Embrace the bête noire was perhaps the only thought that flashed through my mind as I came upon a recent article in TIME. It spoke at length about a major US carrier’s continued struggle with a sequence of outages and how it has shaken investor and customer confidence. Truly, years of hard-earned customer goodwill and loyalty can be all squandered in a matter of days.
As someone who has been in the industry for more than two decades, firstly as an insider and then as a collaborator, I have witnessed disruptions of all magnitudes, right from small-scale irregular operations to a complete shut-down. Over the last 12 months alone, literally every US major airline has had its share of problems with large-scale disruptions. This reinforces my belief that countless millions of dollars invested over the years in advancing redundant systems have not been entirely successful in preventing outages. Indeed, when it comes to preserving customer confidence, no degree of business resumption can be quick enough.
In an era where the customer is spoilt for choice and negative publicity travels fast and far - thanks to Social Media! - the onus is squarely on airlines to ensure every step of the recovery process, be it identification of alternate options, completing the fulfillment or customer communication, is executed flawlessly and with a high degree of consistency.
As paradoxical as it may appear, I believe, embracing disruptions seems to be the way ahead for the airline industry. How to ensure quick operational recovery and provide the best possible passenger experience within the obvious constraints should be atop an airline’s agenda.
Any kind of flight disruption has a four-fold impact resulting in operational, financial, reputational and psychological repercussions. However, post a disruption, as airlines take stock of the extent of damage in terms of financial losses and negative attention, often ignored are the larger issues of operational agility and passenger experience. In a crisis situation, it is the ability of an airline to effectively run operations - managing disrupted itineraries, arranging alternative flights and reserving accommodation – that should take center stage. And passenger experience has to be at the forefront of any crisis response since passengers bear the brunt of a flight disruption.
So as flight disruptions increase, what does an airline do differently to get back to ‘business as usual’ and prioritize passenger needs? As highlighted by TIME, there is an imminent need for airlines to bring in intelligence and automation in the way they operate, and interact with customers. At a premium are solutions that limit manual intervention and manage flight disruptions smartly and seamlessly – right from informing passenger about disruption to re-booking to processing refunds and reserving hotels. Further, there are often multiple ways to re-protect affected passengers, however, the possibility to look for optimal recovery solution in the midst of a disruption requires a greater degree of automation.
Being at the helm of operations for a leading travel solutions provider, I know it is not unimaginable to lay hands on cost-effective solutions that streamline operations and automate each touch point in a passenger journey. When we at WNS introduced RePAXSM, it was with the very objective of finding a comprehensive answer to some of the concerns that I had raised earlier and re-think operations with the passenger at the forefront. In an industry where passenger experience and brand loyalty are priceless, I believe on-demand solutions like RePAXSM with their proactive and automated approach to flight disruption bring in much-needed control, visibility and agility which airlines so desperately seek during times of crisis. Importantly, the airline is beside its passenger throughout their disrupted journey.
For all the undesirable outcomes they bring along, flight disruptions cannot be totally averted. However, with the right technology at their disposal, airlines can surely avoid the domino effect of an operations breakdown and their passengers suffering as a result. Remember, while the impact of flight disruptions is often gauged in terms of immediate financial losses, the loss from passengers who do not come back to the airline can be manifold.
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