Aviation

Why airlines “haven’t got it right yet”: customer service expert

Hannah Edensor

We recently penned a little piece on how the aviation industry seemingly keeps missing the mark, with flying “fraught with inconveniences”.

Now, Joshua March, founder and CEO of social customer service company, Conversocial, has spoken to Travel Weekly to try and uncover why airlines can’t seem to grasp the value of quality customer service, and where they’re going wrong.

Airlines are struggling to meet conflicting demands on service,” March told us.

“On the one hand, economy customers keep proving that they would prefer to pay less for a reduced travel experience—tighter seats, less free ancillaries, etc.

“But at the same time, customers are getting more sensitive to the treatment they receive while traveling, especially from gate agents and the aircrew.

“This means that while airlines may be correct in cutting costs in order to reduce seat prices, at the same time they need to be investing more into their staff—the customer service experience travellers receive is more important than ever, and the rise of social media means that it’s now more public than ever.

“Airlines are still adapting to this new reality, and they haven’t quite got it right yet.”

The aviation industry has been under a harsh spotlight lately, and despite Flight Centre’s Skroo Turner claiming we’re in the “golden age” of air travel, a number of customer experiences have been anything but golden.

Singapore Airlines passengers were disgruntled after their calls for ‘peanut-free’ food service was allegedly ignored, despite their son experiencing a danger allergic reaction to the snack mid-flight.

And did we mention the billions of dollars airlines are pocketing from ancillary charges alone?

But we digress.

Asked what airlines are getting wrong, March reckons its about frontline staff behaviours, especially with travellers increasingly taking their complaints to viral social media posts.

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Airline front line staff need to think about their actions in the context of how other passengers will perceive it, and subsequently share and scrutinize it,” he told TW.

“They need to be trained in social media, and given the freedom to make the right decisions for customers and for the airline in the moment—even if that means not following company policy exactly.

“And when a service issue does hit social media and go viral, airlines need to ditch the corporate speak and move quickly to respond (usually in the form of an apology) in a human, authentic way. Anything else can quickly inflame the situation.”

But despite this, March believes airlines are actually better than most industries on the social customer service front.

“The increased risk they face of social crises means that airlines have invested more heavily into social care, often with fully operationalized teams who are able to resolve most issues within minutes of you Tweeting or messaging them.

“Take Alaska Airlines, whose quick-acting social customer support team had an average response time of under three minutes last year.

“Many airlines are also actively promoting social and messaging as a care channel to their customers—both digitally (e.g. links in their mobile apps) and offline (on airport screens and in their in-flight magazines).

“Data from our clients shows that when you start promoting the ability to privately message customer service over Twitter DM or Facebook Messenger, public complaints drop significantly.”

March told TW that to improve traveller’s experiences, “the first step” is to start “thinking about it in the context of effort”.

“Data shows that when something goes wrong, customers just want their issues solved quickly and easily.

“Waiting on hold, repeating the same information to different agents, having to shift channels all increase effort—and cause huge drops in brand loyalty.

“Enabling your customers to get help over social, mobile channels like Twitter and Messenger is a huge first step, but to really create an effortless experience you need to ensure that social is fully integrated with your back-end systems.

“[That means] enabling agents to see exactly who is Tweeting at you, what flight they are on or might be running late for, and empowering and enabling them to make changes without the customer having to phone.”

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