The airline industry was one of the first to be impacted by the global pandemic, which created a turbulent 18 months of uncertainty and unprecedented disruption. During this time, there was a 65% decline in global airline passengers in 2020. And while countless flights were being canceled, airline customer communication was at an all-time high.
The airlines experienced an increase of over 300 percent in monthly customer conversations around flight bookings when global passenger numbers had been trending around one-fifth of 2019 levels. That’s according to Verint’s Guide to Digital-First-Engagement for the Airline-Industry, a new report that provides an inside look at the airline industry’s consumer communications challenges during this transformative period.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel has become a more complex journey – fraught with new questions, concerns, and high-flying anxiety levels. Meanwhile, over the past decade, cost-cutting measures have left many airlines with antiquated support systems and overwhelmed contact centers ill-equipped to handle the surge.
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.
When things finally started to feel unstable, travelers chose to communicate in safe and familiar ways. Customers began turning to the same private messaging channels they use to interact with friends and family as everyone’s lives went digital. The trend of digital-first communications started to explode, creating a significant and sustained channel shift over the past two years. This included the growing use of third-party messaging services such as Apple Business Chat, Twitter, WhatsApp, and more.
Verint researchers indicate we could see a 15x growth in customer conversations on private messaging channels when passenger numbers return to pre-pandemic levels.
The report provides several best-practice recommendations for airlines to transform their customer engagement operations to proactively handle these shifts:
- Develop a digital-first engagement strategy with proactive analysis of customer conversations to understand trends. This enables the deployment of the right automation in the proper channels to scale effectively while still retaining efficiency, effectiveness, and customer satisfaction.
- Consider integrating private messaging channels to support consumer behavior shifting toward digital channels. These channels enable the brand to build rich asynchronous experiences that can manage consumer issues all the way to resolution.
- Employ intelligent automation by building Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs) to reduce agent workload and address high-volume customer intents.
As the airline industry begins to rebound and rebuild, it is “landing” in a radically new world of customer engagement challenges. The digital reckoning that the pandemic created has continued throughout 2021 and 2022. Even with the world returning to some form of pre-pandemic normality, future “digital transformation” projects have been accelerated. What started as a necessity – engaging with brands over digital channels – has now become a preference.
A digital-first engagement strategy ensures that brands can provide a superior customer experience regardless of customer demand across the channels customers want to use most. Intelligent automation helps to scale responses so that brands can meet or exceed customer expectations.
About the Author
Heather Richards is the vice president of GTM strategy at Verint, where she is responsible for driving a global strategy for Verint’s Digital First Engagement portfolio.