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Frontier Airlines Eliminated Their Call Centers. Is This A Good Idea?

Frontier Airlines recently announced it is abandoning telephone customer service

Frontier Airlines Customer Service Is No More

“Hello. You’ve reached Frontier Airlines, home of low fares, done right,” the cheerful recorded voice intones, before it hails the efficiency of the low-cost airline and refers telephone callers to the Frontier website or app for customer service.

Within seconds, unless you choose to start an online chat, the call is disconnected.

That’s what happens now when you dial the customer service number at Frontier Airlines, the low-budget carrier that has taken its ethos of cutting costs to a new extreme.

Frontier recently eliminated its telephone call center, leaving no humans to answer the phone no matter how long you try to wait. Customers in need of assistance are referred to an online chat bot, social media channels, text, or WhatsApp.

Frontier spokesperson Jennifer De La Cruz said the airline found that most customers prefer communicating through digital channels and said the change “enables us to ensure our customers get the information they need as expeditiously and efficiently as possible.”

While it is understandable and even laudatory that Frontier is trying to be the lowest cost airline – and it may seem cool and cutting-edge on the surface to go all digital – count me as a skeptic.

Despite what may be public perception, recent research shows that people still prefer to speak with companies by phone over every other channel, a trend that the numbers show may be accelerating. And even if it’s true that Frontier’s customers somehow buck this trend, the company is still forcing thousands of customers to move to a service channel that isn’t their first choice.

So it makes little sense to eliminate the very method of contact that many customers still want, especially when, let’s face it: most people call an airline when there’s a problem, such as a canceled flight.

Frontier is claiming that its chatbot can handle obscure and difficult questions. But my experience is the opposite: chatbots are ok for repetitive, mundane types of inquiries, but when complications arise, they run into trouble.

Sometimes you really do need a human.

Is This The Best Way To Save Money?

The change seems so disconnected from good customer experience practice that I wondered if it’s really about the almighty dollar. Sure enough, a Frontier executive cited lower labor costs as a prime motivator during a recent investor presentation.

When you make decisions that are not good for the customer, it might save you some money up front, but it’s likely going to cost you money later. The key indicator to pay attention to at Frontier will be how many passengers decide to leave for one of its competitors.

Related: Being Responsive To Customers Is The Secret To Loyalty

All of which reinforces a lesson learned throughout my career: it’s fine for businesses to make or save money. But they always need to look at problems through the lens of the customer.

Frontier is failing to take that crucial step. Here’s why:

Eliminating Phone Call Centers Is Not Standard Airline Industry Practice

In fact, it’s the opposite. Most major carriers still maintain telephone customer service lines staffed by live agents, including Frontier’s low-cost competitors, Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Airlines.

As recently as 2018, call centers were still the vehicle for about 15 percent of airline bookings, about 250 million tickets each year. Just last year, as the pandemic began to recede, U.S. airlines scrambled to staff up telephone call centers as travel demand returned to close to pre-pandemic levels.

Related: 4 Contact Center Trends For A Better Customer Experience

It’s Not What Customers Say They Want

While some experts point out that telephone customer service can be expensive for companies and frustrating because of long wait times, customers don’t seem to care.

Research by Salesforce shows that in 2022, telephone is the most popular way for customers to interact with brands, with 59 percent preferring phone contact. Email was second at 57 percent.

Other research shows that when customers can’t contact a company by phone, 47 percent of them respond by searching for other brands.

No Frontier Airlines Customer Service = Bad Customer Experience

With the change, Frontier only offers 24-hour customer service via live chat. The only way to speak directly to a human customer service agent is in person at the airport.

That’s just not good customer experience. As vital and powerful as digital communication has become, people still crave human interaction – especially when they need assistance. And there is something uniquely personal about the telephone: you are speaking to another human being, who can relate to your problem and try to help.

Since travelers who were calling Frontier were likely experiencing some kind of issue, I would have handled this a different way. Perhaps Frontier could have instead tried to solve the underlying problems that were causing people to pick up the phone in the first place. That would result in fewer phone calls to Customer Service, also reducing expenses but not aggravating customers.

Competing on price is a loser’s game in the end; just ask the gas station owner whose competitor is right across the street. And while competing on product or service can be tricky in most industries, Frontier doesn’t appear to be even trying to compete there (the airline already charges fees for everything from advanced seat assignments to carry-on luggage and snacks, things that are usually included in the ticket price with other airlines).

So what’s left? Customer experience. Any brand can compete on customer experience, but they have to look at the business through the lens of the customer before making decisions. That’s a basic approach and a way of doing business that Frontier would do well to heed.

More: Don’t Fear Complaints! (Video)

Image by Bilal EL-Daou from Pixabay.

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