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Southwest Airlines Adds 'Virtual Hold' Capability to Improve Customer Service
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Southwest Airlines Adds 'Virtual Hold' Capability to Improve Customer Service

June 02, 2009
By Patrick Barnard
Group Managing Editor, TMCnet

Southwest Airlines has added a new “virtual hold,” or callback capability to its contact center service. Using this new feature, customers waiting to speak to a representative can hang up the phone and walk away while they are on hold – and the phone will ring back as soon as an agent becomes available.

This new capability is made possible using Virtual Hold Technology’s virtual queuing solution. The solution enables callers to keep their place in the queue and get a callback when an agent is available.

“The virtual queuing concept aligns perfectly with our declaration of ‘Freedom for our Customers,’” said Lance Morton, Southwest Airlines’ director of automation resources for customer support and services, in a release. “When situations arise that create a hold time in excess of a minute or two, the Virtual Hold service gives our customers the freedom to do other things while we keep their place in line.”

Specifically, Southwest Airlines is using Virtual Hold Technology’s (News - Alert) Concierge and Rendezvous solutions: Concierge is what facilitates the “virtual hold” – while Rendezvous gives customers the opportunity to schedule a time to receive the callback if the queue time is not convenient for them.

According to company officials, 40 percent of callers accepted the Virtual Hold callback option instead of waiting on hold following implementation.

The new offering has reportedly earned the airline high marks from customers – some of whom twittered about it.

“Companies: In an age of cell phones, don't make me sit on hold. Call me back when it's my turn, like Southwest just did,” one customer “tweeted” on the popular social networking site, according to the release.
“Southwest customer service now has a callback feature, rather than putting you on hold. I applaud,” another wrote.

Contact center software makers are increasingly integrating the callback capability as a standard feature in their platforms – for example, callback is one of the new features available in Avaya (News - Alert) Contact Center Express 4.0 – the new version that was announced this week.  The company claims the platform’s new “Customer Requested Callback” feature lets callers who cannot stay on hold request a callback, automatically scheduling a return call from an agent.

Virtual Hold Technology -- winner of a Communications Solutions 2008 Product of the Year award from TMC (News - Alert) -- announced last week that The Hawaiian Electric Company has implemented its solution to help improve the customer experience. The utility company decided to implement the call center solution after receiving higher call volumes and longer hold times in the latter part of 2008, when higher electricity costs brought more calls from customers wanting information about conservation and ways to manage their bills.

In other related news, Southwest Airlines announced this week that it has re-launched its mobile Website. Previously customers could use the mobile website to check-in for flights, cancel reservations, contact the airline and view terms and conditions. The re-vamped site now allows customers to also book flights, log on to Rapid Rewards, view schedules and check the status of flights.

Patrick Barnard is a contributing writer for TMCnet. To read more of Patrick’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Patrick Barnard

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