Published: November 30, 2022 | Comments
During a recent dire period in customer service for US airlines, it was not uncommon to see stranded passengers trying every single avenue to get answers. Intrepid travel reporters could find people standing in line to speak to an agent at the airport while also waiting on hold and texting airline customer service representatives.
Now it appears one airline is attempting a bold attempt to streamline that outreach process. Frontier Airlines, the budget-conscious air carrier, announced that it would no longer provide customer service via live contact center operators, according to an NPR report. Instead, customers will only be able to reach the airline via chatbot, live chat, social media channels, and WhatsApp.
Frontier is considered a no-frills airline, and customers who buy their discount tickets are not expecting premium customer care. However, the move is considered a bit surprising, as Frontier may be only the second reported airline to not offer contact center voice services. No organization necessarily wants to be a trailblazer in offering less customer service.
It’s a bold move, but it also may come partly from necessity. It’s been a tough year for Frontier, which attempted to merge with Spirit Airlines, only to have Spirit spur the merger to merge with JetBlue. In addition, Frontier was one of several airlines fined by the US government for failing to properly refund tickets for canceled flights. This wasn’t a cut-or-die move, however. Frontier’s short-term financial outlook isn’t dire - the airline’s holding company reported a $33 million profit in the third quarter of 2022, according to FlightGlobal.
Still, the airline industry has been enduring a series of boom-or-bust cycles since the turn of the 21st century, as unpredictable world events can quickly curtail demand for flights. Frontier and other airlines endured one such bust cycle with the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they all understand the need to run a streamlined operation to safeguard against future turmoil.
If Frontier feels confident about the move, they aren’t necessarily showing it with its rollout. Most airline passengers only learned about the end of voice customer care when they called the airline’s customer service line and heard a recording. The airline then confirmed the move when asked by several news outlets the week after Thanksgiving. In other words, they chose to bury the lede, to borrow an old journalist term.
The $64,000 question, of course, is whether this is the start of a trend. For the past decade, contact center tech evangelists have been predicting the demise, or at least the diminishment, of voice-centered customer service care with the rise of automation and chat technology. This move could be pointed to as the beginning of the end of the “operators are standing by” era.
More recently, however, many contact center industry analysts have suggested that the role of agents will evolve into something different. As self-service and automation help customers manage lower-level customer requests, live agents instead will be tasked with being superagents, taking on the more complex customer service requests.
If we are about to see the rise of the super-agent, then Frontier Airlines’ move should be one to watch. Frontier may not be a perfect litmus test for a future of voiceless customer service, as customers at the airport still will have the option to speak with humans at the gate. Still, if the airline can successfully manage all customer service requests without voice-centered contact center help, it may make it more likely that other budget-conscious organizations will take the plunge and do the same.