Giving wings to localized support to drive outstanding customer experience

While global presence and cultural alignment play a major role in consolidating support for airline customers, technology plays the role of a catalyst. New technologies and capabilities are consistently being leveraged for delivering exceptional customer experience.

Issue: 02-2019By Mark Felsinger and Veerender ShuklaPhoto(s): By Wipro
By Mark Felsinger
Global Head of Travel Transportation & Hospitality Vertical, Digital Operations & Platforms, Wipro Limited
 By Veerender Shukla
Global Delivery Head for Travel Transportation & Hospitality Vertical, Digital Operations & Platforms, Wipro Limited

 

Customer experience (CX) is the new battlefield for organizations in the digital world. For global airlines, among others, local language contact centers are the key to delivering great customer experience. However, these centers are, by nature, fragmented and mostly supported by their ticketing offices. This significantly increases costs and operational challenges. Fortunately, non-English customer support has witnessed dramatic changes in the recent years. Today, airlines have the ability to match the most exacting standards set by any industry without adding to costs, thanks to the emergence of new platforms, advanced technologies and innovative processes.

Among the toughest challenges that global airlines face today is consolidating their customer services. Over the years, as airlines have expanded their footprint globally, they have acquired local customer support centers in different countries and cities. According to a report published by the IATA in October 2018, current trends in air transport suggest passenger numbers could double to 8.2 billion by 2037. Of this, the Asia-Pacific region will account for more than half of the new flyers. These trends necessitate a global contact center strategy for major airlines.

The belief that localization of contact centers with language and cultural sensitivity develops customer comfort is true—but the fragmentation of support translates into spiraling property and operational costs, management complexity, inconsistencies in service delivery and the inability to leverage economies of scale.

In contrast, English language contact centres in North America, Australia and New Zealand have been considerably simpler to consolidate and centralize. These efforts have resulted in standardization and simplification of systems and processes. The upside of centralization has been consistent service delivery, reduced call volumes and the introduction of new tools and technologies for payments and data protection.

Now, Airlines are also forced to match the high bar of customer service being set by other rapidly digitizing industries such as retail, banking and telecom. Many airlines have embraced technologies, such as big data, machine learning, analytics, automation, robotics, blockchain and voice recognition or have them on the roadmap. But deploying them across multiple contact centers can be expensive as well as a painfully slow process. As a result, adoption of these technologies for faster turnaround, reduction in agent errors, extending support across channels, and hyper personalization for improved customer experience remains tantalizingly out of grasp. Fortunately, this needn’t always be the case.

PARTNERSHIPS THAT DRIVE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Airlines wanting to consolidate non-English support and transform their customer experience needn’t build everything up from scratch. Instead, they can leap frog by focusing on partners that exhibit three key traits:

  • Industry Experience: Identify a partner with significant domain strength, consistent delivery and the ability to scale up.
  • Cultural Capability: Ensure that the partner has gained substantial experience in managing cultural nuances in providing customer services (across multiple industries, such as telecom, financial services and retail) in European and South East Asian regions.
  • Technological Expertise: Examine the experience of the technology partner in deploying new technologies across industries and in being able to leverage best-in-class practices from these implementations. This includes examples, such as left shift, AI, chat bots, ML, RPA, block-chain, etc.

AMONG THE TOUGHEST CHALLENGES THAT GLOBAL AIRLINES FACE TODAY IS CONSOLIDATING THEIR CUSTOMER SERVICES

While global presence and cultural alignment play a major role in consolidating support for airline customers, technology plays the role of a catalyst. New technologies and capabilities are consistently being leveraged for delivering exceptional customer experience. These must be made central to the blueprint of today’s support systems:

    New Distribution Capability (NDC): NDC’s new standards are heralding an almost retail-like experience for airline customers by introducing new ways to bundle third party products, distribute products, manage a dynamic product/services catalogue and deliver a transparent and seamless travel experience. This has enabled airlines to enhance their ancillary revenues to approximately $90 billion in 2018.

    Personalization and customization: Acquiring data from global distribution systems (GDS), CRM, social media, loyalty programs, partner programs, etc., and using them to cross-sell and upsell ancillary services (airport pickups and drops, seat upgrades, instant check in, VIP services, gourmet meals, co-branded hotel rooms, mobile phone rentals, etc.) will lead to increased revenues. Better data analytics to create contextualized and personalized responses can elevate consumer experience and retention too.

    Voice-based assistants: Chatbots, widely used in the banking and insurance industry to offer financial advice at scale, make the perfect technology to provide language assistance to customers 24 x 7 at scale. Chatbots now leverage natural language processing (NLP), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to answer complex queries—often faster and better than humans.

    Social Media Management: There is greater emphasis today to listen to customer problems raised across social media. Tools in this area enable better damage control, brand and reputation management.

As digital-first disruptors reshape the business landscape, the demand for digital services and operational expertise are on the rise. Executives have recognized that this requires a more ambitious effort—a transformation of the entire customer experience. This calls for a new operating model that puts the customer’s needs and wants at the center of a digital transformation strategy, enabled by redesigned customer experiences and agile delivery of services.