that can manage consumer issues all the way to resolution.
- Employ intelligent automation by building Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs) to reduce agent workload and address high-volume customer intents.
“A digital-first engagement strategy ensures that regardless of customer demand, brands can provide a superior customer experience across the channels customers want to use most,” says Verint’s Heather Richards, vice president, go-to-market strategy. “Intelligent automation helps to scale responses, so that brands are able to meet or exceed customer expectations.”