The true test of an organization’s customer service is not when things are going well, but rather how things are managed when they aren’t. As the fragile travel industry tries to recover, it’s been dropping the ball on customer service – a lot. Some of the fault lies with airports and carriers, while other elements are out of their control. All of it is hitting the customer.
A combination of passenger caps, reduced flight schedules, last minute cancellations, frequently lost baggage, delays, congestion, and turmoil have led to one of the worst customer experience eras in the industry’s history. The early post-lockdown honeymoon phase of 2021 is over. Patience in 2022 is thin and negative sentiment is high.
The industry has struggled globally to balance demands with a workforce that’s still ramping back up after mass layoffs, heavy salary cuts, and pandemic-related reductions.
Below are five lessons that every industry should take on board (no pun intended).
1. Decades of Lost Human Experience
In the early days of the pandemic, airlines urged many senior pilots, flight attendants and other staff to take buyouts or early retirements, with the expectation that the industry would shrink and take time to recover. Decades of human experience, skills and knowledge were ushered out the door. A significant portion never returned. Tasks are now taking longer with more inexperienced workers still learning their roles. An “experience lag” with novice staff requires more time to do tasks such as unload baggage, maneuver ramps and process passengers. And a lack of instructors is slowing training and recertification times for pilots and other workers. While hindsight is 20/20, careful thought and planning around human capital and workforce planning after a major disruption are critical.
2. Poor Orchestration With Your Ecosystem
Amid the disruption, airlines and airports across the globe have been pointing fingers, with Emirates publicly slamming Heathrow over ‘incompetence’ in the summer of ‘air-mageddon.’ To be fair, they had a good point. Airports could have done more to better orchestrate with airlines to minimize disruption on travelers, rather than announcing blanket caps on volume before (not after) seats were sold. Obviously, public spats are a last resort but working in closer concert with your ecosystem partners to prevent customer service failures before they occur is key.
3. Throwing Customer Experience Out The Window
As I write this, flights are being canceled even while passengers are physically sitting on planes, ready to take off. Likewise, planes are having to refuel after waiting up to six hours to take off, only to be canceled because crew hours timed out. This is an abject failure for the customer experience and evidence of the chaos that remains. In the service industry, failures typically have a domino effect which almost always results in adverse affects on the customer. Looking at the big picture means looking at the implications three steps beyond the immediate process to mitigate impact on your customers. Customer experience must be a priority, rather than an afterthought, across the entire end-to-end journey. Seamless proactive service, even when it’s communicating bad news, is always better than surprising customers at the eleventh hour.
4. Not Having The Right Technology In Place
As one of the world’s largest service industries, pockets of old technology are still widespread throughout the travel industry. In a world where automation, modern infrastructure and Artificial Intelligence are reshaping consumer experience globally, poor technology can kill good customer experience. New generations of customers (and employees) not only feel entitled to their digital right of speed, experience, and social access, but have little patience when expectations fall short. Customer expectations have increased significantly. Consumers expect human-like responses from intelligent chatbots and agents alike. Having the right technology in the right place – such as ticketing management systems for service calls in the age of the angry traveler – is now a fundamental requirement.
5. Failing To See That Self-Service Makes Customer Reps Even More Important
With automated check-in, customers might not see a single representative of the airline until they actually board the plane. That’s why investing in the front line is incredibly important. And when customers speak with an agent online or via phone, customer systems should give agents immediate access to context, personalization, history and related queries, and should be capable of communicating with customers across the channel of their choice – email, chat, social media, text, etc. Now more than ever, industries can’t afford to waste money on low impact interventions in an age when customer experience has the power to shape the fortunes of business.