Airlines like Frontier are Moving Away from Phone Support… But Is This A Mistake?
“We’re sorry. Your call cannot be completed as dialed.”
In a controversial move, Frontier Airlines is no longer answering customer service phone calls.
That’s right. As of November 2022, the low-budget airline eliminated its call center in favor of a “digital-first” approach that puts human assistance on the backburner.
Instead of hopping on the phone with a customer service agent, customers will have to rely on other ways to contact the airline: an online chatbot, a 24/7 live chat tool, its social media channels, or WhatsApp.
“We have found that most customers prefer communicating via digital channels,” said Frontier spokesperson Jennifer de la Cruz in a statement, adding that customers can now receive “the information they need as expeditiously and efficiently as possible.”
But is Frontier’s decision to eliminate its phone line a short-sighted mistake? Will this cost-cutting measure backfire and end up costing the company millions of dollars?
Time will certainly tell, but from our perspective, Frontier executives overlooked a few key considerations during their decision-making process.
Here are a few things we wish Frontier executives had kept in mind:
1. CX must be viewed as a revenue generator vs. cost center
Creating customer barriers and friction may save costs up front in terms of labor… But on the flip side, it could squash potential revenue opportunities.
“Frontier closing its call center isn’t surprising since call centers are the costliest CX channel to operate. But here’s the problem: diverting customers to self-service channels when they are looking for real human support is still costing the business mightily,” explains Simplr CEO Eng Tan.
“The opportunity for more revenue is right within Frontier’s grasp, but instead they are building more barriers in the form of attempting to deflect the customer back to the website to finalize the purchase on their own (or pay a service fee).”
While bots can be useful in assisting general inquiries, “when it comes to finalizing a purchase—where there is real revenue on the line along with the opportunity to develop a great customer relationship—there is no substitute for working with a human,” says Tan.
By eliminating humans from the customer service equation, Frontier is forfeiting opportunities to successfully upsell and cross sell in a personalized way. (Think: Human agents suggesting upgraded seat selections, extra leg room, airline credit cards, hotels, rental cars, and more to customers.)
Sure, bots can serve up some of these upselling opportunities, but they lack a personalized touch, connection, and trust that humans can cultivate with customers during the pre-sale stage.
The power of the human touch is irreplaceable when it comes to building customer loyalty and boosting bottom lines; research suggests that consumers are 93% more likely to repurchase from a brand after an interaction with a human agent.
2. An opti-channel approach is king (and reigns over omni-channel)
In the world of CX, an omni-channel approach has long been touted as the gold standard; brands are told they should meet customers in the moment, across all channels, at all times.
But what if we told you that the bar of CX excellence could be raised even higher with an “opti-channel” approach?
In short, an opti-channel approach focuses on directing consumers to the most optimized customer service channels that will answer their inquiry with the least amount of effort on their part.
In order to adopt an opti-channel approach, airlines must be proactive in their messaging with customers and use a “carrot-and-stick” strategy of sorts. The concept of providing a carrot to use self-service has been around the customer service world for a while now—it’s nothing new.
Take the following scenario, for instance: consumers can get faster service via SMS versus another channel such as email (the “carrot”). A consumer will happily follow the “carrot” and contact a brand through SMS in order to get a quick and efficient resolution.
The “stick” part of the equation is typically less emphasized, however. In the case of Frontier Airlines, the stick would be service fees. (Yes, you read that correctly—Frontier is charging service fees for customers who need assistance!)
There’s no denying that chat isn’t the preferred channel of all consumers. Unsurprisingly, our research shows that 71% of Baby Boomers prefer to start their customer service journey by talking on the phone, while only 4% prefer to start their journey via chat.
But all is not lost…Chat can transformed into the #1 channel of choice for customers using an opti-channel approach. A brand like Frontier simply needs to provide customers with clear messaging and incentives as to why they should seek out chat over other service channels (e.g. customers can receive quicker and easier resolutions via chat).
3. Speed is the name of the game…But means nothing without resolutions.
Modern customers expect quick and efficient customer service responses—especially when it comes to chat.
And it seems that Frontier is taking much longer than 47 seconds to respond to customers.
In our own personal experience on Frontier’s website, we had an average wait time of approximately 4 minutes between chat responses. (Even longer wait times have been shared on social media!)
Sluggishly slow response times will ultimately leave a bad taste in customers’ mouths…And send them packing! Research shows that over 80% of today’s customers will drop a brand after just one bad customer experience, regardless of any past history with that brand. Nowadays, customer loyalty is hard to earn, and even harder to keep.
It’s also important to note that speedy responses mean nothing if a customer’s inquiry is not resolved.
In order for Frontier’s digital customer service to be executed successfully, real resolutions must be reached. Digital should not serve as an act of containment with a chatbot, a point of deflection, or source of friction.
Customers shouldn’t be trapped in dreaded loops of doom with bots, and they shouldn’t get so frustrated by the bot that they give up altogether and abandon the conversation.
Customers shouldn’t have to repeat themselves from past customer service conversations either. Previous inquiries and personal details (such as purchase history) should flow seamlessly from one customer service channel to the next.
Intent recognition, where a customer’s needs are anticipated and the conversation is routed correctly right from the start, is key when it comes to making a good first impression on chat.
4. You can’t fumble the bot-to-human handoff
Having a seamless bot-to-human transfer is a critical component of the chat experience.
When a chatbot fails and there is no quick option to transfer to a live agent, however, the impact is disastrous for businesses. Such experiences make 60% of consumers less likely to remain a customer.
While using Frontier’s website, we found that the bot-to-human handoff took approximately 4 minutes… Which is way too long for the modern consumer.
Our research suggests that 60% of customers will drop a chat after waiting 60 seconds—they go to an alternative customer service channel, or even worse, go to another brand.
This can result in what we call a snowball effect: If a customer is not helped quickly enough during their first contact, they will switch to another channel, which results in multiple service tickets and a backlog.
Backlogs like these can quickly bury an airline like Frontier that already faces unexpected inquiry influxes during adverse weather events. Multiple contacts from every customer dealing with a flight delay or cancellation will create a full-blown avalanche of customer service tickets!
Besides long wait times, what’s another way to bungle the bot-to-human handoff? Making customers repeat information that they have already shared with a bot! The bot’s conversation should seamlessly transfer to the customer service agent in order to avoid unnecessary friction for the customer.
An alternative CX solution for airlines like Frontier…
Frontier isn’t alone in forgoing a call center. The new U.S. carrier Breeze Airways offers only text, email, and Messenger options for its customer service, for instance.
But is eliminating the call center altogether the best option for airlines?
If not, what’s the ideal CX solution for airlines that need to deliver agile, high-quality customer service that can accommodate sudden surges?
In short, a CX strategy that harnesses the power of chatbots plus humans—while allowing bots to do what they do best, and humans to do what they do best—is the supreme solution heading into 2023.
“This is called the ‘value-based routing’ approach, where the most important inquiries are treated with the most care by a human agent. Value-based routing not only decreases phone volume to save companies money and achieves the efficiency they’re after, but it closes the sale and gives the customer a great experience so they’ll keep coming back,” explains our CEO Eng Tan.
“For businesses considering alternatives to the costly BPO-style CX—especially in light of current economic uncertainties—a hybrid, value-based model is the way of the future that won’t alienate your customers.”
Bots can’t out-human humans (and vice versa). It’s time to make room for a modern CX solution that empowers both AI chatbots and humans to shine in their own right.