What the Airline Wi-Fi Race Says About the Future of Customer Service for Travel

customer service for travel matters more than ever

Wi-Fi is extremely important to travelers — in multiple passenger surveys, it ranks ahead of amenities such as legroom and food, and some airlines say Wi-Fi is the biggest single source of complaints they receive when it comes to customer service for travel.

This value placed on in-flight Internet access is actually not new; as early as 2010, 31 percent of travelers said they would be more likely to book a flight on an aircraft with in-flight Wi-Fi than one without. As airlines race to meet — and exceed — consumer expectations for in-flight Wi-Fi, they should likewise consider what these traveler values say about availability and access throughout the traveler journey. 

Travelers today are always connected, and value on-the-go access to itineraries, check-ins, flight updates, etc. Indeed, most travelers use airline apps, and 26 percent of travelers use airline apps regularly. 

How does this expectation of being always-connected and always online play into customer service for travel?

Mobile in More Ways Than One: What Customer Service for Travel Entails

As consumers themselves are increasingly always-available for communication with friends, colleagues, partners, and businesses, the future of customer service for travel will likewise be about being as accessible as possible. 

In practice, this means three key things: 

1. Being Mobile 

Travelers are, by nature, on-the-go. That means that when they have an issue, they may be in-flight, en-route to the airport, or in a location without access to roaming/data. Because of this, it’s imperative for airlines to not only have mobile apps, but also offer support in these mobile apps. Travelers don’t want to be forced onto a web form or told to call a number or send an email. They want immediate, accessible help — and the best way to give this is through in-app messaging, and through a searchable in-app knowledge base that is accessible 24/7 (with or without an Internet connection). 

2. Offering Immediate Support With Automation and AI 

In order to be truly accessible, brands need to build out scalable support processes that allow urgent queries to be addressed immediately, in real-time. “Immediately” and “scalable” may seem like an oxymoron, but with automation and AI, the two concepts can coexist. 

Through a combination of live support, bot-based interactions, and asynchronous messaging support, brands can ensure that time-sensitive issues are resolved in real-time, while less urgent issues are routed through bot-based knowledge article suggestions, or are answered by an agent as the ticket queue allows. 

This works through AI-powered segmentation, which ensures that time-sensitive queries are pushed to the top of the queue for live assistance — allowing for white-glove service without breaking the bank (by only offering it when it’s necessary). For other issues, bots can give travelers estimated wait times and let them know that an agent will respond shortly. Because the interaction is happening via messaging, the traveler can go about their business during the interim, without having to listen to hold music or otherwise detract from things they’d rather be doing. 

3. Being Integrated 

Your customers are connected, and so are their devices. In fact, Mark Dankberg, the co-founder of an in-flight Wi-Fi provider called Viasat (used by American Airlines, among others), says that on some flights the number of connected devices exceeds the number of passengers. Customers are accustomed to moving seamlessly between their phones, tablets, laptops, etc. for everything from music, to texting, to accessing documents. 

Customer service for travel should provide this same level of cross-device integrated access. Some issues are better suited for in-app messaging, while others require more immediate interactions. For instance, if AI-powered routing deems an issue “urgent,” passengers should receive the option to call an agent from inside the messaging interface. When the customer calls, the agent responding to the call has access to a snapshot view of the problem as explained by the customer in the messaging interface so that they can quickly provide a solution. 

By integrating the two mediums, you give your customers the same option they are accustomed to having in their daily lives: that of moving a task from medium to medium based on the circumstances at hand. 

Be There For Your Passengers, Wherever They Are

The number one rule for customer service is be there when your customers need you. For the travel industry, this rule includes being wherever your customers, at the moment they need you. As travelers become increasingly accustomed to 24/7 access in our on demand world, they will expect this same level of access from their airlines — and it’s our job to figure out how to provide that service that is both effortless for the customer and efficient for the brand. 

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