Nearly 3 million passengers fly in and out of US airports every day, generating a huge amount of customer interactions that need to be handled by airlines and travel providers. With Customer Experience (CX) playing such a vital role in a business’s success, Frontier Airlines raised eyebrows recently by announcing it had removed the option to call its customer service representatives. Instead, the carrier will ask its customers to contact them only via digital channels, in what it described as an attempt to answer customer queries as ‘expeditiously and efficiently’ as possible.
The controversy surrounding this decision shines a light on the importance of balance. CX leaders must reckon with innovative digital communications, whilst simultaneously catering to the needs of all customers.
No Phone: A Cost-Saving Measure Too Far?
Over 20 million passengers flew with Frontier Airlines in 2021, making it the eighth-largest US carrier. With traditional airlines such as Delta, United, and American Airlines dominating the industry, competition has intensified amongst low-cost carriers, including Frontier. Low-cost carriers traditionally carve out a niche by offering no-frills experiences that allow passengers to travel for the lowest possible cost. To keep ticket prices low, carriers have to cut costs in every area of their operations. Trimming down their CX is the natural next step.
Though cutting back on operations will help a carrier’s bottom line, it might ultimately end up costing them customers. The exertion it takes for a customer to resolve a query, known as the Customer Effort Score (CES), can be a more accurate measure of long-term customer loyalty than customer satisfaction alone. 86% of people will leave a brand they trusted after only 2 poor experiences, and when a business palms off all the hard work to the consumer, either by complex forms to fill or time-consuming information gathering, it worsens the CES along with the overall customer experience, driving customers to take their business elsewhere.
Baggage, and Great CX, For an Extra Fee
The cost-cutting potential of going digital-only will always draw the attention of business leaders, but traditional channels shouldn’t be condemned to the history books. To get the best of both worlds, brands should focus on adopting an omni-channel strategy.
Omni-channel CX ensures a flexible approach that allows customers to choose the most appropriate channel for their enquiry, whether that is through social, digital or traditional channels. Passengers with low-yield enquires can still self-serve over digital channels, whereas Frontier risk alienating customers who prefer to speak to an agent for more urgent queries such as cancellations or lost luggage, which could make or break their trip. Anything other than a complete omni-channel approach will not provide the depth of service customers expect. Brands such as Frontier Airlines, which willingly cut back on customer contact, will do so at their peril.
Innovation from low-cost carriers is vital to getting ahead and staying ahead. The success, or failure, of Frontier’s strategic decision will act as a yardstick for the rest of the industry. Competitor airlines will do well to ring-fence voice channels as part of a broad omni-channel strategy. Competitors such as Delta are already making gains in the CX battle: letting customers leave video feedback to improve services and investing more in airport lounge experiences, which earned them first place during the battle for airline CX during the height of the pandemic. Customers expect more, not less, effective interactions with brands across all sectors.
Brands can drive high levels of satisfaction by delivering communications on the customer’s channel of choice. By opening up more channels, there is less pressure on voice channels. However, to fully benefit, brands must adopt an omni-channel approach that meets the customer on their own turf.