Long queues at check-in, flight delays, cancellations, and lost baggage, interfered with the air travels of many passengers in 2022. This was accompanied by record numbers of complaints to airlines – a test of endurance for customers, employees and decision-makers. Moreover, it is assumed that air travel will not be trouble-free in 2023. Due to the sharp increase in the volume of complaints, feedback management has become a constant topic in top management meetings. In times of high processing backlogs, it is important to use the momentum to push through investments for a fundamental renewal of feedback management.
In the following, we will show which starting points there are for innovative airline feedback management and how this can be implemented. The focus is on negative feedback and complaints after the journey. The complainant can be the end customer who submits feedback for himself or others. Or it may be a lawyer representing the interests of end customers. Complainants can also be travel agencies or passenger portals.
The first step of increasing the efficiency of feedback management should be an attempt to help the complainants to help themselves. This includes, for example, making the website informative. Pro-active information about the legal situation or compensation requests avoids unnecessary enquiries for which there is no claim. Intelligent FAQs, which already contain links for further information in the suggested solution, avoid follow-up questions from complainants. This not only keeps the burden on the feedback management division low, but also increases customer satisfaction through a quick response to the request.
If the complainant contacts the airline directly, this should, if possible, be done via the contact channel that the airline can process in the quickest and most targeted manner for the complainant. In most cases, this is a dynamic contact form. Dynamic means that the contact form displays different further queries depending on the input in order to obtain all relevant information on a topic-specific basis. The complainant is only asked the questions that are important for his case. This increases the motivation to complete the form. In addition, it avoids having to ask the complainant further questions during the handling process, which leads to a more cost and time efficient transaction. Asking who the complainant is, how many and which persons are involved simplifies the process. If it is initially clarified whether it is a first-time feedback or a follow-up, it can be routed more easily and prioritised in the next step. Intelligent FAQs (e.g., with references to compensation guidelines, further links) or a claim check can also be integrated in the contact form. In addition, interfaces can be set up to backend systems that check the data entered (e.g., flight number exists on this date). Such interfaces enable, among other things, the establishment of the Autocomplete function.
If the contact form is holistically structured and connected to the necessary third-party systems, requests can be processed fully automatically. This is possible in distinct cases of compensation claims, such as the EU Passenger Rights Regulation EC 261/2004.
If fully automated processing is not possible, it is important to automate as many individual process steps as possible. Immediately upon receipt of a feedback, the system should check whether a process already exists for this request (duplicate) or whether it is a follow-up to an existing one and merge the respective requests.
The dynamic contact form can be used to set up an automated categorisation of the cases. The information in the contact form determines the enquiry category and thus, the category is automatically saved in the case. This enables an automated bundling of similar enquiries, which the employee can process one after the other in a faster and more routinely manner. In addition, the categorisation can also be used to prioritise urgent topics.
Another decisive advantage of a distinct categorisation of feedback is that this allows the cases to be routed automatically. Depending on the enquiry topic, the case can be routed to the most qualified staff member. A short training session is sufficient to enable new or temporary staff to process simple categories on a case-by-case basis.
Through the flight data entered and the categorisation, the system can also recognise whether and which data from the airline’s backend systems still need to be added so that the staff have all the information to make a decision concerning the claim. Through interfaces to the feedback management tool, data can be automatically enriched during the process.
Based on the categorisation of the case, the system can generate automated replies and compensation proposals. This saves the employee the manual search for text modules for the response letter and the manual check in lists that detail in which case, which amount, and type of compensation is to be granted.
Automation approaches should be introduced successively. After each step, it can be examined whether automation has actually made the process more efficient and increased customer satisfaction. Compensations for distinct cases that occur frequently should be tackled first. Step by step it can be aimed for a completely automated processing of certain feedback categories.
In order to increase customer satisfaction during the handling process setting up an automatic status update to the complainant can help. At the same time, intermediate questions from the complainant are avoided, thereby reducing the volume of enquiries.
This update on the current processing status of a request can either be implemented by e-mail or a portal is set up where the status can be queried (see below: future of airline feedback management).
Giving the complainant the choice of the kind of compensation (e.g., payment or voucher) increases customer satisfaction because of the involvement in the decision-making process. The customer gets the feeling of having (co-)decided on the solution. One option for the selection of the compensation type can be via a link that is sent in the response letter and leads to a website. On this website, the customer can indicate which type of compensation he wants. If, for example, he decides on a pay-out, it is only in this step of the feedback process that it is necessary to request the bank data. If bank data is already requested in the contact form, there is a risk that it is no longer up to date by the time compensation is made. In addition, a request for bank data without already knowing that it will be needed later is problematic for data protection reasons.
As a matter of principle, the aim of every airline is to avoid negative feedback and complaints. Feedback management can make a decisive contribution here. Comprehensive feedback reporting, which maps the reasons and causes for complaints, can be forwarded to the relevant other areas of the company. After implementation of the improvement measures, it can in turn be tracked whether and how much less negative feedback is received on the corresponding topics. Thus, the airline can gradually improve.
In the long run, a customer feedback platform offers a highly customer-centric way to process feedback. On such a platform, the complainant can submit his feedback, review his entered information and the airline’s feedback(s) as well as submit further information if necessary. The status of the handling process is visible at all times. If a decision is made on the compensation claim, the customer can select the preferred type of compensation via the portal. Finally, a rating of the feedback process can also be obtained.
The feedback management of the future, in which requests are processed efficiently and customer-oriented even in times of crisis, is above all automated. Some airlines process feedback in their in-house CRM systems, which they have configured accordingly for the relevant feedback management processes. Other airlines use special feedback management software. Whatever technology is used, it is important that new contact entry channels of feedback can be implemented in the system. As the topic of omni-channel is also present in the feedback area and airlines always have to adapt to new channels and portals such as social media. It is also recommended that the software used is linked to third-party systems in order to easily and quickly integrate information from the internal system environment. Thus, the handling process is accelerated without manual enquiries from other company departments.
The past year has shown how important scalable feedback management is for airlines. A structured, (partially) automated process is critical to success in order to keep case backlogs during a crisis as low as possible in the future and thus reduce the burden on customers, employees and the company. To achieve this, processes must now be rethought, changes introduced, and investments made in technology.
For better readability, the generic masculine is used in these articles. The designations of persons used in these articles refer to all genders unless otherwise indicated.