SWISS has expanded its social media channels to now handle 24-hour customer services and enquiries on flights, tickets and even rebookings – a move that reflects a wider industry trend to harness the strengths of the ubiquitous and immediate nature of the internet and social media.
In addition to the conventional telephone service hotlines, Swiss passengers can get in touch with the carrier either via Twitter or Facebook, where responses will be immediate. The service is available in five different languages too: English, German, French, Italian and Spanish.
Swiss is just one of many carriers that have started to recognise the game-changing role of social media, not just for brand exposure and awareness, but also for crisis management and customer service.
A study by Abacus, an industry distribution service provider, stated that social network users in Asia-Pacific alone are expected to reach 616 million by the end of this year and 854 million by 2014. “These numbers represent a great opportunity for airlines in Asia-Pacific to adopt technologies and build brand engagement and preference among consumers,” said Ho Hoong Mau, division head, airline distribution at Abacus. In addition to flight bookings and e-commerce facilities, airlines need to “boost customer engagement,” he added.
AirAsia is a great example of an airline that has cleverly leveraged on social media and, in the process, saved itself additional costs. Instead of launching an entire resources-heavy and costly customer service centre, the carrier introduced “Lil’ Miss Red” – the cute little avatar for the carrier’s dedicated online customer services – Ask AirAsia – that includes a website, Twitter and Facebook accounts. Through these channels, the carrier responds live to any queries passengers might have.
Qantas, which has suffered from several setbacks in the past two years, has turned to social media to manage times of crises more efficiently. When the carrier grounded its entire fleet of aircraft during industrial action (see story here) or even during the engine failures of its Airbus A380 (see story here), Qantas used Twitter and Facebook as an arena for quick, up-to-date information and a response channel for passenger inquiries.
An airline’s website has grown to be as vital as its social media presence, particularly the booking engines, which Asian carriers have yet to get to grips with and make them more efficient. Consequentially, online travel agents are taking the lead over service providers’ websites, Ho observed.
A case in point is Singapore Airlines’ redesigned website that was launched last year and, unfortunately, didn’t please its users. Instead, it drew widespread criticism, for the clumsy look and feel as well as the difficulty to navigate and, as users pointed out, the redesigned site lacked the agility that online travel agents boast. Business Traveller Asia-Pacific forum posters concur (click here to view posts), with a slew of criticisms ranging from the mild (“the revamped website is awful, it looks like something designed in a primary school”) to the extremely harsh (“It’s a dog breakfast – literally. No words can sufficiently describe the awfulness of the new website”).
In an apparent response to the critique, SIA recently announced it would migrate its booking engine to a new reservations system on July 8, with the transition taking place between July 7 at 1800 and July 8 at 2200. This means that all online services will not be available within the given timeframe, including internet and mobile check-in services.
A carrier’s online presence is now almost as important as any other service element, which is reiterated when blunders occur and users are instantly broadcasting their views across the worldwide web. Although many are still dipping their toes in the water, more and more will take the leap, like Swiss, and integrate the channel in their business models.
For more information on Swiss’ new service, visit www.swiss.com