Airline Conversational Intent Data: What Customer Conversations Mean for Airlines

Verint Team December 22, 2021

After more than a year of crippling uncertainty for almost every global travel company, the fact that customers are starting to book flights, holidays and car hires again is cause for celebration.

However, it’s not enough to just know that customers are thinking about travel again. At a time when customer retention through exceptional experiences is vital to support a struggling industry, understanding customer trends and intents is hugely important.

In our second quarterly industry deep dive we are looking at customer behavior in the airline industry. Through our platform, our brand partners can see both volume and intents, so it’s possible to predict patterns and shifting consumer habits.

This article will provide insights into how the shift towards digital conversations accelerated by the pandemic, has changed how and where customers interact with airlines, but also show how travel brands can anticipate these changes and proactively prepare for them.

This Quarter’s Top Airline Intents

  • Refund, voucher, credit
  • Flight status
  • Covid-19

Travel Restrictions Lifting

We’ve written previously on the peaks and troughs experienced by the airline industry’s contact centers during the pandemic. Earlier this year we predicted that as the world starts flying again, the volume surge of customers contacting airline carriers about flight cancellations and credit or vouchers would see a reversal as passengers look to redeem. It’s certainly a pattern we can see in the graph above from the 12 weeks between mid-March and June.

Intent: Refund, voucher, credit (red line)

Vaccination programs are helping ease restrictions across the world, so consumers forced to cancel their travel plans since early 2020 are looking to redeem their vouchers and credit issued during the pandemic. The data shows steady and sometimes steep, growth in customers getting in touch with this particular intent over the past quarter. These conversations are the largest driver of customer contact, and voucher redemption is not a straightforward process; it often needs agent intervention to help. We can also see that the flight bookings’ intent (turquoise line) is following an almost identical pattern to the ‘refund, voucher, and credit’ conversations – suggesting that as people enquire about vouchers they are also booking flights at the same rate.

What this means

In April we predicted a surge in voucher redemptions to rival the spike at the start of the pandemic. Our data shows a slightly more gentle surge at the moment, but customer conversations are ticking in that direction and contact centers are going to need to handle this volume at scale. It’s not a process that can be fully automated, but using a service bot to collect the relevant information ahead of any agent interaction can save time and stress on both ends of the conversation. It will maintain efficiency and provide better conversational experiences for customers.

Intent: Flight status (black line) 

One of the other biggest rising intents is customers checking on the status of their flights. Clearly, two factors are influencing this – more people are booking flights and traveling, as well as heightened concerns surrounding changing travel restrictions. Here in the UK, which countries are on the red, amber, and green lists change regularly, so people are rightfully wanting to keep across any changes to their travel plans.

What this means

People will always want to know about flight status, even in less uncertain times, but to be able to have the most up-to-date information as early as possible is particularly important at this moment in time. It’s a process that can be automated, but using a tool like Notify, it makes sense to go a step further and send the updates proactively. If a customer opts-in, then messages updating about any disruption can be sent as soon as they occur, giving the most time possible to adjust any plans without having had to reach out to discover the news. Even if there are no issues, it would be reassuring to have regular updates of the status quo, especially in a pandemic-affected world.

Intent: Covid-19 (orange line) 

The three most popular intents are clearly interlinked – you can’t have voucher redemption, leading to flights being booked and status-checked, without people wanting to know about Covid-19’s impact. When anyone is flying anywhere it’s the one constant that will affect their journey. Across those 12 weeks, as flight bookings and voucher redemption conversations were rising, so were customer queries surrounding Covid-19.

What this means

There’s an imbalance created by the lifting of restrictions in different countries, and sometimes different parts of the same country. Circumstances can be difficult to keep across, and if you add in factors like measures in place at airports and on planes that people haven’t been traveling on for more than a year, it can bring up a lot of questions.

It may be smart to analyze the different types of incoming conversations around Covid-19 and create a bespoke flow to direct customers to the relevant information for in-channel resolution with a single conversation. For instance, finding out a customer’s destination and directing to your own website or that of the relevant country’s government to find out about current restrictions, quarantine, or testing requirements. The query might not directly relate to an airline’s flight but offering a straightforward resolution to a query is how to build a great relationship with a passenger.