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NEWS Last modified on July 26, 2017

New study reveals that poor customer service levels are damaging airlines

The air travel sector did more than any other to damage its reputation over the last year through poor customer service and increasing complaint levels, according to a new report.

According to service design consultancy Engine, the sector saw a 4.3% point rise (to 17.1%) in customers citing them among the worst sectors for service.

This was the biggest increase of the 14 sectors covered in its latest annual study.

“British Airways’ IT melt-down and the United Airlines’ passenger incident were the most high-profile examples in an industry that seems to be struggling to look after its customers,” says Engine’s co-founder Joe Heapy.

“However, it wasn’t just that the incidents were bad, arguably it was their response that caused as much anger, particularly in BA’s case. In an era of rampant cost cutting, their actions and reactions can give the impression that people are more akin to cargo than passengers.

“The aviation industry is fundamentally challenged by the disjointed passenger experience, from booking a ticket to arriving at the destination, caused by the plethora of stakeholders and companies involved.
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"However, most customers don't know where the responsibility of one begins and ends, and when something goes wrong they don’t want to waste time tracking down the responsible party, they just need the problem solved.

"As such, aviation companies need to establish solid partnerships and not just see themselves as delivering a particular piece of the jigsaw but as hospitality providers instead. If the focus shifts to welcoming, supporting and entertaining passengers as guests, people’s perception will be transformed.”

Despite the drop for air travel, public transport (cited by 38%) and utilities (37%) are regarded as the worst sectors overall for customer service.

At the other end of the spectrum, restaurants (cited by 47%) and hotels (46%) increased their lead in being seen as the best sectors for service. However, when it comes to the best individual companies for service, retail dominates with Amazon leading the way followed by John Lewis, M&S, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

Heapy concludes: “The leading sectors and companies in customer service don’t think of it as an add-on at the front line, they put as much effort into designing the customer experience as they do their actual products.”

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