Airline Hangs Up the Phone in Favor of Digital Channels

Josh Ballard December 15, 2022

In November, Frontier Airlines dropped its customer service phone line in favor of digital channels including a chatbot on its website, 24/7 live chat, social media channels, and WhatsApp.

While some commentators suggest that it’s merely a cost-cutting measure, the budget airline’s spokesperson, Jennifer De La Cruz, said that most customers preferred communicating through online channels.

This sentiment is reflected in the The 2022 State of Digital Customer Experience Report, which found that 56 percent of those surveyed under the age of 45 prefer to ask a product or service-related question via digital channels.

According to De La Cruz, focusing on digital-first interactions “enables us to ensure our customers get the information they need as expeditiously and efficiently as possible.” Clearly, consumer preferences are shifting. They no longer tolerate being asked to hold – they want to get the information they need immediately.

Frontier enables this by allowing customers to self-serve using a chatbot that works across its digital channels to answer common questions, with live agents available should further assistance be required. While agents could previously only handle one customer query at a time over the phone, the airline says that its digital channels allow a single representative to serve three customers simultaneously.

When this kind of approach to customer engagement is implemented successfully, the automated nature of chatbots helps to reduce average handle time and improve customer satisfaction. And, by reducing the reliance on human agents, the cost per resolution also decreases.

However, after reading some of the tweets from disgruntled Frontier customers, the new approach to engagement may require some further refinement.

Best Practices for Implementing a Digital-First Engagement Strategy

For an example of how to successfully implement a digital-first engagement strategy, Frontier should look no further than Verint partner Volaris Airlines.

The Mexican low-cost carrier’s digital-first engagement strategy leverages WhatsApp Business and an intelligent virtual assistant to provide a seamless customer experience.

Volaris started by identifying simple customer queries that could be solved by a bot, such as checking flight status or retrieving booking information. The bot proved a success, with 14.5% of all inbound conversations being handled without human intervention.

Having built a simple FAQ bot centered on two use cases, Volaris took its conversational automation to the next level, using intent data to decide which customer inquiries its chatbot should solve.


volaris sceenshot

“So, traditionally, you discuss with people in the office,” said Daniel Gelemovich, Digital & Marketing Director at Volaris Airlines. “You say ‘Hey, what queries do you think are the most important to develop next for the chatbot?’ We approach it the other way around by using data. We see what customer queries the bot is not able to answer, and then we develop those common questions.

“For example, the chatbot was not capable of doing check-ins. So, we developed an automated check-in for the chatbot, without human intervention, in the next development cycle. Our customers decide what we are going to do next for them.”

While Volaris still allows customers to call customer service, about 78 percent of customer communications are now completed through private messaging channels that do not involve human interaction. This digital-first approach to customer engagement has enabled Volaris to handle a 360 percent (2020-2022) increase in inbound volume while only increasing the number of support agents by 9 percent. In the same time span, the first response time was reduced by 91.61 percent, and this contributed to CSAT increasing from 44 percent in 2020 to 79 percent in 2022.

“We have been on the cutting edge for customer service, being the first airline to have a project to eliminate the traditional call center and also the first airline to offer customer care through WhatsApp, which is the main messaging platform in Mexico,” said Gelemovich. “We have great customer service united with great technology, enabling us to transform the company into the digital future.”

Why Voice Still Has an Important Role to Play in a Modern Customer Engagement Strategy

Frontier’s move is bold, to be sure. But it’s also a sign of the times, because properly staffing a traditional call center has become increasingly costly and organizations are realizing they need to embrace automated self-service.

The problem, however, is that people still want to pick up the phone.

Could there be a time when these customer-centric industries don’t need any voice channel at all? Perhaps, but that time hasn’t yet arrived.

Now, this doesn’t mean you need an agent for every call – but you do need something on the other line, like a modern, sophisticated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, or perhaps a conversational AI-powered voice bot that can handle, in the case of an airline, things like providing flight updates, helping with rebooking and rescheduling, and assisting with reward program membership needs.

From our research at Verint, we also know that people – especially older customers – still want a live agent at times, and your contact center can still provide that human touch when it’s most needed. By automating all these easy tasks, you can free up a smaller team of employees to come in and – thanks to automated engagement orchestration technology – know exactly where to pick up the customer journey and provide an excellent, memorable experience.

For more on digital customer service and the need to balance digital and human support, check out Are Insurers Providing Their Customers with Digital “Escape Routes”?