Turbulent Conditions: How do Global Airlines Provide Customer Service?

Written by Emily Peck on Jun 23, 2021

As leisure and business travel starts to tick back, travelers will expect quick, effortless and convenient customer support across an increasing number of channels. For airlines, good service doesn’t just impact reputation (and earn public praise), but also revenue: 82% of companies have stopped doing business with a company due to poor support and 32% have done this multiple times. In fact, if an airline responds to customers in five minutes or less, they are willing to spend $20 more in the future for a ticket1.

Global airlines, though, are not delivering the support that customers expect. In the new Customer Service Benchmark Report, 3,000 of the world’s largest travel and hospitality brands were analyzed on how they provide support on the two leading digital channels: email and social. Here are the results. 

Omnichannel customer support is not common in the airline industry; the best support is offered on email 

Customers expect to be able to reach companies on their preferred channel, but only 27.9% of airlines are available on both email and Twitter, only 54.4% offer email support and only 38.8% have Twitter profiles with Direct Messaging enabled. The airlines that provide the best omnichannel support are: Sunwing Airlines, JamboJet, Caribbean Airlines, Binter Canarias and Gulf Air. 

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According to our proprietary Support Performance Index (SPI), a 100-point scale that measures the overall quality and thoroughness of a response, personalization, empathy, and response time, airlines provide better service on email. The best omnichannel support comes from Sunwing Airlines (61.06), Jambojet (59.5) and Caribbean Airlines (58.72). The average Social-SPI is 47.73 with Spirit Airlines, airBaltic, Cathay Pacific, RwandAir and Virgin Atlantic scoring highest.  The average Email-SPI for global airlines is 49.89, with Cape Air, United Airlines, SA Airlink, Private Jet Services, and Executive Jet Services providing the best customer experience.

Across channels, travelers are often ignored and responses are not relevant 

Of the airlines that have email addresses, 66.3% completely ignore customer emails and 85.2% of direct messages are never responded to on Twitter.  Even if an airline gets back, responses leave out critical information which would fully answer a person’s question. Only 29.6% of emails and 31%% of social messages contain highly relevant information. This is troubling as having to contact a company multiple times to resolve a single issue is cited as one of the most frustrating things when it comes to customer service according to many studies. 

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Airlines are quick to respond 

Nearly 1 in 5 people expect an immediate response when they have a question. Many airlines respond within minutes to social messages, including Ryanair – 1 min; SpiceJet – 1 min; Horizon Air – 2 min; Virgin Atlantic – 2 min; and Spirit Airlines – 3 min. The average response time on social media is 8.5 hours. Email response times are slightly higher, averaging 16.4 hours for all airlines that respond to emails. The fastest email responders are: XOJet Aviation – 14 min; United Airlines – 17 min; Mesaba Airlines – 18 min; and Cape Air – 19 min. 

Interestingly, the airlines with the highest revenue are the second slowest respondents on email. The airlines in the $10M-$50M revenue bracket are the fastest social responders, on average, and airlines with less than $1M are the fastest email responders. 

CX is a key driver of loyalty

Nearly half (46%) of customers take loyalty programs into consideration, but even more – 60% – say great customer service is critical2. To effectively compete, airlines need to reprioritize the support they provide travelers across the most popular digital support channels: email and social. The bar is set not only by other airlines, but the companies that travelers are engaging with everyday like Amazon and Netflix, brands that are self-described “customer-obsessed.” 

Airline support and social care teams need to decrease resolution time, provide more relevant and thorough responses in the first reply, and ensure availability on both emerging (WhatsApp, Alexa, etc.) and existing support channels. This will only become harder to manage as travel resumes and customer service ticket volume increases, which is why 68% of airlines say they plan to implement AI and customer service interactions. AI can offload the repetitive, mundane work from human agents, freeing them up to focus on more complex customer needs. 

Download a full copy of the Customer Service Benchmark Report – Travel and Hospitality report here

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  1. https://hbr.org/2018/01/how-customer-service-can-turn-angry-customers-into-loyal-ones
  2. http://www.smartcustomerservice.com/Articles/News-Features/In-the-Travel-Industry-Customer-Service-Matters-More-Than-Loyalty-Programs-127123.aspx