2021. 09. 22.

How employing a virtual assistant can spare significant costs for airline customer services

In this post we will run through a calculation of how much time and money you can spare on directing your passengers repetitive questions to a virtual assistant. We look at the figures delivered by the call centers of Wizz Air to give you some hints on how to develop your customer service operation for the 4th (and further) wave of Covid.

The pandemic changed the world of airline customer services dramatically. Contact center agents had to manage record-high call traffic with passenger inquiries for basic information, such as flight changes, travel documents, or baggage claim. Many of these requests could have been easily answered by custom built AI solutions saving time and money for the airlines while improving customer experience.

Our client, Wizz Air is one of the leading low-cost airlines in Europe, managing huge amounts of inbound calls in their international contact centers from all over the region. We wondered how many of them could be handled by virtual customer assistants instead of real ones, so we looked at the figures before and after the covid breakout.

The analysis exposed some exciting findings that will make you consider initiating an AI based customer service solution to ease the strain in your contact center. 

Four questions your virtual assistant can answer a lot cheaper

Comnica CC, the contact center solution we provide for Wizz Air, records every single incoming call and logs all the types of them. In the past 1.5 year our system managed millions of international inbound calls that can be covered by 116 categories according to the content of the passengers inquiry. From flight information through baggage allowance to simple password changes the range of inquiries is more than colorful.

Many of these answers could easily be answered by an AI. Imagine a virtual or digital customer assistant (DCA) trained for dialogue-based interaction with your passengers, both via chat and over the phone. Vanda, the virtual assistant developed by T-System has been answering simple inquiries like that every day, since 2018: its initiation at Deutsche Telekom’s Hungarian subsidiary, Telekom Hungary.

A DCA can stay at your passengers’ disposal in different ways. They can act as an intelligent IVR providing answers for the most frequently asked questions set in a voice menu. For all that they will use backend knowledge bases. A DCA can guide passengers through complex business processes too, e.g. getting a refund for a cancelled flight. All these are of course possible to manage in a built-in chat platform or via your company’s Messenger or Viber channel.

In this piece we only focus on inquiries that represent a meaningful portion of Wizz Air’s call traffic and show a significant change in the comparison of the precovid and covid era:

  • Flight information
  • Flight cancellation
  • Travel documents
  • Status of ticket refunds

As you can see in certain categories there was substantial increase in the call volumes, driven by the pandemic. Calculating with the call center industry average, we are talking about 200 000 –  500 000 EUR yearly cost.

It seems that we won’t get rid of Covid in a short term (moreover, we are already in the 4th wave), thus airlines can count on sudden and also lasting call volume peaks in their customer services in the future. Here is how to prepare for it.

1. When will I see my money? 

The category standing out the most from the long lines of data is all the inquiries about the refund status of the flight tickets. The hectic travel bans resulted in sudden flight cancellations causing a noticeable increase of ticket refunds. Although these can certainly be managed online, passengers sticked to the phone to get updates on the progress, entailing a sheer volume of prying passenger calls.

Prior to COVID, in 2019 the percentage of refund related calls was 2.75% which jumped to the staggering figure of 14.7% of the total incoming calls.

What if handled by a DCA?

As the booking system shows the date of the refund request in the case of credit cards it takes a few business days for the money to arrive. On the condition of a bank transfer request the call center employee has to look in another system as well.

The DCA’s conversational AI can quickly make queries to ERP or other payment systems and retrieve information whether the refund process is pending or has been processed already by the airline. This spares loads of minutes spent on manual searches that used to be done by the CC agents previously.

2. Flying on time? Are you sure?

Life during the pandemic was anything, but predictable. Scheduled flights have been deleted as a daily routine, following an unexpected government announcement or because of simple safety. No wonder that passengers have been living in a constant alert mode these times, triggering them to always make sure if their plane is leaving as planned. That again caused a visible volume spike of simple inquiries about the flight schedule, via phone. The number of such calls increased from 2.27% to an all time high of 10.74%.

What if handled by a DCA?

Live agents need to look up the customer’s profile, check their flight status, and confirm that everything will be alright. It takes more than 10% of their work time. However, this process is probably the easiest to automate. Why not let an AI listen to the question and simply do the same? By having integration to the booking and flight status systems, the conversational AI can quickly look up live flight info and feed it back to the customer in an empathetic way. As a result agents will have more time to handle more serious issues.

3. OMG, cancelled? What should I do now? 

So what happens, when a flight is indeed canceled? We won’t surprise you: calls will once again flood the contact centre. At least that’s what the figures show. Although the change was not as drastic as in the above mentioned categories, but still reached a significant level: a rise from 3.1% to 7.12%.

What if handled by a DCA?

These types of calls are perfect examples, why AI needs to be implemented in your contact center. If an airline has a large number of flights canceled at the same time, all the lines will be on fire. Passengers want to ask a lot of questions, such as how to rebook or get a refund immediately (which will soon get us back to point 1.) A well adjusted DCA can determine which of the calls are of high-priority and must be addressed immediately, or can be handled with providing basic how-to information online.

Automated systems can also help minimize the time passengers are waiting on the line, which can raise customer experience in itself.

4. What do I have to prepare? 

Who would have thought 2 years ago that our travel documents, formerly a passport and a ticket, will actually become a package of all these and a bunch of PCR tests, vaccination documents and health certificates? No wonder that after the Covid breakout passengers were confused, how to prepare for their travel.

The change from 2.36% to 3.42% of all related calls demonstrates a challenge for airlines, as they clearly do not control the different restrictions introduced by countries. These regulations were also changing too often causing more and more calls. Not to mention the confusion around the different types of face masks required for different regions.

What if handled by a DCA?

Although the range of regulations are wide, none of these details are passenger- specific. It means that answering them doesn’t require a personal conversation on the phone. A virtual Covid-assistant with a dialogue-based communication can quickly find and share the exact information the caller needs regarding their travel documents for a specific destination.

When it comes to call center dynamics, AI is definitely changing the game. It not only saves a lot of money for your contact center, but also lets your human operators deal with real problems, instead of slowly becoming an answering machine. Pass the dirty job to your DCA and your passengers will have to wait less in the line too.


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