Air Transport: Surviving the Next Decade
Author: Dave Evans, Lithium VP, Social Strategy, Travel & Hospitality
Over the next ten years, a host of digital-first players along with online existing travel aggregators, travel service platforms, mobile apps and meta-search engines will significantly disrupt the industry. The ability to maintain control over passenger experience from consideration and booking to travel itself and the post-travel experience will seriously undermine your chances of locking in repeat customers. The pressure is on for airlines to compete and survive.
Survival depends on maintaining passenger loyalty in the face of this challenge. And loyalty is hard to come by, and even harder to retain – a Nielsen report shows that after one bad experience, 71 percent of British adults say they would switch to a different airline.3
Travelers are pressed for time and, as a result, frustration and anxiety often run high. If an airline cannot provide fast, responsive, accurate answers the moment a traveler needs them, then they’ll upset an already unhappy customer and likely further damage the relationship. Looking at our own customer data across leading global brands, there is a clear evidence that quicker response times to social inquires results in a higher likelihood of positive sentiment conversation during the interaction. Conversely, this means that if anything goes wrong that results in agents being overwhelmed by incoming social posts you can expect a marked decrease in customer happiness. Ouch.
Add to that the fact that almost all of these complaints are taking place on public-facing channels: travelers are interacting in real time, with real problems, and the threat of going viral is never more than a Tweet away. One bad interaction can lead to an angry reaction that will have a significant ripple effect, damaging the brand for months and years to come. To sustain customer satisfaction and prevent against these social media crises, airlines are on the line to deliver satisfying — if not amazing — digital customer experiences via both social and digital channels. But, as we’ve seen time and again, this is proving to be incredibly difficult. Why?
Most social media management (SMM) products weren’t built with the scale and logistical complexity of an airline in mind – thousands of questions pouring in from different channels, from different countries and time zones, all of which need to be routed to the right person with the right answer. And quickly. In fact, most SMM products don’t even tie in to the airline’s larger customer databases, which would let the airline quickly see whether the person tweeting at them is a rewards member or has flown with the airline recently. Like many industries, airlines often have the various components of a good social/digital function – but siloes within the organization (between customer service, ground and in-flight operations, reservations sales, etc.) can lead to challenges in responding quickly and nimbly.
For example, in a crisis caused by delayed flights it can be incredibly helpful to have a community of customers you can call upon to assist in responding to basic questions, so that customer service agents can focus on resolving issues that involve a customer’s personally identifiable information. But without an integrated community and automated routing in your social customer service platform, it won’t happen and that’s a massive missed opportunity. Without an automatic way to scale and provide a seamless experience to the traveler, airlines will not be able to compete effectively against competitors born in the digital age.
One word of caution: if you think that bots are the answer to scaling customer service, think again. While a good social media management platform will have the APIs to incorporate bots, you take a huge risk if you try to replace humans with bots. During a customer’s crisis, they want and need a human to interact with. Bots may be able to automatically route interactions and address basic questions, but they cannot replace the value of an empathetic human being on the other end of the tweet.
Empowering your social customer care with a solution that is designed with customer experience in mind positions you to draw on every resource at your disposal (your customers, agents, experts, and community advocates) to provide fast, easy and accurate customer service.
With airline traffic continuing to double every 15 years1, the predominance of travelers booking via mobile (expected to be 80 percent by 20192), and the growing trend toward travel industry revenue growth happening online5, airlines who optimize their ability to create amazing digital customer experiences for customers now will be able to stay ahead (and stay alive) during the next decade.