During the pandemic, the aviation sector's customer services have left many passengers stranded — here's how chat apps can get the sector's CX up and flying again.
The COVID crisis has effectively clipped the wings of the airline sector. From the massive drop in air travel during the early stages of the pandemic through to the ongoing 'lottery' of air bridges, it has left the sector reeling and in some cases, facing an existential threat: According to Statisa, the passenger aviation sector will lose $314 billion in 2020.
While the industry fights to pull out of this nosedive, its understandable prioritization of financial survival over all else has left many passengers feeling sidelined as they struggle to source the latest information about their flights — from confirmations and cancellations to refunds and safety advice — with many flooding the lines of contact centers for information.
This tsunami of often angry queries has been unprecedented, resulting in an average waiting time of two hours before a call is picked up by contact center agent — if at all — as 50% of calls are left unanswered in some cases. In terms of customer experience, it's like a passenger waiting for their suitcase at baggage collection, not knowing if it will ever arrive.
How chat apps are helping boost sector CX efficiency
Such poor CX risks causing substantial and potentially long-term reputational and financial damage. It's why proactive airlines are embracing digital solutions such as WhatsApp, Viber, and other leading messaging platforms to ensure passengers can access time-critical information in moments, as well as alleviate the crippling pressure on contact center operations.
For instance, Spanish airline Iberia improved its WhatsApp digital assistant capabilities to meet the huge spike in customer service enquiries at the beginning of the pandemic. Between March and May, the airline experienced a four-fold increase in messaging activity but has been able to service 77% of first contact enquires via the chat app operating 24/7. This has removed a huge burden from its call center operations while driving up customer satisfaction rates.
“Iberia needed to be where its customers were so they could reach us whenever they needed to," explains the airline's Chief Transformation Officer, Gabriel Perdigurero de la Torre. “We leaned on the WhatsApp-powered digital assistant to solve customer concerns and allow them to easily navigate bookings, health measures, and travel restrictions. WhatsApp helped us adapt to the changing business environment and strengthen our customer support efforts."
The introduction of WhatsApp into the airline's CX processes delivered a 41% return on investment for Iberia in Q1 2020 compared to Q4 2019. Such a successful outcome demonstrates that the initial investment in messaging platforms can pay big dividends by reducing contact center calls and waiting times, resolving issues more quickly, and boosting customer services productivity.
Why chat apps matter more than ever to consumers
To understand messaging platforms' potential for the aviation sector, it's important to realize how popular chat apps are with the public in general. For instance, 57% of mobile owners currently use messaging apps at least half the time when on their phones according to BrainBoxol, while 90% of consumers prefer using messaging to communicate with businesses, states Dimension Data.
And this trend is only set to increase with 70% of all customer interactions expected to involve technologies including chatbots, machine learning, and mobile messaging by 2022, predicts Gartner.
Integrating messaging with airline contact centers
Deploying chat apps such as WhatsApp and Viber means, instead of waiting in a phone queue, customers can access information in-app in seconds via a live agent or chatbot (see below). Introducing the service need not be a logistical challenge either with several processes available to aid in transitioning:
'Bring Your Own Number'
Using WhatsApp and other chat apps requires a phone number with the business able to select an entirely new number — mobile, landline, or toll-free — or for added convenience, register the chat app with an existing hotline number.
Airlines can direct consumers from a call center queue to the messaging platform using IVR deflection aka 'call-to-chat routing', which enables the caller to move seamlessly from the queue and connect to the airline via chat app instead.
• For more information on how to implement IVR deflection to WhatsApp, read tyntec's exclusive six-pointer guide to deflection success here.
Moving customers to a digital channel raises important logistical questions about the number of live agents required to service it. To address the issue, chatbot technology can be integrated with messaging platforms that is able to provide automated answers to basic customer queries and information requests. If the query is complex, the bot can hand the customer over to a live agent in an instant. Deploying chatbots within customer services is already proving invaluable to businesses in other sectors with 90% stating that bots have boosted the speed of complaint resolutions, according to MIT Technology Review.
• Discover how bots can help transform customer experiences by downloading tyntec's free chatbot guide here.
Leveraging chat apps to service the passenger's entire journey
Messaging platforms can go beyond addressing call center issues though, able to guide and inform the passenger at every stage of their customer – and real world – journeys. From delivering targeted deals via Facebook and Instagram ads featuring 'click-to-chat' buttons through to digital check-ins and boarding passes — even reporting lost luggage — all key stages can be serviced within a single, easy-to-access app that offers a concierge-like service, which is especially important during the pandemic.
For instance, COVID-related notifications can be pushed out by the airline or airport, informing passengers of any developments immediately whether it be an update on delays, cancellations, changing restrictions, and more. Such functionality is welcomed by travelers too with 70% preferring to be notified via messaging about changes to travel plans and restrictions.
This all-inclusive approach is already working for small airlines as well as big players like Iberia. For instance, tyntec client GlobeAir, Europe's leading private jet charter company, has experienced a dramatic 225% faster customer service boost combined with a 20% higher booking conversion rate.[MM1]
Importantly, messaging platforms can help address the many criticisms that have been leveled at aviation sector CX over the past few months — and now is the optimum time to introduce them as customer experience improvement specialists, Publicis Sapient, explains: “Travel brands should use this slowdown to streamline operations and diversify their business by reevaluating customer service, demonstrating empathy, [and] earning consumer trust."
How to design and roll out chat-powered CX
To introduce a chat app into customer services, airlines do not need to create an all-encompassing implementation strategy or form a costly in-house team to successfully deliver on its potential. Instead, they can take a steer from other businesses that rely on official providers such as tyntec to implement their messaging platform solution for them.
These providers manage the introduction of WhatsApp or Viber into enterprise customer services, addressing the many challenges involved from integrating the chat app with existing CRM systems and chatbot technology deployment through to offering live dashboards of customer conversations, and more besides.
Ultimately, by embracing chat apps' potential now, the aviation sector can put the right infrastructure in place to deal with its ongoing CX issues, as well as prepare for a better, more connected future with their customers once the pandemic finally does subside.