5 Ways for Airlines to Create First-Class Customer Relationships

travelers at an airport


[Estimated read time: 4 minutes]

When you think about everyday air travel frustrations like baggage fees and cramped cabins, combined with high-profile outages and PR crises, it’s not at all surprising that airlines rank in the bottom third of all industries for customer satisfaction. They have a lot of work to do to rebuild their relationships with customers. Here are five ways to fuel those efforts.

1. Focus on experience and service over price.

The quality of a brand’s customer experience accounts for as much as 76% of the variation in loyalty, and 97% of consumers say customer service is an important factor in deciding which brands to choose or remain loyal to. While a slightly lower price may convince a consumer to choose you in the first place, it won’t be what convinces them to stay. Companies should focus on how they can make travelers feel special, or make their lives easier. For example, one airline recently announced it will allow passengers to use iMessage, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger to communicate with people on the ground.

One way airlines can provide better experiences is by offering smarter self-service options for travelers, allowing them to resolve their own questions using chatbot-based mobile interactions.

What the Experts Say

“The challenge is to make every customer feel like one in 180 million versus one of 180 million—how do we personalize and customize, and humanize, everyone’s particular experience?”

-Tim Mapes, Delta Airlines

2. Positively resolve customer complaints.

Passengers who complain report much lower customer loyalty than the industry average, but if those complaints are handled perfectly, their loyalty improves tremendously. When consumers were asked what response a company could give to a complaint that would preserve their relationship, their top answers were:

  • Provide a positive resolution
  • Tell the truth and don’t make excuses
  • See criticism as an opportunity to improve
  • Listen to the feedback or complaint
  • Say you’re sorry

Another element to consider is blending live agent interactions with virtual agent interactions to deliver the best resolution experience for travelers. If a guest is struggling to resolve their issue using self-service, make it seamless for them to escalate to an agent without having to switch channels or devices. Providing complete context of previous interactions to agents, whether they’re sitting in your contact center or standing behind the ticket counter, ensures quicker, easier resolutions.

What the Experts Say

“It takes a strong sense of ethics for businesses to admit their mistakes, but taking the voice of consumers to heart and maintaining open communication can minimize the need for comebacks by avoiding troubled times in the first place.”

-Better Business Bureau

3. Leverage social media for one-to-one engagement.

According to Forbes, 62% of Millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer. Companies working to build better consumer relationships can use social media to engage individuals on a personal level, particularly when it comes to responding to complaints. After all, Twitter reports that 69% of consumers who tweet a complaint feel more favorable about the business if it replies to their concern.

What the Experts Say

“Interactions with customers don’t have to be about ads anymore; it can be the ongoing dialogue that drives results.”

-Lee McCabe, Facebook

4. Create a strong, memorable brand.

McKinsey conducted an informal experiment at a large terminal building serving multiple airlines. As passengers entered, researchers asked them which airline they were flying. One out of five passengers couldn’t answer without checking travel documents, even though they were moments away from beginning their trip. As automation increases and travelers have fewer interactions with employees, creating a strong brand identity becomes even more important. As McKinsey’s Alex Dichter explains, “It’s pretty hard to differentiate when your passengers don’t care whether or not you exist.”

There are multiple ways to create a brand that sticks, including:

  • Engaging your customers on an emotional level
  • Learning everything you can about your customers and their goals
  • Targeting your content for specific audience segments
  • Listening to feedback and adjusting accordingly

What the Experts Say

“If your product, service, or idea resonates with a customer, if it means something to them—in addition to being utilitarian—then the relationship will be deeper, longer lasting, and more profitable.”

-Andrea Coville

5. Use big data to create personalized interactions.

Airlines can use big data such as itineraries, travel history, GPS locations, weather, traffic, post-trip feedback, and social media to provide highly personalized customer journeys. For example, loyalty program data can help identify whether a repeat customer is traveling alone on business or taking the family on vacation, which enables an airline to offer customized bundles and discounts.

Collecting data on your site visitors—including browsing behavior, miles membership status, cart contents, and purchase history—allows you to identify the highest-value customers and proactively engage them by offering to connect them with a live agent. By understanding more about consumers and serving them more relevant messaging, airlines can reduce customer acquisition costs by 21% and increase cross-sells by 17%.

What the Experts Say

“As customers take more control over the way they want to interact with us, airlines will need to ensure they can really understand, and predict, what an individual customer will want either when, or before, they contact us.”

-Harry Bowcott and Alex Dichter, McKinsey

Astute’s smart software can help you create a customer experience that drives revenue and brand loyalty. Learn how we’re helping airlines address the key challenges facing the industry today.

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