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The Sky is the Limit for Airline Customer Service

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The Sky is the Limit for Airline Customer Service

May 19, 2015
By Dominick Sorrentino

There are more than enough horror stories regarding airline customer support to create a multi-volume anthology every year for the next century. We’ve seen apathetic flight attendants, broken belongings, lost luggage, and hold and wait times for service that would leave Tom Hank’s character in The Terminal flabbergasted. Airline customer service has become the Mordor of contact center territory; it’s safe to say that one does not simply walk into good airline service.

On a positive note, this leaves a lot of room for improvement, and gatherings such as the “INSIGHTS Middle East Call Centre Awards” held in Dubai on May 12, or the latest J.D. Power North American Airline Satisfaction study, seek to recognize airlines that are closing the gap between the scary status quo, and the sky.

Image via Shutterstock

 Among the airlines recognized at the former is Etihad Airways, which received the title for “Best Industry Call Centre (Airline).” While this honor may seem insignificant, or needlessly obscure, an airline’s call center is entrenched in the heart of the customer service chain. If there is a luggage switch, if something is found to be broken after leaving the airport, if a flight is canceled or delayed, passengers will refer their grievance to the airline contact center workers, who are tasked with remaining calm, finding a solution, and quelling a stormy situation. Excellence in the contact center can help wash away the bad taste left in customers’ mouths, increasing the likelihood that they will fly with the airline again, despite what may have begun as a negative experience.

 That word “experience,” is one that comes up often these days, and it’s key according to the recent study by J.D. Power, which noted that JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines came out on top based on customer responses (The worst-rated were to Frontier and United Airlines). Customer perceptions of airline travel are morphing what was once a basic transportation commodity into an experience, not unlike the service and hospitality industries. Airlines that approach customer service as top priority—during the flight and in the contact center—have a lot to gain.

“The carriers most focused on providing a pleasant experience are being rewarded with higher customer satisfaction and loyalty,” said Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power, as reported in Fortune.

Etihad Airways, JetBlue, and Southwest are all on the ascent in what has largely been a crash-and-burn scenario for many airlines and their customers, but we’re still very far from cruising altitude. General impressions regarding airline customer service remain sub-par at best.  

Nevertheless, there’s hope on the horizon, and as long as airlines adapt by improving the experience for passengers on all fronts, no one will have to arrive at their destination feeling like Frodo at the end of The Return of the King.  

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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