Frontier Airlines, which has a poor reputation for customer service, eliminated customer phone support last November. The airline has transitioned to fully digital communications. Customers seeking help or information from the carrier must deal with an online chatbot, social media channels or WhatsApp — the only way to communicate with a live agent is through the airline’s chat application.
In a prepared statement, spokesperson Jennifer DeLaCruz said: “We have found that most customers prefer communicating via digital channels.”
Though eliminating the voice channel could alienate some customers, several experts don’t see the change significantly hurting the no-frills airline’s CX.
No Call Center Could Mean Positive Change
Frontier Airline’s decision to eliminate its call center has the potential to be a positive change for the airline and for the travel industry, said Yaniv Hakim, CommBox CEO. “Call centers are expensive to maintain, suffer from worker shortages and high staff turnover — and customers are not happy with long wait times.”
However, Hakim also warned that Frontier could lose customers if communication through digital options is too cumbersome. “Efficiency in customer experience is only achieved if people feel they can interact with a human if needed,” he said.
He suggested that instead of closing the phone number and then phasing in digital options, airlines should focus on making their phone number irrelevant by offering superior digital options. Hakim noted that for the initial move to digital-only support, Frontier needs to ensure that customers can interact via popular platforms and not require them to download apps or use company websites for chat.
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A Possible Leap Into Peer-To-Peer CX?
According to Iliya Rybchin, a partner at Elixirr Consulting, Frontier’s decision to shift to digital-only customer service channels may be a first step toward a transition to peer-to-peer (P2P) customer service. While this move isn’t a complete shift to P2P since the airline will still use live chats, emails, etc., rather than getting support from other customers, the change will enable Frontier agents to handle a larger volume of customer issues.
Rybchin pointed out that while a voice customer service representative (CSR) can only handle one call at a time, a text CSR can handle four-to-six simultaneous chats, and with the use of canned responses, the number increases.
He acknowledged that the immediate reaction by most when hearing the news is that this is a step back in customer service quality. “For a premium airline, that may be the case, as it would be unimaginable for airlines Etihad, Virgin Atlantic or even Delta not to offer some form of call center support," However, he noted that this may not be the case for Frontier, as it prides itself as an ultra-low-cost airline. He said that if the move allows the airline to maintain its pricing power and deliver attractive deals to customers, it may not have any negative impact on Frontier’s customer service.
Move to Digital Customer Experience Not Uncommon
Rob LoCascio, CEO of conversational tech company LivePerson, said Frontier's decision to eliminate telephone support isn't unexpected. “They aren’t the first brand, and they won’t be the last to amp up digital experiences. Consumers, especially Gen Z, really are embracing automation and messaging with brands.”
LoCascio expects the trend to accelerate in 2023. “The challenge will be making sure that automation helps make the experience feel more human, not less." He believes that travel brands whose customers can get what they need on digital channels while still feeling like they are being treated like travelers, “not just not 1s and 0s,” will be successful.
He added company research showed that only 43% of consumers say chatbots are easy to talk to, indicating the need for continued improvement. However, 68% of consumers say automated engagement resolves issues more quickly and increases brand loyalty.
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Challenges With the All-Digital Approach
Gadi Shamia, CEO of Replicant, a contact center automation platform, pointed out several challenges with Frontier’s new approach to customer service.
He explained automated channels can't solve all of the problems, and customers may become frustrated when they are not able to escalate to a human representative. With no ability to escalate to a human, many of their customers will be even more frustrated: Not only do they have an issue that requires calling, not only did they spend 10 minutes with a chatbot, but they also hit a dead end.
Some calls should not be automated, Shamia said. “Urgent, emotional, high-stress calls,” for instance. “If you are a parent of three stuck in an airport at midnight since your flight got canceled, you should speak with someone who can help you navigate this issue," Shamia said. "Brands that will fail to build a system of agents and automation will fail, and I don’t see other airlines following Frontier’s decision to the detriment of their customer service.”
Final Thoughts on Frontier’s Digital-Only Move
Frontier’s decision to move to digital-only support may be embraced or grudgingly accepted by customers, especially if other no-frills airlines follow suit. If the change proves to be successful for the airline — in terms of retaining customers and not resulting in revenue loss that outweighs the cost savings — other companies and industries may also consider significantly cutting or eliminating their telephone support.