Aito chairman Derek Moore gives his view on how to tackle the issue...
Airlines spend a fortune promoting what a fine experience it is to fly with them. With the finest aircraft, onboard product and service, customer satisfaction seems at the heart of what they do – being onboard with them is supposed to be the ultimate travel experience. Such promotion costs a lot of money, but all carriers seem to consider it money well spent.
Indeed, selling customer service is so obvious a marketing ploy that even our friends at Ryanair have recently got into the habit of trying to please their customers rather than testing their tolerance, and it’s apparently paying off very well for them.
So why, then, are many carriers seemingly prepared to blow it all by missing a trick, behaving like sulky spoiled children, and being prepared to upset so many customers? Why are they ruining their image by fighting what seems to be the inevitable?
Airlines have for some time routinely flouted the rules regarding compensation for delays and argued over how far back claims can go, even though the UK Supreme Court ruled on this last year. Since 2004, carriers have brought 11 separate court cases in Europe, challenging the law on compensation; in all 11 cases, the courts have found against them.
The law’s the law
The present law may be fair or flawed but, fair or not, it is the law. With an eye on the bottom line, it is logical that airlines have attempted to minimise the costs incurred by what they perceive to be a flawed piece of legislation. But the law has been challenged and upheld and the public – who are not interested in the fairness of the law – simply see airlines refusing to obey regulations.
Where carriers seem to be missing a trick is in not deciding to turn a negative into a positive. Why don’t airlines start trumpeting about the fact that, if you fly with them, then not only will they provide excellent service in the air, but also, when things go wrong, they will pay out compensation without demur; in effect, an aviation version of a “no-quibble” guarantee?
But, if airlines are missing a trick, maybe travel agents can take advantage of the situation. Why not make it clear to your clients with delayed flights that they should talk to you about whether they are due compensation and, if they are, offer to help them make a claim? Don’t get involved in the process of their claim; just having a discussion about how to get started might be worthwhile.
Holding the client’s hand at such a time might well encourage them to seek your advice and help again, perhaps over their next holiday booking – it’s a perfect example of customer service.
It may be that agents are reluctant to do this in case they upset the carriers with whom they place their business. That’s their decision: whether to upset an airline, or to build your business by giving better customer service to your clients than many in the airline business are prepared to do. There are always other carriers, but repeat clients are hard to retain.
The airlines might be missing a trick, but that’s no reason why a travel agent should do the same.