We’re already on board
with shorter holding times

Travelers’ patience with call centers is wearing thin

We’re already on board
with shorter holding times

Long wait times to get through to some airline call centers is fueling frustration for travelers eager to take advantage of relaxations in COVID travel restrictions, according to a report in The New York Times. When Southwest Airlines canceled around 2,000 flights over one weekend recently, travel writer Heather Murphy spotted customer angst seemed to be centering more on the sparsity of agents available to deal with rescheduling than it was on the cancellations themselves.

Her report, 275 Minutes on Hold, paints an unhappy picture of anger and incredulity as passengers describe endless hours left hanging. An attempt to rebook a flight from Chihuahua, Mexico to the Los Angeles area took 4 hours and 54 minutes on hold with American Airlines. Another customer waited a headlining 275 minutes to resolve an issue with JetBlue, joining the swirling undertow of customer dissatisfaction. “Over the past few months, customers around the world have been lamenting call wait times and, more broadly, the process of rebooking canceled flights,” Murphy tells us. “Virtually every airline’s social media account is overflowing with stories of hours-long waits to speak to someone—even on relatively normal days.”

In turn, the piece has struck its own chord on social media, summoning further testaments to crazily long waits for agent support. One report stakes a claim to besting, if that’s the word, the NYT tales of misery: It can take six hours on hold to book a flight with Delta, apparently. Jaw dropping as this sounds, it doesn’t begin to touch the length of the wait time Australian Andrew Kahn claims to have endured back in August 2012. His call to Qantas Airways to confirm a flight from Adelaide to New York was reported around the world as a record breaker at the time. The Telegraph noted that Mr. Kahn initially got through to the airline but was then put on hold and advised that a representative would be with him as soon as possible. “I wanted to find out what exactly they meant by as soon as possible,” he told the British newspaper. “When it got to over two or three hours, that was the point where it was like, ‘OK, let’s ride this out’.” It took 15 hours, 40 minutes—and a second—he said, before he gave in and called it a day. Qantas firmly disputed the existence of any record of such a call, but the anecdote begs a bigger question, nonetheless.

How much progress have airlines made in the intervening decade, when it comes to handling calls from its customers? Aviation has been at the forefront of many innovations in recent years, transforming passenger experiences in security, check-in and onboard entertainment. But when bags go missing in action or flight schedules are disrupted, we need real-time support to help us figure out plan B.

It can be done. One of Russia’s largest airports, Domodedovo (DME) in Moscow, introduced an automated voice assistant on its customer line last year. It was reported by International Airport Review to be handling around a third of customer calls by March 2020, enabling passengers to check schedules, track latest flight status and access check-in desks.

Callers select a menu topic and then ask their questions. The voice assistant uses automatic speech recognition and speech synthesis, delivering support via automated conversations and providing passengers with information within a two-second time frame, we’re told. Plans for this new infrastructure were presumably taxiing down the runway at DME well before the pandemic.

But COVID excuses used by other airlines seem to be wearing thin with passengers, if the NYT accounts are anything to go by. Now, hot on their heels, comes the November release from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) of its 2021 Global Passenger survey. The main headline? Passengers’ willingness to have the latest technology make travel quicker and easier for them.

“Passengers have spoken and want technology to work harder, so they spend less time being processed or standing in queues,” the survey tells us. “Before traffic ramps-up, we have a window of opportunity to ensure a smooth return to travel post-COVID-19 pandemic and deliver long-term efficiency improvements,” says Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety and Security.

At Gridspace, we’re already strapped in and ready for takeoff, Mr. Careen. Our contact center automation platform provides wins across the board for businesses. Book a demonstration to see for yourself how our virtual agents and intelligent automation solutions improve customer experiences, reduce costs and increase efficiency.



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