Interactive goes proactive

14 Feb 2005


Airlines can treat their customers like royalty and still save money if they invest in automated contact centre solutions, says Mridul Sharma, giving us a glimpse of this fascinating new technology

Mridul SharmaWith more and more people opting to fly, airlines are one of the fastest growing sectors in Indian industry. This is a result of the business requirements of globalisation, as enterprise networks within organisations demand more frequent executive travel and hectic work schedules. With growth comes competition. Therefore, airlines vie to woo the passengers with packages, smart offers, attractive fares and discounts.

The addition of new airlines has increased competition further, and slashed fares have enabled the common man to join the list of high fliers and experience the skies. Airlines are now looking for better value-added services, proactive customer care and the ability to reach and resolve passenger queries efficiently and in time, to survive the coming air wars.

Automated contact centre solutions should be capable of being integrated with or add value to what an airline may have already invested in and lend themselves to multiple customer interactions across a range of channels, access information on customer requests, buying patterns, lifetime value, etc. The system should be capable of getting the customers to the most appropriate agent at the first try, every time. This would lead to less waiting time and frustration, greater customer satisfaction and loyalty.

An automated contact centre can be managed better and proactively service customers, keeping them happy. Too often, call centres are seen purely as cost centres. In these circumstances, making customer service representatives (CSRs) more productive by saving minutes, even seconds, off every call can potentially save huge amounts of money as well as call resolution time annually. But an alternative, and potentially far more profitable, approach is to transform call centres into customer loyalty contact centres, through proactive customer care.

At first, it may seem more costly for CSRs to spend additional time interacting with customers, but delivering better service in this manner can pay real dividends — both in the short term and long term. Proactive customer care can help drive immediate incremental revenue through cross-selling and up-selling, as well as increase customer retention and loyalty, agent retention and job satisfaction, as well as profitability over the long-term.

Let us see how a contact centre solution can help airlines resolve their weaknesses and make a significant difference in their service offerings. During winters, fog causes flight delays, long waiting, flight cancellations, and route diversions… all of which affect passengers badly. Not only are flights delayed, but also passengers are not able to reach the airport in time. In India, toll free number are not easy to get through and callers prefer to abandon calls rather than continue to listen to the monotonous music for several minutes at a stretch.

An automated contact centre can take thousands and thousands of calls, and route them efficiently to available CSRs, who could be in any location and work in multi-site distributed environments. Customer can call a single toll-free number from anywhere, at any time. They can be connected to an IVR initially to key in their PNR number and hear an auto response on the status of the flight and any delays, without any agent intervention — intelligently and without being put on hold!

Passengers getting held up in traffic, can call the centre from a mobile or a PCO and do an online check-in at the IVR level itself, without waiting for a CSR to be available. The contact centre can also run blaster campaigns to proactively inform all passengers of any flight delays or cancellations and SMS (short messaging service) engines can proactively send SMS text messages about any changes or delays. A unified contact centre solution can provide vital value-added services, which will enable an airline to stand up to the competition.

All this is possible with inbound IVR. Similarly with outbound IVR? The airline''s contact centre can make outbound calls to customers through a system connected to an IVR service, even without agents. Once the call is connected, the customer or prospect can be first introduced to an IVR to give options, if they are interested, then the call can be routed to a particular IVR script for details or connected to a CSR.

Blaster campaigns handled through IVRs can reach thousands of people in a few hours, without any manual dialling, giving recorded information on promos, newer packages, airline fare plans, special schemes, holiday packages, etc. If customers are interested, their response could be handled at a second level; the calls can be connected to the most highly skilled agent on the specific topic, who would be able to give customers all the information and treat them like royalty. This saves a significant amount of time rather than transferring the calls from one CSR to another and having the customer repeat the same queries or drop the call in anger.

Incoming calls can also be routed to an IVR instead of keeping them on hold. Callers can be informed about new packages or promotions. Messages about the estimated hold time, music of choice or language preference can be entertained at the IVR level. In case a customer abandons the call, an intelligent contact centre solution can track it, add the number to the outgoing numbers list, and dial back the customer — all automatically — an example of the highest level of customer service.

E-booking, has just acquired a sophisticated new sibling called ''v-booking''? Call centre systems can patch a call to IVR and, on the IVR itself, the customer can punch in flight details, sector, etc, key in credit card numbers and identification code, to book tickets, all in a very stringent security environment

Beyond voice calls, customers expect a choice of interaction channel — email, web chat, co-browsing, fax or SMS — to contact the airline and get information.

Premium services for frequent fliers and lucrative plans have become the need of the day for airlines operations. Gold and platinum customers can be treated with greetings at the IVR level. The customer can be identified on call and a customised greeting: "Good morning Mr… " can be played, while capturing the information for the customer and presenting it to the CSR as a screen pop-up, while transferring the call. Premium customers can be called a few hours before their departure for a tele check-in. They can be given language options and text-to-speech or speech recognition services.

Customers can be informed about special packages, elite services and new offerings by email. The airline can keep customers updated with regular newsletters. Information on holiday packages can be made much more efficient by mapping the customer''s requirement to the most specialised CSR. While on hold, the customer can be played information about the specific destination that he or she is planning to travel to. A customer interested in Kerala would hear information only about Kerala while on hold, and get connected to a specialist CSR with all the required information.

By identifying their most profitable customers, airlines can develop proactive care strategies that maximise revenue potential. All customers are costly to service; but some are not so profitable for the airline, while others have a significant long-term revenue potential. A proactive care approach would segment these groups and leverage low-cost, online self-help to serve the large number of less profitable customers, while reserving personal interaction for the most valued customer segment.

Lifetime value is based on the profit earned from a customer over the total life-span of an active account. Meeting or exceeding customers'' support expectations maximises their life-span. Proactive care allows a company to provide greatly differentiated, high-touch services that reinforce the company''s brand identity and customer value proposition. Customers have shown time and time again that they are willing to pay more for higher perceived value. Even if these services cost the customer more, companies attract a loyal following of those who appreciate being treated like valued customers.

The author, is channel manager, South Asia and Middle East for Concerto Software, which provides automated contact centre solutions.

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