Summer 2022 was challenging for airline passengers. As the world emerged from lockdown, demand surged for flights to somewhere: anywhere but home. The airline industry, already facing staff shortages, struggled to cope with this high demand. Some airlines, however, fared better than others. OAG data shows Jet2 did not cancel any flights during the 2022 summer season, unlike British Airways and easyJet. The carrier also spent the lockdown implementing a customer-first approach to its corporate strategy and backing that up with the technology and training investments required to deliver a positive passenger experience.
Ultimately Jet2’s passengers presented a more positive sentiment online than that of its competitors, reflecting both the better travel experience and the support available for travellers. Being able to track this sentiment in near-real time, and to respond more quickly when issues arise, is a critical factor in meeting customer needs. No longer can companies afford to wait 30-90 days for survey results to address challenges.
The passenger sentiment technology developed by Beyond monitors millions of online conversations from social media sites like Twitter, review sites, online news media and message boards. The technology captures the conversations that matter to an airline brand and sorts them through our unique taxonomy engine. The result is an “Passenger Sentiment Score” offering unparalleled insight into how passengers perceive not just an airline brand but deeper into specific passenger touchpoints, such as customer support and what interactions most frustrate passengers.
Some of the key findings from this study into airline customer support using Beyond’s technology included:
A negative customer support experience for consumers creates a disproportionally higher share of online conversations about poor customer support; complaining about the support offers a catharsis for travellers, separate from the eventual recovery.
Self-service customer support technology is essential. But it is not the entirety of the solution. Companies must still have human support specialists available to resolve passenger issues.
Flight cancellations and refund policies drive people to contact customer support. Customer support must have the technology and headcount to cope with peak demand levels.
Did Beyond’s passenger sentiment technology concur with the OAG data?
The lack of cancellations reflected in the OAG data is reinforced by what Jet2’s passengers are saying online. Rather than surveying consumers after the fact for a Net Promoter Score – and hoping the answers are accurate – our data reflects what consumers are really saying online, it reflects the actual influence they are sharing. Typically a struggling customer service environment engenders more passenger frustration vented online. Over time, that can grow to define the perception of the brand on social media channels.
Airlines ranked in the top five for customer support have a strong reputation, but Jet2 has pulled significantly ahead of other airlines, according to its passengers. When the top five airlines are compared to the worst-performing airlines a lower sentiment score for customer support typically correlates with a higher percentage of online conversations about that service. The outlier to this correlation between poor customer support and high online conversations is Jet2.
The British low-cost leisure carrier has the highest customer support satisfaction and a high percentage of conversations about customer support. Beyond’s data suggests Jet2 passengers like to give the airline a shout-out for excellent customer service when they leave reviews or tweet about their trip. That is the kind of word-of-mouth advertising that marketing budgets cannot buy.
The three areas of customer support that frustrate passengers the most are; Flight cancellations, Refunds and Interacting with customer support.
Both easyJet and British Airways frustrated passengers with flight cancellations throughout the summer of 2022. We anticipate that the sentiment score for flight cancellations will always be a low score. That proved the case for UK airlines over the 2022 summer season. Flight cancellations became a more significant percentage of all online conversations about the airline when compared to Jet2, the airline that did not cancel any flights over the summer.
Refunds will also always be a contentious issue between passengers and an airline. A Which? report based on a survey with 1,124 respondents, gave UK airlines a refund satisfaction score, indicating the percentage of customers who were satisfied with what the airline offered following a disrupted flight. That data correlates well with the findings from Beyond’s passenger sentiment technology.
Low service quality can also make it much harder for potentially sales-driving discussions about new routes and onboard products to perform, as they are mixed in with comments from frustrated passengers about refunds.
Interacting with Customer Support
Strategy and technology play key roles in passenger perception of an airline’s customer support function. Jet2 implemented a customer-first approach into its strategy and invested in technology, like WhatsApp messaging, to improve the resilience of its customer support function. These investments helped boost Jet2 into the top 50 of the July 2022 UK Customer Satisfaction Survey Report. It is the only airline to rank that highly.
Other airlines rely heavily on technology to allow passengers to self-serve by providing FAQ information or allowing passengers to rebook cancelled flights online.
Self-service options are a key component of a support offering, allowing the bulk of passengers to quickly and easily manage their needs. But for more complex scenarios a live support agent, either via phone or a synchronous messaging interface, makes the difference between frustration and satisfaction for those passengers who need additional support.
At the same time, forcing all passengers to live support channels can destroy customer satisfaction, especially when the system is strained. The recently privatised Air India pushes all passengers directly to the phone lines for all customer support queries. This dramatically increases strain on the call centres, particularly when cancellations occur en masse around changing health requirements or other major events.
Our data shows a lower score related to customer support contact for Air India than Qatar Airways, and a significantly higher share of conversations about that experience. This will have a knock-on effect on future sales.
The resilience of a customer support organisation is vital for any airline operating in today’s market. Be it post-pandemic staff shortages, severe weather events, or military conflicts, widespread cancellation of flights is something airlines will inevitably continue to face. Any passenger who experiences a cancellation will instantly try to mitigate the risk to their trip. Airlines must have the technology and strategy in place to deal with the associated uptick in passenger contacts to protect the resilience of their customer support function and keep the conversations online focused on the positive messages that drive sales.