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  • Writer's pictureHeini Noronen-Juhola

The future of customer service in aviation

This summer I made a journey to the United States with my son. There's been downturns in our life so this was a well planned and a long expected trip. Therefore I even invested in flights in a business class.

The choice to travel in a business class seemed to be an interesting option in our case. It was eye opening and clearly visible what kind of service reductions has been done during the past times and what kind of pain points there are currently.

First of all at one point I tried to reach the airline customer service for some specific questions, but the only option in the beginning was to discuss with a bot. A simple bot that was clearly able to answer only certain simple questions. Having been directed finally to an actual person the result didn't improve. I finally got the answer from somewhere else.

Secondly, during the summer the airline announced that there would be a reduction to the amount of allowed carry-on bags during the flights. This is quite understandable, since the overhead lockers are constantly out of space in the economy class flights. You can blame the aircraft designers since some aircraft models have better options and more space for carry-on bags, but on the other hand restricting the amount of the carry-on bags gives the airline an option to charge more from the passengers as ancillary revenues. Of course the business class is different, but why did I have to defend my bags with my business class tickets at every check-in desk?

Thirdly, the service attitude and the customer path experience at the destination airports was rather interesting. Of course the US airports have always had their challenges in these questions but at least on my opinion it's in everybody's interest that the processes are smooth. At an airport in a security queue a passenger slightly ahead of us had a lot of spice packages in a bag so they were to be tested. The whole queue was waiting while the whole team of security officers were testing these packages. Not very lean. Or, at the gate, the airline's ground handling representatives were shouting at passengers if they were standing instead of sitting. Also one agent told the business class passengers to stand in a queue at one place and the other agent told us to go somewhere else. In the end all the passengers were allowed in the plane at the same time.

I'm very aware that after the pandemia a lot of experienced people have left the aviation industry. Also, many stakeholders have had difficulties to fill aviation related positions. And, since the pandemia and the war in Ukraine many airlines have serious difficulties with their business and the profitability. These reasons are also often used as an explanation for passenger service problems.

Digitalization and the bots have come to every industry, but if you can't get help from your customer service it's just annoying. Using Excel leadership and saving costs without working hard and properly on the new processes leads to bad passenger experience. It's especially annoying if you have intentionally chosen a legacy airline and a business class ticket.

Meeting an unexperienced customer service agent is normal. Meeting an unexperienced customer service agent with a bad attitude is something that an airline should strongly focus at. This is exactly how you loose your passengers to the other airlines. If an airline saves from training at this point, it can end up being very costly.

US security services and their processes are of course their own business. But at an airport all the stakeholders are serving the same customers. If one part of the passenger path fails, the whole experience for the passenger might fail. This might end up to an unhappy passenger but also bad business for the airport and the airline. It's really allowed for the stakeholders to work on this together.

We were technically privileged this time because we had the business class tickets. But in so many places of the journey the business class status has no role. If I pay these very expensive tickets, I'd expect to get a bit more than the glass of champagne (in the future sparkling wine) and a nice seat. If we had been travelling in an economy class, throughout the process I wouldn't have noticed any difference between this legacy airline and a low cost airline. If the service isn't any different, why choose the legacy airline?

The aviation industry gets harder and harder all the time. Savings will take place also in the future. It's absolutely fine to save, but it isn't good if the savings are done at the cost of services. I get the feeling that many times the savings are done technically well, which means that you are for example replacing help line with a bot and cheaper unexperienced service agents. Or you don't train and follow up your own staff or your representatives at the outer stations properly. The passenger experience goes down so quickly if you save in a wrong place. And not focusing at this is just laziness from the company. Or perhaps, it's a lack of leadership and vision. Anyway, it's bad business.

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