Customer is the most valuable asset in a service industry. Having said that, would an airline exist without customers? The answer is a big ‘NO’. The experience of a customer can break or make the brand loyalty. In this article I would be discussing about the phases of customer experience and statistical analysis of passenger complaints & flight cancellations with regard to the airlines in India
Before we get into the depths of exploring the customer satisfaction in the Indian Airline Industry, lets get into the basic step of defining Customer Service & Customer Satisfaction.
Customer Service is a vast area of discussion and there are a number of definitions associated with this term. However, the one I find best described is by Salesforce Desk. It says that, Customer service is the support a company offers to its customers — both before and after they buy its product/services — that helps them have an easy and enjoyable experience with it. It’s more than just providing answers; it’s an important part of the promise the brand makes to its customers. And it’s a critical to the success of the company’s business.
As per the American Society for Quality, Customer Satisfaction is the result of delivering a product or service that meets customer requirements.
Phases of Customer Experience
There was a time in the aviation era when a customer used to get delighted with just the thought of travelling by air and the satisfaction level directly had a correlation with the pricing and safety. But with the growth of this industry, customer requirements and expectations have also grown. Providing an extraordinary experience have become a challenge for the airlines. The whole customer experience can be divided in three phases: Pre-Flight, In-Flight & Post-Flight
Pre-Flight: A customer’s experience does not begin after he/she has arrived at the airport, it begins from the moment he/she has logged into the system to check for the destinations. This phase includes the following:
- A smooth interface to connect to interact with the airline information – destination details, dates, flight timings, travel expenditure including a detail of all hidden costs if any, company policy on refund/cancellation, meal plans, baggage plans, any terms or conditions
- A customer query center, with the patience to politely attend all customer queries and provide guidance
- A smooth check-in, security clearance, immigration and boarding process – without the hassle to wait in long queues
- A friendly & comfortable ambiance in the lounges or seating at the boarding gates
- Clear announcements with respect to flights at the airport
- Proper communication channels in case of chance in schedules
- Problem fixing in case of flight cancellations/ delays & serving in order to delight the customer as such an issue leads to a negative customer’s experience
In-Flight: This phase begins the moment, a passenger has embarked the aircraft. It includes everything from the way he/she is greeted upon entering the plane to the smooth landing.
The In-flight experience can at times be a real challenge for the airlines as here they come in direct contact with their customers. The list of the in-flight phase is never ending, however I have tried to jot down a few:
- The seats, the ease of reclining, the leg space
- The air in the craft, air conditioning, light
- The cabin crew, the empathy and patience from the crew,
- The food, the announcements, the catering
- the ease to connect with the world even while flying
Post-Flight: The customer’s experience does not end the moment he/she arrives at the destination. In fact, post flight experience is a crucial part of the entire journey. This includes:
- The most important factor – “Baggage” – whether the customer receives the baggage in proper condition or its mishandled or even misplaced
- Arranging for connecting flights, in case the previous flight was delayed
The customer satisfaction benchmark of the airline industry as per American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) has increased by a 19.05% over the last 10 years. However, the benchmark is still pretty low as compared to the other industries. For the year 2017, it was 75. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) 2017 Global Passenger Survey shows that only 47% of the people in the ASIA-PACIFIC region were satisfied with their last air travel.
Having seen the global satisfaction rates, lets dig into whats happening with the one in India. The methodology I have adopted for calculating Customer Satisfaction is based on analysis of passenger complains received by the airlines which is further submitted to the DGCA and divided into various categories as follows:
- Customer Service
- Flight Problems
- Staff Behavior
Customer Dissatisfaction in the year 2017
More than 80% of the complains are related to customer service, baggage, flight problem and staff behavior. Hence the satisfaction percentage calculated is on the basis of only these four experiences. Staff behavior has become a major topic of discussion these days, although the complains against it contribute to a small percent, hence I have taken it into account.
Graph 1 throws light on the customer dissatisfaction during the year 2017. The negative axis represent a negative experience the flyer had. It can be clearly seen that on one hand where the staff behavior, baggage and problems related to flight showed a positive progression, customer service took a further negative drift.
Graph 1 : Customer Dissatisfaction (2017) with respect to Customer Service, Baggage, Flight Problem and Staff Behavior
Graph 2 : An Year on Year (YoY) comparison of Customer Satisfaction with respect to Customer Service
Graph 2 shows an YoY comparison of Customer Satisfaction with respect to customer service only. I preferred to do a separate analysis on it as its one of the driving factor in the operation of airlines as competition within them increases. It can be clearly seen that the percentage of dissatisfied passengers have increased in 2017 creating a negative impact on the customer service.
A cancelled or a delayed flight is again a major factor that affects the overall customer experience. I had discussed the importance of On-Time performance in my previous article OTP & The Indian Airline Industry . Hence in this section I have specifically discussed about the cancellation rate and reasons behind it.
Graph 3 : Reasons for flight cancellations in the year 2017
Graph 4: A YoY comparison of the Overall Cancellation Rate
As seen from Graph 3, the main reasons listed behind a flight being cancelled are weather, technical, operational, commercial and miscellaneous. Technical and Miscellaneous reasons attribute to ruling the chart. An year on year comparison related to overall flight cancellations in Graph 4 for both 2016 and 2017.
Customers are funny people when it comes to flying, you never know what they will expect. They might even want frills in a no-frill airline. And to satisfy such fliers is the real challenge. As Hamish Taylor (Former Head of Brands, British Airways) puts forward, an airline has got to look outside its own industry, else all it’ll do is copy what people are already doing.
The airline industry needs to put customer satisfaction at the heart of all its operations and abolish its pre-conceptions. One cannot build a Silk Road in the air, but giving just an experience of travelling on it would definitely add to customer satisfaction building brand loyalty.