Alaska Airlines Debuts Text Messaging for Customer Service

Alaska Airlines is getting more data-driven and proactive about its customer service, and their moves can’t come fast enough. After recognizing that 70 percent of its passengers were contacting the airline for customer service through their mobile devices, the company introduced texting as a new channel through which passengers could connect with agents. Alaska Airlines estimates that 40 percent of the calls received can easily be handled via text, so the new service will now likely alleviate pressure on its customer service line.

Thanks to the new texting functionality, passengers that already have travel booked with Alaska can text 82008 to reach a customer service representative via text and get answers to specific travel questions. Customers can solve a variety of simple problems via text, including getting real-time information on flight delays, schedule changes, and flight status in addition to getting answers to general policy questions.

Additionally, agents can help passengers add frequent flier numbers to their reservations so that they can earn points on their flights, opt in or out of available upgrades on their upcoming flights, get receipts for travel, request specific seat assignments or changes, ask for accessible travel services, and enroll in Alaska’s airline’s frequent flier program, Mileage Plan.

The customer service update comes at a critical time, as airlines increasingly have to compete with tech companies like Google that promise to make booking and traveling easier than before.

“The tech-driven ability to predict delays and cancellations with confidence—and instantly communicate them to individual travelers—will beat airlines’ own customer service efforts. In so doing, they will reinforce travelers’ negative perceptions—even as the airlines are objectively improving service,” aerospace and defense expert and Forbes contributor Samuel Engel wrote in a blog post.

Google Flights, for example, now shows much more than available flights—the app now shows baggage and other restrictions, as well as live schedules, fares, delays, and more. Google is even going to start predicting which flights will be delayed using historical data and artificial intelligence. “It’s a safe bet that this functionality will improve before long to show the right combination for each customer—simplicity itself. Meanwhile, the airlines continue to layer on complexity,” Engel writes.

That’s why it’s critical that airlines change their ways. Alaska Airlines’ move to simplify customers service to texting, for example, is a move in the right direction—the easier they make it for customers to engage with their company, the more likely they are to effectively compete against the likes of Google.

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