"In The Air Tonight" - Air Transport Through the Eyes of Customer Service
For a BPO contact center business, there are no boundaries in the direct and figurative sense of the word these days. Customer service is as much a requirement for companies in the healthcare, telecommunications, hospitality, logistics, and environmental sectors as it is for those who are active in the field of logistics. But what are the daily challenges of a contact center entrusted by one of the world's largest airlines with the task of serving more than 100 million passengers a year? In our case study, with the help of a professional implementation manager of an international contact center company, we'll bring you some first-hand experience of the obvious and sometimes surprising duties of aviation customer support and in-depth insight into the day-to-day work of the industry. Fasten your seatbelts, we're taking off!
Up to 3 Million Incoming Contacts per Year
It can take several weeks to train and familiarise an operator working in a large airline customer service team, with such a high volume of passengers and a significant number of calls to handle, seven days a week, any time of the day - as the saying goes, there's always 5 o'clock somewhere.
From the above figure, it is easy to calculate that an omnichannel 24/7 contact center can serve thousands of passengers a day, in a wide variety of areas, whether it is a simple ticket reservation, answering questions about baggage, travel documents, or even refunding money due to circumstances beyond the passenger's control. All this with the language coverage the client needs - with native-speaking operators, of course. In our case study, he said the following about this:
"Because many airlines have domestic flights, we often solve customers' problems from thousands of miles away. I can't check-in, I want to make changes, I want to cancel a reservation, and so on. We also have to answer general questions: what luggage can I take with me, what can't I take on board, what documents do I need? Or, for example, can I take a child with me if it is not my child?
There are priority calls requiring an immediate response, and there is also special assistance. The latter covers issues such as what to do if you want to travel in a wheelchair, if you booked a flight in your maiden name but got married and your current name is not on the ticket, or if you want a refund for a death in the family. From Monday to Sunday, there is a steady stream of calls, emails and chat messages, with each operator dealing with up to one hundred and fifty to two hundred passengers a day."
When you think of the range of situations that can arise for anyone who takes a long journey by car, you can imagine how this number multiplies when it comes to air travel.
The Daily Challenges of Airline Customer Service
For the sake of simplicity, let's look at the day-to-day operations of an aviation contact center:
- Serving a high volume of incoming requests in multiple languages with native-speaking operators
- Handling cancellations, flight changes, reservation changes
- Priority calls, special assistance
- Flexible, scalable, adaptable management: up to two and a half times the volume difference between peak and off-peak periods.
- Omnichannel support: simultaneous customer service by phone, email, LiveChat
- Average handling time: up to 3 minutes
- LiveChat requirements: manage up to 4 customers at a time
- FAQs and simple questions handled automatically via chatbot
- Complaints handling in compliance with EU261 entitlement to benefits rules
What Is the EU 261 Regulation?
The EU 261 Regulation obliges airlines to do their utmost to minimize the impact on passengers in the event of a flight delay or cancellation. Under the regulation, in the event of a significant delay or cancellation of a flight, passengers are entitled to financial or other compensation, depending on the distance flown. The latter may include, for example, reasonable meals and refreshments during the waiting time, two phone calls or e-mails paid for by the airline, hotel accommodation if a stay of one or more nights is necessary; reasonable transport between the airport and the accommodation.
The Common Language
Such complex tasks can only be performed by experienced, highly trained operators who speak the language natively. It's no coincidence that airline customer services are staffed by call center agents with 3-5 years of experience. The following skills are also essential:
- Customer focused, reliable, strong proactive mindset.
- Digitally minded, exemplary problem-solving skills
- Reliability, flexibility, ability to learn
- Ability to work under pressure, tolerate monotony due to high volume of incoming calls and messages
"We are talking about a complex campaign, the preliminary training for the operators lasts two weeks, which is a very long time for a contact center. We had to learn a lot of specific things, for example, in addition to the handling of the individual systems, we also had to know the airport codes, we wrote a lot of tests during the training. Then came the learning period: first you listen to the calls, how the more experienced colleagues do it, then you start answering the phones with the help of a more experienced operator, and so on. The two weeks or so after which you can handle customers on your own will pass very quickly."
Support With Empathy
The biggest challenge, however, is not learning complex skills or handling large volumes of calls. The most important skill to ensure an impeccable customer experience in every situation is empathy.
"We must always be able to put ourselves in the customers' shoes, in their situation, and this is perhaps the most important. To empathize with what it's like when you're standing there at the airport, but you lost your passport at the party yesterday. It can also be the case that a customer calls you crying because their mother has died, they're going home and they don't have the money to change their booking to an earlier date. These are not very common, but they can happen.
Often it can be mentally taxing because as much as you want to help, your hands are tied, and we have not even talked about the regulations on communication or the service level agreements. But of course, there is the possibility of dealing with more extreme situations in an understanding way. In such cases, for example, it is also our job to tactfully but firmly obtain evidence as to whether the complaint is genuine. An important hallmark of a good contact center is that we can help solve customers' problems in extreme situations."
The last example may have highlighted that when we book our flight, put our luggage on the conveyor belt or listen to the routine preboarding briefing from the cabin crew, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. We hope that our case study has given you an insight into one of the many systems - not intended here to describe the work of air traffic controllers, mechanics, maintenance, airport operators, or aircraft manufacturers - that help us, from a distance of up to a continent, to cover thousands of kilometers in a few hours, safely, with our luggage landing in the same country as we arrive.