Our perpetual smartphone texting is strictly personal: Friends, family, and maybe an ex. We almost never text the myriad businesses we patronize in daily life, though some of them are starting to text us.
Now, airlines—an industry not known for stellar customer interactions—are joining the party, and not just to break the bad news about your flight. They’re inviting you to ask questions, and maybe even complain.
Two airlines have dipped their wings into the waters of two-way texting. Hawaiian Holdings Inc.’s Hawaiian Airlines is adding the feature while JetBlue Airways Corp. took a stake in a software startup that will allow its call centre staff to start texting customers in the coming months.
Texting, technically called SMS, is arguably the world’s most favored form of communication, but much of corporate America has been slow to adapt. The few that have—including Verizon Wireless retailers, British telecom company Sky UK, and Nestle SA’s frozen foods division—are dwarfed by an array of local commerce, from insurance agents, veterinarians, air conditioning techs, and auto dealers who have already jumped in to conduct their business.
There’s “a certain nervousness in the airline industry” about two-way customer texting
“The reality is that consumers adore text messages,” said John Lauer, chief executive and co-founder of Zipwhip Inc., a Seattle startup that’s hoping to evolve customer call centers into places that also handle texts. “Therefore businesses have to adopt it into their workflow because consumers expect it and demand it.”
Today, most airlines offer one-way texting, happy to inform you of a gate change or flight delay via your mobile. But don’t respond to these hoping to vent your frustration—you can’t. That means there’s still the likelihood of a lengthy phone call, interminable airport queue or online chat with what may or may not be a computer-generated android.
A text-session, on the other hand, is conducted free of time constraints, over hours or even days. Changing a flight via text might even become a task to occupy your boring morning meeting. Another big advantage? “There was no learning curve,” said Tracy Behler, senior director for online experience at Hawaiian, since everyone already knows how to text. Hawaiian announced that two-way texting will become a permanent customer communication channel.
Executives in the enterprise texting industry expect that airlines will join a broad array of industries over the next two years that will begin to expand their customer communications channels beyond 800-numbers, email, and online chat. “There’s been this long gap between customers moving to instant messages for who they talk with and brands doing the same thing,” said Rurik Bradbury, an executive at LivePerson Inc., a New York technology company whose software platform powers Hawaiian’s texting.
Hawaiian began testing texting in April, unsure how much interest customers would have or whether most inquiries would need to be directed to a secure channel to handle payment data, or issues involving the airline’s loyalty programme, Behler said.
JetBlue plans to incorporate numerous communication channels into its call centers, including texting, with software from Gladly Inc., a San Francisco firm.
A broad corporate shift to customer service via text could also carry another benefit for airlines: Disgruntled customers may be a little less likely to publicise dirty laundry on Twitter if they can have an exchange that gets something done.