GUEST POST from Shep Hyken
In a bold move to cut costs, Frontier Airlines announced that it would no longer offer human-to-human customer support. As a customer service expert, I was surprised at this move. I have waited to see the fallout, if any, and thought the company might backpedal and reinstate traditional phone support. After almost two months, it hasn’t returned to conventional customer support. The dust has settled a bit, and people (passengers and employees) are adjusting to the decision.
The decision to go digital is different from the decision Northwest Airlines (which eventually merged with Delta) made in 1999 to introduce online check-in to its passengers. The idea behind that technology, and eventually the technology driving online reservations, was to give the customer a better and more convenient experience while at the same time increasing efficiency. The big difference in that decision versus Frontier’s was that there has always been (and still is) an option to connect to a live agent. If passengers didn’t want to use the self-service tools the airline provided, they could still talk to someone who could help them.
That does not appear to be the case with Frontier. There is no other option. The airline is relying on digital support. If you check the website for ways to contact them outside of their self-service options on the site or mobile app, you can use chat, email or file a formal written complaint. Chat is in the moment, and can deliver a good experience—even if it’s AI doing the chatting (and not a human). Email or a written complaint could take too long to resolve an immediate problem, such as rebooking a flight for any last-minute reason.
For some background, Frontier Airlines is a low-cost carrier based in Denver. It has plenty of competition, and when you combine that with rising expenses in almost every area of business and a tough economy, Frontier, just like any other company in almost any industry, is looking to cut costs. In a recent Forbes article, I shared the prediction that some companies will make the mistake of cutting expenses in the wrong places. Those “wrong places” are anywhere the customer will notice. Cutting off phone support to a live human, just one of Frontier’s cost-cutting strategies, is one of those places the customer may notice first.
If a customer wants to change or cancel a flight, make a lost-luggage claim and more, if they have the information they need on hand and the system is intuitive and easy to navigate, the experience could be better than waiting on hold for a live agent. Our customer service research found that 71% of customers are willing to use self-service options. That said, the phone is still the No. 1 channel customers prefer to use when they have a problem, question or complaint.
Frontier’s decision to stop human-to-human customer support has generated controversy and criticism from customers/passengers and employees. The company’s management defends its decision, stating that they need to cut costs to remain competitive. They claim you can eventually reach a human, but their passengers will first have to exhaust the digital options. While self-service automated customer support may help the airline cut costs and increase efficiency, it obviously frustrates customers and negatively impacts employees.
The big concern is that 100% digital or self-service support is still too new. We are still a long way from technology completely replacing the human-to-human interactions we’re used to in the customer service and support worlds. Efficiency is important, but so is the relationship you maintain with your customers and employees. It takes a balance. The best companies figure this out.
Consider this: Video did not kill the radio star. ATMs were predicted to eliminate the need for bank tellers. And for the foreseeable future, technology will not kill live, human-to-human interactions. Frontier customers looking to save money will be forced to adapt to its new way of customer service. Knowing this upfront will help. But also consider this, something I’ve been preaching for several years: The greatest technology in the world hasn’t replaced the ultimate relationship-building tool between a customer and a business, and that is the human touch.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com.
Image Credit: Pixabay
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