• November 15, 2023
  • By Rob McDougall, president and CEO, Upstream Works Software

The Tech Trend Shaping the Holiday Travel Experience

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Let’s face it: Air travel has never been more challenging. With delayed and canceled flights, baggage issues, and rising costs, consumers are increasingly challenged to find an airline that can actually provide a pleasant experience.

In my travels, I am keenly aware that customer service isn’t about when things go right but rather when the wheels fall off, which can turn a simple trip into a cartoonish nightmare. How an airline handles these situations is increasingly going to make all the difference to their customers’ air travel experience.

In this modern age of “fast and convenient” air travel, real-time information and assistance can make or break a passenger's experience. Airlines aren’t trying to provide bad service. In fact they’re constantly looking to innovation to enhance their customer service. But getting live assistance to a traveler is often inconvenient, as it involves long lines and long wait times just to speak to a gate agent and hopefully resolve the issue or to make new plans. This traveler hassle quickly escalates into unrealistic expectations, and short tempers, on both sides of the counter.

One of the latest technologies available to shape the holiday travel experience is the use of remote gate agents. United Airlines, in particular, has embraced this cutting-edge technology to revolutionize the way they serve their passengers. Passengers traveling on United will find a large number of very prominent signs inviting them to connect to what United calls their “agent on demand.”

When it comes to air travel, countless issues can’t be resolved with a simple call to the contact center. Often, the best a company can do is to provide travelers with up-to-date and accurate information. However, there are also times when travelers require more than just information; they need hands-on assistance at the gate. This is where the remote gate agent steps in.

United Airlines has harnessed the power of this innovative solution by using an easy-to-scan QR code to connect passengers with their remote gate agent. This gate agent can assist travelers with the same tasks as an in-person gate agent without needing the traveler to wait in long lines. It’s a game changer in terms of convenience.

The beauty of this technology is that it's not limited to the physical gate area or indeed the physical airport. In the event of localized weather disruptions or airport-wide issues, these remote gate agents can be accessed across the airline’s network. This enables the airline to expand its workforce virtually to meet spikes in passenger demand, ensuring travelers get the assistance they need swiftly.

From the airline’s perspective, gate agents can now be utilized more effectively. During downtimes between active flights, they can focus on assisting passengers locally and across the airline network.

Customers can reach out to the airline using a standard web-based UCaaS (which offer excellent noise-canceling features to improve voice quality, even in noisy airport environments). In United’s case, the back end of the solution is set up to ensure agents have access to clean and organized customer and airport information from a single desktop application.

One of the standout features of this solution is the flexibility it offers to customers. Once the customer accesses the web client from the QR code, they can select either a voice call, a video call, or just an IM session. They can easily switch between IM, voice, or video contact options as per their preference as the call evolves. As they enter their contact request, the applications will capture critical context information—the traveler’s name, booking references, and other pertinent information that can ensure the agent is well suited to deal with the request. Each agent also has access to a complete interaction history of all previous contacts made with the calling passenger.

While the remote agent cannot completely eliminate wait times, the airline can play entertaining videos or provide FAQ information to callers in the queue. But mobile devices are multi-function tools, and callers don’t tend to sit and wait on the airline page as they sit in the queue. They tend to get distracted by other tasks on their smartphone. The remote agent system addresses this by letting agents know if the customer is available for the interaction or engaged in another app. Agents can prompt customers to return to the remote agent page when they are ready to talk.

Travelers can now place remote agent requests from anywhere in the airport, whether they choose to relax at a restaurant or in an airport lounge, or even while they wait in line for a live gate agent.

In a real-life scenario, even if nothing can be done, having up-to-date information is a game changer for customer service. Keeping passengers informed can prevent chaos and frustration, turning a potentially volatile situation into a smoother and more pleasant travel experience.

As technology continues to advance, these innovative solutions will further transform the way airlines serve customers during the holiday season and throughout the year. Using a remote gate agent is just one example of how the travel industry is adapting to meet the ever-changing needs of passengers, providing a smoother and more convenient experience for all.

Rob McDougall is president and CEO of Upstream Works Software, which provides omnichannel conact center software to increase customer engagement and agent success. McDougall’s passion for making the agent experience better is evident with the company’s “agent first” approach.

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