Ready for a non-stop flight from agonizing to frictionless?

More than 98.6 million Americans will be traveling in coming days, and across industries, companies will need to provide service to an influx of travelers. When issues arise – and with 71 percent of the U.S. population in transit, there are bound to be some hiccups – the key to creating positive experiences is thinking holistically from the consumer’s point of view. Customers no longer have patience for service delays or having to repeatedly explain themselves. Enterprises need to connect the dots between company divisions and communication channels to focus on designing frictionless experiences that extend across the entire customer journey.
Airlines coping with millions of holiday travelers provide best practices for designing effortless automated service customers love.

Taking a trip this holiday season? If so, you’re certainly not alone. More than 71 percent of Americans are planning to travel to at least one location during this holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. With more than 98.6 million U.S. travelers making their way around the world, there are bound to be some bumps along the journey – and I don’t mean just the possibility of turbulence during the flight. When issues arise, it’s most important for companies to provide an easy and hassle-free service experience to keep customers satisfied.

It’s time to embrace customer-centric service design

Many companies looking to add or update their automated self-service solutions fail to consider the customer experience in its entirety – creating silos between channels and company divisions – resulting in encounters that are disjointed, impersonal, and often annoying for the consumer. Enterprises need to shift their mindset from focusing on individual interactions to designing an experience that accounts for all consumer touch points.

Service design – a key part of my role at Nuance – focuses on developing systems and processes that are empathetic to customers’ needs and result in holistic experiences that make issue resolution fast and easy. Just as customers think of their journeys as door-to-door and involving multiple modes of transportation, it’s time to take an omnichannel approach to designing self-service solutions.

This is especially important when you consider the role customer service plays in buying decisions. Recent findings by Wakefield Research revealed 90 percent report that a company’s customer service significantly impacts their decision to do business with them. More than half of Americans have ended a relationship with a company because of poor service. But by contrast, more than a third of consumers receiving good service have recommended the company to others and have done more business with them. Today, providing positive, friction-free experiences clearly has an impact on maintaining and growing market share.

Airlines get high marks for creating a holistic customer journey

Despite the mergers that have consolidated the U.S.-based airline industry in the last decade – Delta (Northwest), American (US Airways), United (Continental) and Southwest (AirTran) – studies show that competition in this industry has actually increased. During this period the airlines have emerged as leaders in customer-centric service design; proactively communicating with passengers, anticipating questions based on where they are in their journey, and connecting their automated channels to create a streamlined self-service experience. At Nuance, we’re delighted to work five of the top 10 North American air carriers, helping them realize their vision for quality service.

Service design is particularly important when the customers in question are on-the-move and in potentially stress-inducing circumstances. Below are two particularly innovative examples of holistic design that are benefiting airline passengers this travel season and shaping customer expectations for all industries:

  1. Anticipating needs based on journey stage. Recognizing that the phone is a particularly important channel for passengers, many airlines have modernized their IVRs (Interactive Voice Response systems) – introducing a conversational interface that invites customers to speak naturally, give voice to their problem or need, and rapidly receive the support they seek. Industry leaders have integrating their IVR with backend systems, creating a caller experience that includes a personalized greeting followed by information that is relevant to where they are in their journey – including itinerary updates, seat upgrades, departure terminals, and more. Many customers get what they need in seconds.
  2. Connecting conversations. Today, most airlines proactively communicate check-in availability, flight delays, gate changes and more via a variety of communication channels, from automated voice messages to SMS text messages. Delta has elevated the experience by integrating its outbound notification solution with its conversational IVR, creating contextual awareness between the systems and eliminating the need for customers to explain the reason for their calls. This holiday season, passengers calling in response to a text message about their flight will interact with an IVR and, if necessary an agent, familiar with their situation and ready to help. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

The airlines have started down a customer-centric design path that leaders in other consumer-facing industries must soon follow. It’s no longer feasible to build automated self-service solutions that exist in siloes, specific to one touch point or isolated from critical customer knowledge.  Overtime, these systems become increasingly difficult to maintain, limit broad consumer adoption of self-service (increasing costs), and negatively impact customer loyalty.

The next time you’re designing an automated system, take time to understand how the interactions will fit into the overall experience customers have with your company. Invest in connecting the dots between internal departments and communication channels to create the equivalent of a smooth, turbulence-free flight that extends across the entire customer journey.

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Eduardo Olvera

About Eduardo Olvera

Eduardo Olvera is a Senior UI Manager & Global Discipline Leader at Nuance Communications. His work on many international English, Spanish and French voice user interfaces for such industry leading corporations as US Airways, Wells Fargo, Ford, Walgreens, Telefonica Movistar, Bank of America, Fidelity, US Bank, Geico, Vanguard, Samsung, Virgin, MetroPCS, Sprint, and Sempra, give him a deep understanding of the user and business challenges of mobile, multilingual and multimodal application design, development and implementation.