Airlines have wholeheartedly embraced a self-service culture that now sees customers book their own flights, print out their boarding passes, check-in at electronic kiosks and even in some cases print and attach their luggage tags.
But while passengers have adjusted to these commercial realities, one thing they don’t like – as evidenced in repeated surveys – is the old reality of being kept on hold to speak to an agent at the airline call centres.
As the New York Times reports, technology is now providing a solution to this problem. Dubbed VOH or ‘virtual on-hold,’ the feature allows callers to hang up and have a customer service representative call back when their number reaches the front of the line. It may not make the response any faster, but it beats having a phone stuck to your ear for hours.
Southwest Airlines added the feature to its customer service protocol last year and says it has been a success, both from a customer service perspective and because it reduces telecom costs. Canada’s WestJet also added the feature in 2009. “We implemented the VOH system last year when we were experiencing high call volumes during the Sabre transition,” says WestJet spokesperson Robert Palmer. The transition he refers to was a new reservation system last fall that resulted in online problems and drove passengers to the phone. “The VOH system is still in place today and we intend to keep it. It will kick in if the wait time is longer than two minutes,” Palmer says.
For its part, Air Canada told TakeOffeh that it doesn’t use the VOH system but is “monitoring developments” in the industry. As spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick says, the airline is more concerned with giving passengers fewer reasons to use the blower. “We have been focused on online services that let people do things for themselves without calling the call centre. Our online rebooking, for example, lets people whose flights are cancelled rebook themselves on-line. It worked well during the volcano,” Fitzpatrick says.