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Airlines must wise up to delays and social media

September 11, 2013 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Airlines must manage delayed or cancelled flights carefully in order to reduce frustrations, maintain customer loyalty and prevent infuriated passengers using social media to turn other potential customers off, according to a new independent global study.

Aggrieved passengers can all-too-easily turn to social media, it warns. “Globally, around one third of travellers surveyed said they had posted comments about delays to their friends on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, with higher numbers sharing experiences amongst their immediate family or friendship groups using other means.” EGT_Artical Banner A 250x250

The study “Passengers first: Re-thinking irregular operations”, written by Norm Rose of travel industry research authority PhoCusWright, and commissioned by Amadeus, argues that a customer- based approach to “irregular operations” (delays, in other words) can only help.

Airlines should tailor alternative travel choices to suit travellers affected, rather than suiting the airlines, it contends.

The study, based on interviews with leading academics, industry trade organisations and global airlines, also includes a survey of 2800 travelers from Australia, Brazil, China, the UK, and the US.

The findings showed that delayed or cancelled flights prevented nearly one in five (18%) of all passengers from fulfilling the purpose of a trip booked in the past year (rising to a third in China). Passengers’ most common frustrations included insufficient communication. That sort of thing can put a traveller off a particular airline, sometimes for life.

Global airline passengers’ most common frustrations:

  • Insufficient communication about what was happening.
  • No offer of compensation.
  • Conflicting communication about what was going on.
  • Not being able to fully achieve the original purpose of a trip due to a flight problem.
  • Having to pay additional costs for alternative arrangements. 

Suggested solutions:

  • Deliver a standard service approach to disruptions: Airlines should consider incorporating a standard service approach to deal with passenger itinerary changes. “When severe events occur, airlines with such an approach in place merely extend their processes to a larger number of travellers rather than attempt to implement a new, reactive process.” 
  • Offer “intelligent re-accommodation”: Automated re-accommodation technology may provide efficiencies for the operational staff, but it does not always solve the underlying passenger itinerary disruptions. Airlines may cosider an “intelligent one-click solution” that empowers passengers to choose alternatives most relevant to their needs. 
  • Airlines should also consider investing in systems to gain a greater understanding of each passenger’s preferences and reasons for traveling, including passengers who book through indirect channels. 
  • Provide transparent communication: In every market surveyed, except China, insufficient communication was cited as passengers’ top frustration with irregular operations management. Introducing an integrated, cross-departmental approach to customer service will enable airlines to provide authoritative, personalised, proactive communication – and lessen the need for travellers to rely on third-party sources. 

Another finding: Moderate delays hurt the industry more than big-ticket disruption. One of the greatest challenges facing airlines is not major weather or ‘force majure’ events, such as the volcanic ash cloud that disrupted travel across Europe in 2011, but rather the far more regular moderate delays of 1-4 hours that matter most to customers. In all markets at least 50% of travellers have experienced a moderate delay on one or more flights in the past 12 months, with this figure highest in China (74%) and Brazil (67%). Instances of significant delay are far less common.

As for travellers making complaints on social media, the study calls on airlines to shift social media strategies from promotional activities alone, and “to embrace analytical tools that help them to understand the impact of social comments made in relation to disruption. By following this analytical approach, airlines can practice social mapping to better understand the impact of disruption on their brand as well as the sentiment of their customers”.

“Many airlines around the world have challenges in measuring the true cost of irregular operations on customer sentiment. Whilst carriers are aware of the direct costs associated with delays and cancellations – U.S airlines alone lost USD 7.2 billion as a result of disruption in 2012 – those figures do not tell the whole story,” said Norm Rose, Senior Technology and Corporate Market Analyst, PhoCusWright.

“When travellers post negative messages on Twitter or decide never to book with a particular carrier again after being kept waiting for several hours at the airport, this results in an indirect loss of revenue for airlines which is often difficult to measure. A passenger-centric approach requires a re-evaluation of irregular operations management, to enable airlines to better serve customers and protect revenues.”

Written by : Peter Needham

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