How to improve your airline customer experience
Business or pleasure, it’s hard to imagine a world without air travel. However, as fun as flying can be, there are some frustrations many passengers encounter along their journey which could be alleviated with a tech upgrade.
Although 47% of polled leisure travelers stated that the overall airline experience has improved compared to a couple of years ago – 38% say it’s similar, while 15% say it’s worsened.
Read on to learn ways you can improve your airline customer experience using the right omnichannel approach and cloud communications technology.
What does the average passenger experience look like?
When deciding to fly, there are many moving parts we need to take into consideration. From confirmation codes, check-ins, and flight status tracking to checked luggage, boarding, and delayed flight management.
Here’s a look at what the average passenger needs to consider at each stage of their journey:
- Pre-travel: First, passengers need to find the right flight for their trip. One that suits their trip schedule and itinerary – and that’s within their budget.
- During travel: From there, they need to use their reservation details to check-in to their flight – either before they get to the airport or while they are there – and to check their luggage. Then, they need to find their gate and track the flight status to ensure their flight and boarding happens on time. And if the passenger has a connecting flight, they need to keep track of that too.
- Post-travel: Once they arrive at their destination, they need to pass through customs, then pick up their checked luggage. In cases of a connecting flight, they need to find the quickest route to their next gate and board again.
It’s safe to say that the passenger journey is complex. And it can become even more complex without the right communication at the right time.
Disruption management within the airline sector
Delays, gate and seat changes, as well as missing luggage, are only a few of the challenges airline passengers can experience on their trip.
And the impact of these disruptions can hold a lingering effect if not managed correctly.
Let’s consider this scenario:
You book a 5-day vacation with your family.
However, when you arrive at the airport, you find out your flight is delayed and you end up waiting for over five hours until it’s finally time to board.
Except when you get to the gate labeled on your boarding pass, you realize the gate changed due to the delay, and you risk missing your flight! Luckily, you make it just in time.
You think the worst is over; but then you find out that two of your checked bags are missing! The airline customer service team tells you it will arrive the next day.
Now, it’s day three of your 5-day vacation and you have no idea where your luggage is or if it will even arrive.
You’re frustrated and what could have been only a bad day has turned into a bad week and overall unsatisfying vacation.
Now, consider if the airline had better communication.
Maybe the passenger’s experience would have looked more like this:
You book a 5-day vacation with your family.
On the day of the flight, you receive an email that there is a possibility your flight might be delayed due to weather conditions.
Closer to the time you plan to leave for the airport, you receive an SMS alert that your flight is delayed by two hours. So, you decide to stay home.
Later, you arrive at the airport to check in and receive a WhatsApp message with your new boarding time and new gate number.
When you reach your destination, your luggage is missing so you opt-in to receive status updates as they resolve the issue.
You receive two alerts: the first lets you know your luggage has been located and the second informs you of the drop-off day, time, and location.
Now your trip has had its hiccups, but your stress and confusion have been limited due to your airline’s great disruption management – enough for you to enjoy your vacation!
This is only one example of the positive effects timely omnichannel communication can have on a passenger’s experience with your airline.
Although we can’t foresee every detail that could go wrong, proactive disruption management is key to improving customer satisfaction and increasing loyalty.
To implement good disruption management, it’s important to create a plan.
A best practice would be to map out a plan for each possible disruption that highlights what could go wrong and how the disruption should be handled. To take it one step further, you can map which communication channels would best deliver the information the passenger needs at that time.
Omnichannel digital experiences for airlines
Airlines looking to improve their customer experience and stay competitive need to build an experience architecture that supports all parts of the customer journey.
Implementing the right digital channels and using the right cloud technology can help you meet customers where they are with timely information.
Let’s revisit our passenger experience map and consider what channels and technology can be used at each stage to make for the ultimate travel experience:
Passengers are looking for the best deals and flight options to complement their overall travel plans.
Airlines that want to stay top of mind should send targeted, personalized messages with flight deals related to a passenger’s past trips or search history. You can also integrate chat on the search engine sites customers use to research flights and deals, such as Google or Safari.
This information should be timely but is not urgent therefore reliable channels that customers access daily are recommended.
Passengers need timely updates with the right information.
Rich media messaging channels are recommended to enable both passengers and airline staff to send and receive images, documents, videos, and more.
Setting up a chatbot to answer frequently asked questions with live agent takeover will ensure customers receive all the information they need on the right channel at the right time. However, since updates at this stage are critical to ensuring an overall positive travel experience, it’s important to set up a reliable failover channel in case the passenger loses their internet connection.
Setting up reliable digital channels that can keep passengers informed in cases when their luggage is missing or unforeseen events occur at their destination is important.
Post-travel communication is also an opportunity to collect customer feedback and encourage future purchases.
Here we recommend a mix of timely communication channels and ones that enable customers to engage with your brand more.
Regardless of which channels and technology you choose to implement first, ensuring the right mix of engaging and reliable channels, alongside technology that can help provide fast answers and important information, are the most crucial parts of an overall positive airline customer experience.
Ways airlines can improve customer experience
Here are a few examples of how airlines can improve customer experience using the channels and technology highlighted above:
Booking a trip
When they search for flight options or new deals, they’ll be given the option to open a chat with your business directly from Safari or Google.
Then they can select their destination and travel dates to complete their reservation and make their payment through Apple or Google wallet.
When passengers purchase their flight tickets, they expect to receive a booking confirmation.
Sending booking confirmations on WhatsApp is a great way to ensure passengers receive important information on the app they use regularly.
Traveling involves a handful of time-sensitive actions from passengers. Your check-in time, for example, can set the pace for the rest of your trip. If you check in too late, you risk having to run to your gate – or in the worst-case scenario, missing your flight.
Help passengers avoid stressful situations by sending them timely push notifications with check-in reminders a couple of hours before their flight. Since push notifications are delivered to their lock screen and notification bar, it’s an ideal channel for sending time-sensitive alerts to ensure visibility.
Flight and gate updates
Make it easy for passengers to get check their flight status and gate numbers without having to huddle around status boards at the airport.
Set up a chatbot that can provide real-time information based on specific keywords or phrases. Then connect your chatbot to a cloud contact center to enable agents to take over when needed.
Geo-targeted push notifications are another great way to deliver time-sensitive alerts to make for a smooth travel experience.
You can set the airport as the geolocation for your push notifications. Then, once passengers enter the airport, they can receive real-time alerts regarding their flight, such as boarding updates, while they wait or walk around.
Leverage rich media on channels such as WhatsApp, RCS, and MMS to make lost baggage claims less of a headache.
Enable customers to send you a picture of their luggage tag so you can keep them informed once you locate the luggage and when they can expect it to arrive.
You can also set up SMS as a failover channel if the passenger doesn’t have an internet connection abroad to ensure they receive the information they need to enjoy the rest of their trip.
Set up an engaging post-travel experience on interactive, rich channels to gather customer feedback. This is a great opportunity to find out about gaps in your customer journey that you can fill, while simultaneously showing passengers you care – encouraging brand loyalty.