5 Ways to Improve Airline Customer Service

Long queues. Hours on hold. Back-and-forth email threads. The airline industry hasn't always had the best reputation when it comes to customer service—but now more than ever, that needs to change.

When COVID-19 hit, the aviation industry was understandably one of the most affected, causing it to come to a grinding halt. Now, as we recover from the chaos, airlines have a golden opportunity to hit reset. It's time to rethink and reimagine how we connect with passengers.

This means reinventing how passengers view airline customer service and rebuilding customer loyalty and trust.

Why is it important to improve customer service in the airline industry? 

It increases customer loyalty

The correlation between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty is an obvious one across all industries, however, in the airline industry it is particularly notable. 

Data from the Airline International Destination Satisfaction Study showed that 40% of participants said positive customer experience would have a greater impact on their decision to rebook with an airline, than a cheaper price.

Even first-time passengers expressed a willingness to pay more for an airline with a solid reputation or strong recommendations

It increases NPS (Net Promoter Score) 

Regarding recommendations, the XM Institute survey of 10,000 consumers, saw a strong connection between customer experience and likelihood to recommend an airline.

86% of customers who rated an airline highly for ‘emotion’ (How the experience made them feel), said they would likely recommend the company. This highlights airlines' need to create positive emotional and memorable customer experiences. As outperforming industry competitors in this field, can significantly higher their NPS.

Recent data from the XM Institute's 2024 Global Consumer Study reinforces this understanding. It shows that while overall consumer satisfaction might have slightly decreased, the airline industry has made notable improvements in loyalty. This includes developments in consumer trust and advocacy and a higher likelihood of customers repurchasing.

The studies also reveal that younger consumers are more critical of airlines, rating them lower in satisfaction and trust. This demographic disparity suggests that airlines need to tailor their customer experience strategies to cater to varying expectations across age groups and communicate with their younger clientele in ways that suit them best.

The data suggests that airlines need to focus on creating positive, emotionally resonant experiences to improve their NPS and overall customer loyalty. This involves understanding and addressing the specific needs and expectations of different customer segments, including younger consumers, to enhance satisfaction and trust.

It creates a competitive advantage

A better NPS isn’t the only way that great customer service can help an airline stand out amongst the industry’s competition. Data from the American Marketing Association confirmed that whilst United Airlines ranked highest for the fewest cancelled flights and second for most on-time arrivals, it ranked low on customer satisfaction scores. 

Southwest Airlines, on the other hand, ranked lower on the logistical factors, but highest for customer satisfaction and ended up outranking United by two spots (3rd vs 5th) on the list of Top Airlines for overall performance. This exemplifies just how important it is for airlines to make improving their customer service a top priority.

5 Ways to improve customer service in the airline industry

1. Streamline check-in

Deloitte's study on renewed airline consumer loyalty showed that the 4th highest concern for airline customers of all ages, over both leisure and business trips, was check-in convenience, and for people over 65, it was top of the list. 

To speed up this process, airlines need to avoid time-consuming methods like in-person check-in at the airport desks and opt for alternatives such as conversational apps, which can save both customers and employees valuable time.

Between 2015 and 2021, the number of passengers checking in at airport desks plummeted from 49% to just 27% and continues to drop. Conversational apps facilitate online check-ins, saving passengers time, and reducing airport labour.

These apps can also aid the check-in process by not only allowing passengers to download their boarding passes but also by activating push notifications that can remind customers to check in their luggage before bag-drop closes and more.

2. Communicate proactively 

Proactive in-app communication, whether in WhatsApp or the airline's native app, is a necessity in the future of travel.

Travellers who received mobile notifications about their baggage status were 8.6% more satisfied than those who relied solely on public announcements and displays at the airport. 

Other examples of proactive communication include gentle reminder notifications before a passenger's trip such as, "Do you have all your required documents?” or, "Make sure you leave now to get to the airport on time.”

This style of communication can create a smoother and more positive experience for the customer, ultimately resulting in improved customer satisfaction.

3. Provide a personal touch 

76% of customers expect personalisation, and upwards of 87% of Americans would be willing to have various details of their activity monitored, in exchange for more personalised rewards and communications. 

This isn't just the case for trips planned well in advance, but for on-the-spot purchasing too.  49% of buyers are more likely to make impulse purchases if they receive a more personalised experience.

With conversational apps, AI can study a passenger's demographics, purchasing habits, and preferences. This information can then be used to offer them products, services, and experiences which are most relevant to them and tailored specifically to their individual needs as a customer.

4. Ask for feedback

What is the best way to know what your customers would improve about their experience with your airline? 

Ask them! 

There is no one better to give your airline a firsthand insight into what works and what needs improvement, than a customer who has interacted with your airline themselves.

However, the way you collect this feedback is equally as important. The Wall Street Journal reported that many generic email questionnaires from airlines only got under 5% response rates. 

With fully automated feedback surveys via conversational apps, customers can give their feedback in just a few clicks and a matter of seconds. 

Using this information, airlines can then go on to make data-driven decisions about what areas of their customer service need the most attention and come up with a strategy on how to achieve this.

5. Go above and beyond 

According to Forrester research, airlines could be losing up to $1.4 billion each year by not prioritising their customer service. So, how can an airline stand out in a crowded market? The answer is simple. Think outside the box!

Imagine creating moments that passengers will remember fondly, making them loyal advocates for your airline. Going above and beyond standard service isn't just a nice-to-have anymore. 

Alaska Airlines, for instance, has mastered this art. From offering champagne on New Year's Eve to granting priority boarding to those sporting festive attire on National Ugly Sweater Day, Alaska Airlines creates memorable experiences that delight customers and keep them coming back.

But it’s not all about the grand gestures. Sometimes, it’s the small, thoughtful touches that make the biggest impact. Attention to detail and genuine empathy can transform ordinary interactions into extraordinary ones. Imagine a flight attendant remembering a passenger’s name, or an agent going the extra mile to rebook a missed connection seamlessly. These are the moments that build lasting loyalty.

If you are interested in improving customer service for your airline with a conversational app, book a demo today to learn how Hubtype can help you improve your customer’s experience. 

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