Frontier Airlines Eliminates Its Call Center

Low-cost airline carrier Frontier this weekend transitioned away from customer service phone calls, completely eliminating its call center in favor of online, mobile, and text support.

The Denver-based carrier, which serves approximately 120 destinations in the United States, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America, is pushing customers to a chatbot that is available 24x7 and also offers service via an app, social media channels, and WhatsApp. Customers who want to text with the carrier can get a link sent to their mobile phones.

The airline said in a statement that the change would help lower labor costs and speed up transactions.

"We have found that most customers prefer communicating via digital channels," the statement read in part. "Customers can visit our website and interact initially with a chatbot that provides answers to common questions. If live agent support is needed, we have live chat available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Customers may also chat with us via common social media channels and WhatsApp."

For many in the contact center world, Frontier's move might be understandable given that call centers are the costliest CX channel. But, they also note that it's a mistake to put up barriers for customer contacts.

Eng Tan, CEO of Simplr, a customer service outsourcing provider, for example, sees the move as short-sighted.

"Diverting customers to self-service channels when they are looking for real human support is still costing the business mightily. The opportunity for more revenue is right within Frontier's grasp, but instead they are building more barriers in the form of attempting to deflect the customer back to the website to finalize the purchase on their own (or pay a service fee)," Tan says.

Chatbots, he continues, "can be very useful in many inquiries, but when it comes to finalizing a purchase—where there is real revenue on the line along with the opportunity to develop a great customer relationship—there is no substitute for working with a human."

Tan, instead, advocates for a value-based routing approach, where the most important inquiries are treated with the most care by human agents.

"Value-based routing not only decreases phone volume to save companies money and achieves the efficiency they're after, but it closes the sale and gives the customer a great experience so they'll keep coming back," he states. "For businesses considering alternatives to the costly BPO-style CX, especially in light of current economic uncertainties, a hybrid, value-based model is the way of the future that won't alienate your customers."

But not everyone in the industry is shooting down Frontier's move.

Pieter de Villiers, CEO and co-founder of Clickatell, sees travel companies moving more toward mobile channels for customer service."

He calls it a smart move on Frontier’s part, noting that call centers have an infamous reputation and most consumers prefer communicating with brands through online channels. He cites a recent study from Clickatell that found that 87 percent of consumers said they want to interact with airlines via mobile messaging. 

Based on its research, Clickatell concluded that from booking updates to upgrade notifications, mobile messaging is the undisputed future of the travel industry and delivering a streamlined customer journey goes beyond getting travelers from Point A to Point B. It takes an immersive and personalized strategy that meets modern travelers where they're already spending their time: their mobile devices. 

Brett Weigl, senior vice president and general manager of digital and AI at Genesys, meanwhile, says Frontier's move is not a shock, citing his company's own research that found a growing consumer preference for digital channels. 

"Phone still remains the most used channel for contacting customer service, but digital channels are growing rapidly. In fact, the number of consumers interacting with customer service through messaging, mobile apps, chatbots, social media, and video calling more than doubled since 2017," he says.

The decision to lean primarily into voice or digital, he says further, "is entirely dependent on a company’s customer base, industry, and brand. Regardless of the channels they offer, they should employ automation and humans where they make sense and make sure experiences are targeted, personalized, and contextual and offer opportunities for self-service."