Senior Director of Digital-First Engagement Channel Strategy,
Verint, The Customer Engagement Company

‘Tis the season for bustling holiday travel schedules. Consumers continue to be challenged with reaching their destinations, as more passengers are finding “no room in the tin inn.” This year’s peak travel season is greeting airline passengers with oversold flights and getting bumped three times more often than pre-pandemic holiday travel seasons.

With nearly half the country intending to travel over the holidays, airlines must remain vigilant about delivering exceptional customer experiences (CX), especially given public outcry related to outdated systems failing over the past year.

This is concerning as Verint’s State of Digital Customer Experience Report found 31% of consumers have higher customer service expectations than they did last year while 69% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after a poor experience.

Airlines are increasingly turning to messaging (WhatsApp, Messenger, SMS, etc.) as a next-gen communications layer mixing personalization and conversational automation. These channels are becoming customers’ preferred ways to contact businesses and go above and beyond airlines’ traditional infrastructure to keep passengers engaged, informed and on track.

Customer Engagement Needed in Times of Travel Turbulence

It’s been a turbulent ride for the airline sector since March 2020, where there was a decline of 65% in global airline passengers in that year alone. Countless flights were canceled and rescheduled, with vouchers and credits issued by airlines to help protect liquidity during a time of huge uncertainty – all while consumers changed how they communicated and interacted with brands.

The sheer overload on traditional channels such as telephony, email and even live chat hit contact centers hard, resulting in a universal transformation of digital conversations. It created a knock-on effect in digital messaging volume and consumer/brand communications.

When things started to feel unstable, people chose to communicate in ways that felt safe and familiar – customers began turning to the same private messaging channels they used to interact with friends and family.

Fast forward to 2022, where labor shortages further challenged airlines to keep up with a resurgence in traveling. But even in a fully staffed environment, what started as a necessity – engaging with brands over digital channels – had become a consumer preference. Since customer outreach to airlines was largely tied to trip cancellations, refunds and general flight status inquiries – common queries that can be easily automated – private messaging channel volumes grew exponentially.

This evolution of consumer behaviors fueled by digital transformation in the enterprise created opportunities to automate and digitize CX to improve self-service and reduce contact center queues.

Embracing Social Messaging

The CX Playbook for Private Messaging Channels shows that 69% of customers used a private messaging channel to engage with a brand in 2020 – a 13% increase from 2019. The same study also found that 88% of people are more likely to become repeat customers if they receive great CX over private messaging channels.

Contact centers receive a high proportion of the same issues when customers get in contact. For retail, it’s order tracking; in the airline industry it’s queries, like checking flight status, that come up millions of times daily. If brands can recognize the highest volume intents that can clog up agents’ time in customer service departments, then an automated flow over private messaging channels can be a scalable time-saving solution.

Volaris Airlines is one such airline that is automating customer service over private messaging channels integrated with intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs). The Mexico-based ultra low-cost airline leverages WhatsApp to serve millions of customers – whether it’s pushing out proactive notifications about gate changes, flight delays or modifying flight itineraries. Volaris is also using WhatsApp as a way to address the impact flight delays or cancellations have on oversold flights, giving passengers the ability to accept a voucher for oversold seats directly in WhatsApp, offering swift resolution without passengers needing to go to the airport or gate.

In addition, WhatsApp is the same channel used by Volaris Airlines for both customer service and marketing for one-to-many promotions such as travel discounts to select cities and one-to-one responses with customer support. Above all, every interaction is also kept in the same WhatsApp thread/channel, so the customer sees it as a single, digital relationship.

Airlines Can Rise Above the Fray During Peak Travel Seasons

Customer problems are inevitable, but how a brand deals with them can shape the future of a relationship. Private messaging is asynchronous, and allows conversations to happen at scale, at the customer’s convenience. With the combination of agents, it helps cover all the bases to offer real-time help or automated interactive flows.

More consumers are finding themselves in a travel pinch as airlines are capacity constrained, resulting in oversold flights and disruption. As airlines continue to be tripped up by old, inflexible legacy systems, unifying customer interactions across digital channels can modernize customer engagement, enabling efficient and personalized real-time communications, to keep travelers on their merry way.

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