'Nobody wants to deal with call centers anymore': why AirAsia created a chief customer happiness role

Being strategic has helped AirAsia cope with its customers’ demands, which has evolved and changed over the years.

AirAsia renamed its customer care team to customer happiness because it wanted to personalize the way it interacted with its customers.

To do this, the low-cost carrier gathers feedback it gets off its customers through a variety of channels, including a chatbot called AVA or AirAsia Virtual Allstar on its website and mobile apps. It then implements actions based on their feedback to make improvements for them, explains Adam Geneave, the chief customer happiness officer at AirAsia.

“The role was created because it is really the only way our guests assess value. It is really to make sure that we have a team in the business that is really focused on how we interact with our guests,” Geneave tells The Drum on the sidelines of the 2019 Salesforce Basecamp Asia.

“My role oversees the customer care function which is all that feedback, but it also services customer strategy and customer journey which (Bayley Clark Walz, head of customer experience development at AirAsia) looks after. I also take care of areas like product design and innovation for the airline like new aircraft cabins and airport experience.”

“I think, historically the function was probably just more focused on getting feedback and responsive feedback. Whereas now, it's a little more strategic in nature in what we do.”

Being strategic has helped AirAsia cope with its customers’ demands, which has evolved and changed over the years, Geneave believes, as well as creating an outlet to cope with the fallout from environmental conditions.

For example, when inclement weather, volcanoes and earthquakes ground flights, AirAsia’s working groups within the airline set up workplace chat groups that include Geneave’s team, the communications team, the operations team, ground operations and the engineering team.

This means all critical functions in the business have instant contact with each other. It also means AirAsia can streamline its planning processes, make decisions quickly and communicate them immediately with its customers, explains Geneave, who began his career training airline cabin crews.

He notes that technology has played such a critical role in linking the working groups, to the point where the airline has decided to close its voice call centres earlier this year.

“All the interaction we have today is through messaging services and social media channels that didn't exist five years ago,” says Geneave. “While I think customers today, from an airline perspective, are still expecting absolute basic, which is to get them from A to B safely, they now also expect to use technology and interact with us.”

“That means the way they want to talk to us is changing. We are closing our voice call centres this year based on the fact our customers now primarily want to talk to us through platforms like WeChat and WhatsApp.”

“Customers also want things like the Internet in the air now, which we deliver through our Rokki platform because it is a connected world. They want to connect with us the same way they would connect with their best friend or their work colleagues, for example.”

The airline works with Salesforce, which Geneave says helps it to auto message customers about things that are happening, update its chatbot quickly and instantly give customers the information that they need on social media.

This allows AirAsia to have an integrated customer communications approach because, historically, it used to have one platform for each of its eight call centres, one for live chat and one for email, which meant that the airline had difficulties in communicating a unified message to its customers.

This does not work today, explains Geneave, because when customers come through any channel to talk to a brand, brands need to instantly know what their history is and instantly be able to respond to them right.

“I think the key learning is you need that one channel system that can bring everything through one place. You also need to be able to instantly respond to people and these days it's all about messaging and so, they really need to be platforms that way we can respond through WeChat and WhatsApp online and Kakao etc,” he says.

“A human touch and human interaction don't necessarily have to be a voice on the other end of the phone, because we still have that human touch and interaction through a live team of over 800 people.

"People can come and talk to AVA, and I will say AVA is pretty humanistic, even with her approach being more rapid than a human. If they don't want to talk to her, they can come and talk to one of our live agents 24 hours a day instantly."

Geneave urges brands to embrace the fact that people do not want to deal with call centers anymore because they don't want all the challenges that come with that call center environment, like being on hold for half an hour.

"As a business, it means that we now have internal teams that we have control of and we recruit and we train and all of that. We are able to use that service for our customers, and that's really critical as well."

While real-time engagement is crucial for AirAsia, it is not a long-term objective for younger brands like ride-sharing unicorn Grab and insurer Singapore Life (SingLife), because they have other immediate priorities like scale, efficiency and product development.

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