Guest Post: Upgrading customer experience in the travel industry

Guest Post: Upgrading customer experience in the travel industry

Tomasz Pawliszyn, CEO of AirHelp, talks us through knowing your customer in order to meet demand

The travel industry has suffered more than most over the past four years. When the UK implemented pandemic restrictions in March 2020, air travel was one of the industries hardest hit. 2020 numbers plummeted to 40 million passengers from all operators in and out of the UK, a 72% decrease from 2019 figures. With reduced passenger numbers came inevitable reductions in ground staff.

Even as restrictions eased, passenger numbers were still markedly down year-on-year. In 2022, with a recovery predicted, a new challenge emerged. The now skeletal staff at many UK airports meant that with numerous flights cancelled in the summer of 2022 – itself largely a result of a shortage of people – there were fewer bodies on the ground to deal with passenger issues. The pandemic and the subsequent related events left the air travel industry grabbling with how best to recover.

As one of the most expensive purchases people will make outside of a house or car, travelling comes with an expectation of a certain standard of customer care. Sadly, the reality is that most travellers feel short-changed during the crucial first and last stages of their travels. AirHelp research found that only 17% of delayed passengers and 14% of cancelled passengers felt the airline proactively provided them with enough information. When asked to rate their satisfaction with the care they received, customers scored airlines just 3.13 out of 10. Clearly, air travel has a lot to learn when it comes to customer experience.

Meeting the increasing demand 

Thankfully, technology means scaling up a customer service operation isn’t directly proportional to how many employees a travel business has to manage the phones, email, or instant messenger accounts. Chatbots can handle multiple queries, deliver information, triage issues, and hand over to human agents when needed. Customers with simple, informational requests can get the details they need without waiting in a queue to speak to a human. Meanwhile, customers who genuinely need urgent help with a complex issue can get through to a human who can assist them more effectively because they have more time to dedicate to more pressing customer problems.

Scripted chatbot solutions can deliver a variety of pre-planned responses to frequently asked questions, but things get more sophisticated when AI is introduced. AI chatbots can use machine learning to tweak responses as they interact with customers. Effectively, the more customers they speak with, the more efficient they become at dealing with problems.

Chatbots also have the advantage of being able to offer 24-hour customer care. Since the majority of air travel occurs at unsociable hours, an AI chatbot takes the pain away from shift-working call centres and means customers can get the information they need even out-of-hours. Best of all, there is no limit to the number of customers a chatbot can handle simultaneously.

In addition, predictive AI models can generate personalised customer offers and make recommendations to passengers. It can be used to streamline the customer journey with advanced analytics identifying opportunities for process improvements. Facial recognition, as seen in the one-step paperless boarding process, is also being trialled to streamline security processes and improve customer experience.

Knowing the customer

Adobe’s 2022 Make it Personal research uncovered a desire for personalised customer service, with 76% of respondents saying they expected businesses to treat them like individuals. Customer Data Platforms, or CDPs, allow aggregated data from a variety of sources to be held in one central system. Customer service agents can access customer data quickly and flag it for colleagues as they pass customers over. The result? Vastly reduced customer service resolution times and customers who feel valued.

From a customer service perspective, that’s critical. From a marketing perspective, it means businesses have a place to store a wealth of customer information and can use it to segment and personalise future marketing communications. It’s a win-win situation.

Even basic communication tools, such as SMS can provide similar information for air travel customers. Unlike other forms of messaging, text messages are difficult to miss since every phone has a native SMS app built in. It also has the advantage of being incredibly cost-effective.

Across other verticals, technology-driven, 24-hour customer service has become the norm, so why has air travel been so slow to follow? One thing is certain: as customer expectations increase exponentially, the industry must adapt to survive. If our industry doesn’t commit to rapid change, someone else will do it for us.