Back in the days of Pan Am and Concorde, flying was a glamorous experience. “Luxury” was the standard reference for airlines, yet since then the industry has gone from class to mass.
Traveling is already stressful enough as is, whether it’s delayed or canceled flights, missed connections, involuntary denied boarding, or your lost bags. And that’s without throwing a global pandemic into the mix. As detailed in a report by McKinsey, the “romance that travel used to inspire was already wearing thin even before the crisis.”
Indeed, the industry for many has lost its luster. Airlines have shifted from providing consistently glamorous experiences to barely tolerable travel. Unless you can afford to sit in first class, you are treated as a transaction and a number.
Often the most frustrating part of airline interactions is getting left stranded by their customer support with no resolution or response in sight. Since March of last year, complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation have soared to 90,000, a figure fifty-seven times higher than the previous year.
Companies need to treat customer relationships behind closed doors just as they would on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook; there is nowhere to hide in this digital landscape. Almost every day there’s a tweet of a passenger complaint that goes viral, which is met by a quick response by the airline carrier in question. When posted on public forums for all to see, complaints are quickly responded to and resolved. Why should your customer experience be any different when managed privately? Airlines should provide an exceptional customer experience before, during, and after. All it takes is one bad experience for a customer to vow to never fly with an airline again.
Time matters in the travel industry. The difference between a passenger missing check-in, flight, or connection can be mere minutes. And companies should treat their relationships with customers no differently. The days of placing a customer on hold for hours on end or, worst of all, ghosting them are gone. With airlines, so many things can go wrong when you’re dependent on the weather, and often they’re outside of your organization and your support team’s control. Changing itineraries can be frustrating for all parties, yet it’s essential to communicate any changes with consumers in a timely and orderly fashion. If you don’t communicate quickly, effectively, and transparently with customers, you risk being left behind.
Airlines have been struggling and the race to win customers is on. When the only competitive advantage is based on price (and cost-cutting), airlines will find themselves on a one-way trip to the bottom. Nowadays, passengers are faced with an influx of cost add-ons like baggage fees, boarding queue fees, drinks fees, food fees, upgrade fees, just to name a few. When you treat customers like a number, that’s all they’ll see your service as. There will always be another airline willing to cut your price further, and eventually, there’s gradual homogenization of the marketplace. Price is no longer the number one consideration for passengers, and there can only be one market winner when it comes to price.
To succeed in today’s competitive landscape, airlines need to return to the days where they excited, attracted, and most importantly, retained consumers. Those that differentiate themselves by going the extra mile for their passengers will find themselves rewarded with loyalty.