By Paolo Marcattilj, UK director at Global Remote Services
At the end of last year the new chief executive of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, announced he would start his tenure by addressing a longtime problem and one of the biggest challenges for the world’s second biggest airline; improving customer service.
One of the foremost challenges that sets travel apart from other industries, is of course, managing unpredictable conditions; its heavy reliance on consistent weather conditions to get customers to their destinations in a timely manner and ensuring a pleasant experience at the destination. There are few things as disappointing to travellers as a delayed or cancelled flight due to extreme weather that make it unsafe to depart.
While these issues are outside of the control of the airlines and travel organisations, they are often the first point of contact for customers and so the easiest target for blame. While there is little you can do to improve the weather conditions you can turn a customers’ experience around by the way you handle the situation.
Dealing effectively with complaints and problems is one of the biggest differentiators between high performing organisations and the rest. Latest research from the January 2016 UK Customer Satisfaction Index into customer priorities, show that staff attitude, competence and complaint handling have become even more important to customers.
In an attempt to improve customer service cost effectively more and more airlines and travel companies are scrutinising every part of what they do to identify areas they can outsource to experts, core and non-core activities.
Outsourcing your contact centre can be a very good solution for offering high quality customer service at fair prices.
Today’s contact centre agents can be skilled consultants able to communicate with the end-user through any channel, and, most importantly, making sure the contact is a positive experience whatever the travel problem is.
This is particularly achievable if outsourced to a service provider already experienced in travel and aviation issues. They can represent the brand as the organisation wishes to be represented and be empowered to resolve any issues or problems.
Some outsourcers, apart from managing operations 24 hours a day, 365 days per year are also able to support the customer service offering in as many languages as necessary.
Another advantage is the ability to scale up (or down) as required quickly and cost effectively, extremely important to manage a ‘crisis management’ situation.
When a fire started in a terminal at a large European airport last year, GRS were able to do exactly this; quickly scaling up to provide personal customer service and advice to visitors and travellers in a number of different languages. A strong relationship between a travel company and an outsourcer can minimise disruption and help protect the brand image.
EasyJet and Ryanair are among the largest budget airlines to admit they outsource and the reasons why. Ryanair recently reported they outsource to call centres in Debrecen, Hungary, and Bucharest, Romania.
Reported in the FT, Warwick Brady, chief operations officer at easyJet said;“We outsource everything that we can outsource. As long as we can manage it and control it, it gets outsourced.”
Referring to the nature of the airline industry with weather conditions beyond their control Mr Brady of easyJet, which has 20,000 people working for the airline across 140 airports that are not on its payroll, says; “Things do go wrong and that’s the big challenge for us – we need to deliver excellent customer service at the right cost, very efficiently in a very friendly way, even though it’s outsourced.”
The market in services provided to airlines, excluding back-office functions such as IT, is worth more than €200bn globally and growing, according to estimates by KPMG.
Outsourcing can provide technology to examine and measure complaints, it can also apply techniques to improve complaint handling and create a culture to empower agents to seek resolution.
The techniques outsourcers deploy guarantee that the agent does as they say, one of the biggest frustrations identified in new findings from the Institute of Customer Service.
Outsourcers can also provide the opportunities to share learnings and best practices from a range of other organisations as outsourcers work with large brands across a range of different sectors.
One of the unique features of the airline and travel industry is that the customer experience is very real and interaction can last for many hours. No other industries have that level of interaction with its customers and it makes getting the experience right even more important but challenging too.
Other sectors don’t enjoy that level of engagement and it shouldn’t be taken for granted – in banking, retailing, telecoms or many other interactions the ‘experience’ is much more transitory, dipping in and out.
The airline and travel industry go way beyond the core transactional nature of most markets. They are industries that connect people, be that family, friends or work colleagues.
It is a hugely emotional industry that genuinely makes a big difference to people’s lives so it’s very important to always choose the right partner to support you in delivering great customer service.