Opinion

How airlines can innovate for better customer satisfaction

23 Sep 2015 by GrahamSmith

Deepak Gupta is business unit leader, travel, shipping and logistics services at WNS Global Services

The summer months bring with them the holiday season – the busiest time of year for any travel company, but for the airline industry in particular.

With a number of UK airports reporting record crowds already this summer, airlines need to find a way to make sure they are still providing high levels of customer service – not risking long waiting queues, ensuring all passengers get on the plane on time, reducing delays.

It might be a busy period, but airlines still need to make sure they are doing all they can in a competitive environment to encourage customer loyalty, while, of course, making sure they are operating as efficiently as possible.

For airline companies, succeeding in such a fast-paced and competitive environment poses a number of challenges that must be recognised, addressed and resolved.

To see revenues rise in line with the increased level of demand, airline companies must ensure that they are ready to cope with the associated challenges of sheer volume, a rapidly rising cost base, continual changes in corporate travel policies and increasingly demanding and web-savvy customers. All of which can be done with intelligent partnerships.

At the primary level, airlines will have to ensure they can cope with the huge volume of passengers in their various guises.

The busy summer months translate to an increased pressure throughout the value chain – from a rise in website traffic or customer service line calls for ticket bookings, ensuring websites are fully up and running to handle demand for online check-ins.

Then having enough planes, take-off and landing slots to cope, as well as upping the number of flight crew, check-in, cabin and baggage handling staff. Failing to meet these basic service demands could mean that passengers turn to competitors in the future.

Then, of course, flight disruptions are one of the biggest causes of inconvenience for air travellers. For airlines, a disruption is not only expensive due to the operational costs, but also due to the loss in customer loyalty when their dissatisfaction results in their going elsewhere.

Consider that the average direct cost of disruptions to US airlines is $7.2 billion, but for passengers the cost is pegged at $16.3 billion.

While most disruptions are caused by factors beyond its control, each airline is still answerable to its passengers. How the airline responds to the situation has a big impact on the passenger experience and the airline’s reputation.

So, what to do? Well, as we’ve seen with a number of airlines, expert third party partnerships can allow companies to convert important viable opportunities into real savings, which is extremely important given the pressures they face. Benefits are vast and can go far beyond streamlined processes or cost savings.

When working with the correct partner, an airline can experience a host of other rewards as well, including enhanced efficiency, better management decisions, improved customer satisfaction and, ultimately, revenue growth.

These are all imperative at a time when airlines are being pulled from both a cost and customer service perspective.

Furthermore, to help airlines mitigate against the damage of flight disruptions, if they work with the right partner, the partner can automate their system to handle the situations for them.

For example, our RePAX software runs over the airline’s reservation system. It pre-empts the domino effect of a flight disruption and manages the situation without breaking a sweat.

It informs the passenger and airline authorities about the disruption almost in real-time and prioritises and re-books passengers. It even automates hotel bookings for eligible passengers before they have a chance to worry about the effect on their accommodation.

An example of an airline which made the most of partnerships to improve the customer experience is Virgin Atlantic, who decided to partner with us when it needed to manage rapid growth while keeping overhead costs down.

The airline asked us to manage its revenue accounts, which involved complex inter-airline tracking and billing. We also provided contact centre and data processing services – including handling emails, calls, and mail about reservations, ticketing, fares, baggage tracing, frequent flyer inquiries and post-flight complaints.

Data processing focused on meal allocation, cabin crew reporting and cargo revenue management. Working collaboratively allowed Virgin to perform existing processes faster and implement new ones easily so it could focus on more strategic initiatives.

By merging offshore and domestic teams, the airline was able to provide a 24-hour baggage helpline to passengers. The cost savings the partnership achieved were impressive, at 50 per cent.

Similarly, we worked together with Caribbean Airlines in its drive to reduce operational costs by 30 per cent annually, increase cashflow by $5.8 million and improve internal financial processes.

Releasing a large amount of capital like this could go a long way to grow and improve services to capture some of those new 7.3 billion passengers.

Naturally, the summer months pose a strong period of profit for the travel industry, but only if airlines are able to deliver.

As we’ve shown, strong partnerships can provide the support needed to do so. Both in terms of helping airlines to retain a seamless, high-level of service, while running operations at a lower cost and also freeing up cash flow to invest in additional resources.

Taking initial steps to streamline processes may achieve initial time and financial savings, but for airlines wanting to get ahead of their competitors and provide the best levels of customer service possible, operation-wide outsourcing is a must as it will allow them to be as innovative and efficient as possible.

After all, as the old adage goes – many hands make light work.

Read our contributor biography of Deepak Gupta

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