They need help fast. But when airlines can’t handle spikes in support volume–often because of outdated technology–they push those customers to the breaking point.
What can airlines do? Focus on experience. And in the future, more and more technology can help them do that.
Five predictions for the future of airline support:
1. Digital messaging will become the standard
The single most reliable predictor of customer loyalty is reduction of effort. For travelers who always have their mobile devices handy, there’s nothing more convenient than social, SMS, and messaging apps.
Conversocial’s recently published Airline Benchmark Report found that travelers prefer these channels. Customers can both engage the airline and complain about delays to a spouse in the same breath (er, tweet) and get help then and there. Expect brands to invest much more in social and mobile support this year.
2. Phone support will dwindle
Every minute counts for air travelers who often can’t afford to wade through interactive voice response (IVR) systems. These are difficult enough without the din of airport announcements or hassle of crowds.
As social, messaging, and SMS continue to gain prominence as speedy, one-on-one support channels, customers are unlikely to reach for phone support. Airlines should be prepared to meet them on their channels of choice.
3. Self-service will get more respect
The airline industry is no stranger to self-service. It’s now commonplace for passengers to use self-service kiosks to check bags, choose seats, and print boarding passes. Many customers even prefer it. The Harvard Business Review reports that four out of five customers actively seek out self-help before seeking an agent.
Social care forerunner KLM Royal Dutch Airlines gets it. They’ve combined their self-help and social strategies so passengers can confirm flights, check in, change itineraries, and get boarding passes directly from Facebook Messenger or Twitter DM.
Self-service options offer brands serious cost-savings while giving customers better tools. Airlines that properly deploy do-it-yourself assistance will likely pick up more than their fair share of passengers this year.
4. Artificial intelligence (AI) will make support faster
As customers increasingly look to solve their own problems, AI can help. Of the 80 percent of global enterprises already using some form of AI, database provider Teradata reports that 30 percent plan to expand their investments.
These companies aren’t looking to remove humans from the equation. Rather, they defray costs by using algorithms to assist customers and support agents. Research suggests AI can currently tackle around 30 percent of routine inquiries and processes, and unlike agents, can easily scale to handle spikes in support volume.
5. VIP services will get a digital boost
Airlines will more fully digitize the VIP flyer experience so that elite rewards members get what they’ve paid for, no matter where they seek assistance.
Agents armed with digital care platforms will do a better job of identifying VIPs on social and treating them accordingly. They’ll better track their praise and participation, and better steward their experience as they take to the skies … and perhaps surf social while they’re up there.