Frontier Airlines recently announced it has ceased offering customer support by phone, just weeks before one of the most disruptive holiday travel weekends in decades. While we understand (and hear often) the argument that consumers want self-service paths and digital access, we couldn't disagree more with Frontier's decision. Awful timing notwithstanding, there is a critical role for a live human's voice in shaping a brand's experience, particularly in moments of customer confusion or distress.
Like Frontier, Tactis believes that technology is critical to a great customer experience. It creates efficiency, reduces cost, and allows for self-service channels that enable businesses to meet people where they are. However, technology has its limitations, and cannot anticipate and handle every need that an individual may have. Addressing these unanticipated needs quickly and meaningfully is of critical importance, as the experience can result in a brand detractor or, ideally, a lifelong advocate. This is especially true in the airline industry, where 38% of passengers reported having an experience that was so poor, they chose to never fly with a particular airline again according to the Qualtrics Airline Pain Index. Managing these edge cases is what creates value in customer service and emphasizes the importance of keeping humans involved in any business model.
In the case of Frontier Airlines, internal changes to eliminate its live agent phone line is certain to have an impact on the level of service and support the airline can provide customers. Flyers may have a more difficult time getting the help they need or may have to wait longer for assistance following Frontier’s shift to a purely digital customer service model (which relies predominantly on chatbots), which could lead to frustration and disappointment. While it's not necessarily wrong for a company to adjust its business model or operations, including making changes to its customer service staff, when complex issues arise, and human intervention is necessary, there exists no adequate digital substitute. Companies must consider the potential impact any changes may have on its customer base and ensure that a plan is in place to provide support and assistance to customers resulting from these changes.
Companies may see short-term benefits from such structural changes, but it is crucial to incorporate live agents who are always available to answer calls within any customer service model. This service is critical, particularly in the airline industry, where the unpredictability of travel can result in issues such as delayed flights, cancellations, and lost luggage. A recent consumer survey found that 55% of respondents said that easily getting through to a live customer service agent was their most important feature in a business. When these high-stress instances inevitability arise, customers should not have to then worry about how long it will take them to connect with someone that can help resolve these problems.
Although this shift to a digital customer service format might make sense on a surface level, this approach is short-sighted and does not consider the importance of robust customer service in ensuring brand success. By combining technology and live support, excellent customer experiences can result. But businesses cannot neglect the importance of this accessible human aspect. When taking a closer look, Frontier is missing this bigger idea, and these changes will hurt its ability to provide personalized and empathetic support, handle complex and unusual requests, and gather valuable customer feedback and insights.
Personalized and Empathetic Support and Great Customer Experiences
In today's increasingly digital world, it's easy to assume that the key to providing excellent customer experiences is to rely solely on technology. After all, technology can be efficient, fast, and reliable. While technology certainly has earned its place in certain spaces, it's important to remember that it's not a replacement for people. Despite such technological advancements, 7 out of 10 consumers still say that speaking to a live agent on the phone is their top preferred method of contact in communication with a company. Combining technology with a well-trained, customer-focused team can lead to exceptional customer experiences.
Technology alone is not enough when it comes to customer service. First and foremost, technology is just a tool. While it can perform specific tasks quickly and accurately, it lacks the ability to think, empathize, and communicate in the way humans can. When a customer is frustrated or upset, they often want to speak with someone who can understand their perspective and help them resolve their issue. Technology may be able to provide some assistance, but it's not able to provide the personalized, human touch many customers crave – especially when no resolution is imminent, as is often the case with flight cancellations.
Human customer service remains of major importance as it allows businesses to provide this personalized and empathetic customer support. While automated systems and chatbots can handle simple queries and tasks, they cannot fully understand and address the needs and emotions of individual customers. While relying on technology alone to provide customer service may be tempting, one cannot disregard the value of a well-trained, customer-focused team. By combining the two, companies can create truly exceptional customer experiences.
Handling Complex and Unusual Requests
Technology is not a perfect science. It can malfunction or break down, leaving customers without a way to speak with a live person to get the help they need. This can lead to frustration and disappointment, ultimately harming the customer experience. But it's not just about having the option to speak to someone – it's about having a team of people trained to provide excellent customer service. This means being patient, understanding, and willing to go the extra mile. It also means being empowered to make decisions and solve problems on the spot rather than simply following a script or passing the buck to someone else.
Airlines and the travel industry broadly have had to navigate ever-changing circumstances and uncertainties in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This complication has persisted in many aspects of travel and has led to more grievances in recent years. In August of 2022 alone, the Department of Transportation received a 322.8% increase in complaints about airline service compared to the pre-pandemic August of 2019. Airlines should approach their customer service plans with increased sensitivity, especially with this consideration in mind.
Having a human customer service representative available to assist customers can help to build trust and establish a deeper connection with the brand. Customers are often more likely to feel valued and satisfied when they have the option to speak with a real person. Additionally, human customer service representatives are better equipped to handle any complex or unusual requests and issues. They can think on their feet and use their judgment to find creative solutions rather than being limited to pre-programmed responses.
Gathering Valuable Customer Feedback and Insights for Continuous Improvement
Human customer service is also important for gathering valuable customer feedback and insights. While automated systems may be able to collect basic data, they cannot fully understand the context and nuances of customer experiences. Customers are more likely to provide detailed and candid feedback by speaking with a human representative. These systems cannot grasp the concept of frustration, confusion, and other complex emotions because they cannot experience them first-hand. It can be explained to an extent and mimicked, but only humans can truly understand and offer this truly empathetic support.
Businesses can take this information to improve products, services, and customer experience. This feedback is crucial to growth and constant advancement. People are more inclined to share their insights when they have a positive or negative experience with a customer service representative and may have less to share when it comes to an automated offering or AI-provided service. In fact, a recent survey found that 33% of consumers said they provided feedback or posted a review after having a positive interaction with a customer service agent. These insights are what help companies grow and informs them of customer preferences—which in turn helps them modify their practices to maximize their overall business efficiency.
Enduring Importance of Human Customer Services for Satisfied Consumers
Using technology in tandem with a strong team of customer service professionals, companies can provide a seamless, efficient experience that includes the personal touch that customers value. This can involve using technology to streamline certain tasks, such as routing calls or providing automated responses to frequently asked questions, while still allowing customers to speak with a real person when they run into issues that require personalized assistance. Of the hundreds of millions of air passengers who fly each year, millions will end up filing claims. It is crucial that airlines swiftly handle these claims and offer stellar support throughout the process.
Overall, human customer service is an essential aspect of any successful business. It allows companies to provide personalized and empathetic support to their customers, handle complex and unusual requests, and gather valuable consumer feedback and insights. While automated systems and chatbots can undoubtedly play an important role in customer service, they should be used in conjunction with human representatives to ensure that all customer needs are fully met. One study by Bain and Company shows that increasing customer retention rates by just 5% can result in a profit increase of 25% to 95%, with 65% of this revenue coming directly from returning customers. At Tactis, we believe that businesses need to reassess their relationship with customer service as a generator of value and brand builder, likened to a marketing initiative, and address how to drive efficiency without alienating their customers in the process.
To learn more about how Tactis can help turn your customer service program into a value add with the right blend of Orchestration in Omnichannel, Artificial Intelligence-Driven Insights, User-Centric Digital Self-Service, and Smart Contact Centers, contact us, today!