The high and lows of airline customer service

It has been a hard couple of years for companies in the travel industry and also for their customers. Many airlines have not treated customers well, such as British Airways taking advantage of the law not being clear on refunds.

And, of course, it works both ways. If the carriers want consumers to flock back to the skies, they will have to treat them fairly. Here’s some simple advice for them…

Keep it fair

Be ethical and fair. We have seen in the UK a number of airlines offering vouchers instead of refunds for trips that passengers could not take due to the pandemic. It took regulatory action from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to force them to speed up. We certainly saw consumer patience wane.

At the beginning of the pandemic consumers were patient and understood delays but that is not the case now. Airlines would do well to note that consumers are beginning to say that they will pay more for lower risk of poor customer service. LinkedIn survey results. 86% of respondents said that they would pay more for better service than Ryanair gives.

Encourage communication

Airlines need to understand that they must provide ways of contacting them in the ways that their passengers wish to do so. It is not about what is easiest for the airlines. That means providing a customer service email address and enough staff to answer the emails and phone calls. If they have chat bots they must ensure that there is always a real person available to can come in at any point in the conversation.

Be genuinely sorry

Apologise! And be genuine with it! Consumers regularly tell me that often they just want an apology. Recognition of the issue, the inconvenience caused and being treated with respect as an individual goes a long way. Recruit and train staff who can show genuine empathy and who do what they say they will!

Get properly resourced

Airlines blamed problems with finding good employees/understaffing for long call wait times and not having enough people on the phone or behind the counter.

This is ridiculous. Instead, airlines just need to improve recruiting and training processes. Many people have sadly lost their jobs through the pandemic, so this excuse just doesn’t hold any weight. In addition, it just makes passengers more angry that airlines aren’t taking any responsibility and are making no attempt to improve.

Reward good service

Companies use various incentive structures to recognise good work. For example, resolve an issue within “x” time and get “y” reward. However, there is significant risk with this in a customer service context: Passengers can feel rushed when staff concentrate on the clock, rather than on the airline’s customer.

Genuine empathy is rarer and although a solution may be found quickly, it is not necessarily always the best for the consumer. How does getting a caller off the phone as quickly as possible show that the airline values its customer? The passenger is more likely to feel undervalued if they have been rushed or not been able to explore more options.

Better incentive schemes include satisfaction rates, working as a team, providing feedback, showing employees are valued. See my article How to celebrate and recognise your customer service heroes for more details.

In summary, if airlines want to win back customers they need to regain their trust and offer better customer service at all stages of the journey.


aeroplane in the sky

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By Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow

Consultant | Author | Speaker | Blogger | Presenter | Journalist
Helping to make, prevent and deal with complaints

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