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 rep 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, airlines must adapt to a post-COVID era of travel and compensate for the uncertainty that travelers have endured over the past years. This means reinventing how passengers view airline customer service, and re-building 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 2019 Airline International Destination Satisfaction Study, showed that 40% of participants said positive customer experience would have more of an impact on their decision to rebook with an airline, than a cheaper price.

Interestingly, even if a passenger hadn’t travelled with an airline before, they said they would pay more to travel using an airline with a good reputation, or came recommended. 

It increases NPS (Net Promoter Score) 

In regards to 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 that they are likely to recommend the company. This highlights the necessity for airlines to create positive emotional and memorable experiences for their customers. As outperforming industry competitors in this field, could significantly higher their NPS.

The recent data from the XM Institute's Global Consumer Study (2024) 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 significant gains in consumer trust and advocacy, and a higher likelihood of customers to repurchase.

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

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 competition in the industry. Data from the American Marketing Association confirmed that whilst United Airlines ranked highest for fewest canceled 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 over 65's it was top of the list. 

To speed up this process, airline's 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. 

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

2. Communicate proactively 

This in-app communication also ties in with the next method to improve customer experience; pro-activate communication. 

In their 2019 report, SITA found that travelers 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 pro-activate communication include gentle reminder notifications before a passenger's trip such as "Do you have all your 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. 

The 2022 Passenger IT Insights report by SITA highlights that the increased adoption of digital technology in air travel has significantly enhanced passenger experiences. This digital shift, especially prominent in the post-pandemic recovery, has led to more convenient and seamless journeys, positively affecting passengers' emotions. The report emphasizes the correlation between technology use and increased passenger satisfaction, underscoring the growing expectation for digital solutions in the aviation industry. This trend indicates that technological advancements are key to improving the overall travel experience and reducing passenger stress.

3. Give it a personal touch 

It may come as a surprise in today's privacy-conscious climate, but a Bond report showed that 87% of Americans would be willing to have various details of their activity monitored, in exchange for more personalized rewards. 

And this isn't just the case for trips planned well in advance, but for on-the-spot purchasing too.  CX research from the Temkin Group, shows that 49% of buyers are more likely to make impulse purchases if they receive a more personalized experience.

With an airline conversational app, AI (Artificial Intelligence) 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 customer's 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 a conversational app, 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 

Research from Forrester has shown that airlines could be losing up to $1.4 billion USD each year by not prioritizing their customer service. So what can an airline do to stand out amongst a crowded market? Think outside the box! 

If an airline can go above and beyond the standard service expected by customers, and provide something original which shows they care about their customers' satisfaction, it can help them gain a massive competitive advantage.

Take Alaska Airlines for example. They are often offering creative perks to their passengers, like champagne on New Year’s Eve and priority boarding to passengers who participate in their 'National Ugly Sweater Day' celebrations. This may sound comical, but these types of unique experiences are the ones that are going to stick in the customers memories, and keep them coming back again and again.

And while champagne and perks are nice, they aren't always necessary to go above and beyond. It's possible to exceed expectations in the day-to-day interactions by paying attention to details and empathizing with customers.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but automating FAQs and other low-value customer service interactions can help agents focus on moments that matter. It can free up hours of agents’ time, allowing them to go extra mile for customers in need. In turn, airlines can create more memorable customer experiences. 

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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