If you didn’t notice, something pretty monumental happened today. The US airline industry set a surprising record for providing passengers with the best customer service in 22 years. For decades, the airline industry has been the biggest customer service punching bag. Not today. Most notable: customer complaints dropped to 1.19 per 10,000 passengers from 1.22 the year before. On-time-arrivals, mishandled bags, and denied boardings also were contributing factors in the report.
Genesys counts many major airlines as its customers and I’ve met with my share of them over the years. I think this is great news for both the carriers and customers. So, why the dramatic and sudden change in customer perception? I think a perfect storm of four events helped cause this major customer service shift.
- Restructuring: First and foremost, many of the major airlines have worked-through their restructuring processes and are now competing on a level playing field. With depreciating fleets and entrenched pension plans, many of the established airlines could never compete with upstarts. Finally, recent consolidation within the industry has also created a new competitive environment. While many of the upstarts led within this survey, I expect some of the major carriers to give them a run for their money over the next few years.
- Mobility and Web: The airline industry has invested tremendous amounts of money in mobile and web-self service customer service applications to improve the check-in, screening, boarding, and baggage experience. As companies adopt more evolved mobile apps over time -- or “apps 2.0,” -- expect this experience to improve even more. Imagine if you walk into the airline terminal and receive a text message about where to check-in. Or, your have a tight connection and receive a detailed map of where you need to run to catch your connecting flight. Finally, you try to purchase a flight through your mobile device and suddenly need to talk to an agent and they immediately know your profile, and the complete context and history of what you were trying to accomplish on your smartphone. The possibilities are endless.
At the same time, the Web experience has improved dramatically. Redeeming frequent flyer miles has never been easier. At the same time, I can’t remember the last time I ever talked to an agent to select a seat (unless I want to sweet talk my way into an upgrade). Customers are finding that the web experience is easy, consistent, and convenient.
- Social Media Revolution: If you scan the social media landscape over the past few years, you can find countless Twitter complaints, Facebook rants and photos, and shocking YouTube videos. Over the past 5 years, I believe this very public channel has helped changed the customer service culture within every airline to one that’s responsive, accountable and focused on the passenger experience.
- Customers are Now Comfortable with New Technologies and Modernization: The airline industry has been a very early-adopter of self-service technologies. Remember over a decade ago when the self-check-in kiosk was introduced? For myself, I remember the first time I was forced to use a kiosk upon check-in in Miami and was indignant and wanted to speak to a live person. Today, I seek out the kiosks at the airport -- much like I seek out an ATM for cash. I leverage the web to check-in and laugh at the suckers waiting in line at the airport. At the same time, new technology investments in baggage handling, operations, ticketing, customer-self-service (POS, web and mobile) will pay tremendous dividends in the future.
So what’s next? The sky is the limit (no pun intended). I give kudos to the US airline industry for listening to their customers through social media, making new investments in mobility, and leveraging technology to make the travel experience as painless as possible. While the airline industry has not found a panacea to control the weather or an unforeseen mechanical problem (yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed), I’m placing my bets that next year will show even more improved scores.
What do you think? Do you think other factors attributed to these changing scores? Do you agree with these scores and believe that next year will be better? Finally, have you experienced an improved customer experience with your preferred carrier?
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