The one change Air Canada could make to rescue its customer service crisis


In life, sometimes things go wrong. It’s inevitable. As a company, the only thing you can do is plan for the worst and have processes in place to ensure you deal with the issue in the best possible manner.

Cut to December 2019 when Air Canada rolled out its new reservation system. As with any new piece of tech, there are bound to be some teething problems. In this instance, passengers have been unable to make changes to their reservations online and are instead being directed to call customer service. The only thing is, Air Canada wasn’t prepared for this unprecedented volume of customer queries. One passenger lamented that they’d tried calling 28 times without any luck.

Air Canada has since assured customers that this is only a temporary issue and that these hiccups will be ironed out as the new reservation system continues to roll out throughout the year. Until then though, there continues to be disparity within Air Canada’s customer experience. A seamless online booking process is great, but what’s the point when passengers then have to use archaic customer service channels such as phone?

The modern traveller craves simple, effortless experiences at every possible touchpoint. That’s why the leading airlines are investing in technology that allows them to provide customer service over messaging channels. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Google Business Messaging and Apple Business Chat are all being used by airlines to communicate with passengers in a simple, seamless way. The rich media support these channels provide, and their asynchronous nature, enable a new level of customer experience that is easy to use, robust and all contained within the channel.

So, what’s the main benefit for airlines adopting messaging channels? A human agent in a contact centre is able to handle five-times the amount of customer queries in the same time as it would take over the phone. Messaging is asynchronous, meaning that neither the agent nor the customer are tethered to a conversation. They’re both able to respond at their own pace, and the agent is able to juggle multiple conversations at once. Combining automation in a seamless way further enhances the agents’ productivity and, according to studies we have conducted, customer satisfaction as well.

In Air Canada’s case, offering a messaging service would allow the airline to absorb the sudden spike in volume it is witnessing in inbound customer queries. Where relevant, it would have also enabled consumers to self-serve using automation, further easing contact centre congestion. Phones require agents to be available in real-time on the other end of the line. With a finite number of agents and stream of incoming calls, it’s impossible to offer a satisfying customer experience. Messaging would allow Air Canada’s customer service agents to handle a steady stream of queries and give them the best chance of damage limitation.

This is just an example of how messaging can be leveraged when things go wrong. What’s perhaps most exciting is that it also provides opportunities for airlines to provide new customer experiences. Processes such as purchasing additional luggage or upgrading a seat can now be automated through channels such as Facebook Messenger and Apple Business Chat. Customers can even make payments within the app by utilising integrations such as Apple Pay. By automating these services, human agents have more time to deliver effective one-to-one services, which helps to build long-lasting customer relationships.

So, what is the future for airline customer service? There is certainly still a place for customers who want to pick up the phone and speak to someone. But if you rely solely on traditional channels, you forfeit the flexibility to navigate the inevitable peaks in volume. Mexican low-cost-carrier, Volaris – which was just named #1 Domestic Airline in Mexico (surpassing even AeroMexico) – placed messaging at the heart of its customer service repertoire and has achieved amazing results. It’s now by far the airline’s most popular channel of communication with customers, and it has been able to lower its ‘cost to serve’ by 83% while improving its CSAT scores. If that doesn’t help build the case for a messaging-first approach to customer service, then I’m not sure what will.

About the author

Ido Bornstein-HaCohen is Conversocial’s CEO, responsible for global strategy. Ido joined Conversocial as COO in 2017 to oversee all commercial operations. In 2019, Ido was appointed CEO, expanding his operational responsibilities to include global strategy. Before coming on board, Ido achieved success growing and scaling companies, with more than 15 years of experience in executive leadership positions at LivePerson and SAP.

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