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17 May 2021 | Blog

Fighting the battle of changing customer expectations

When it came to understanding customers pre-pandemic, travel companies had years of data and insights that allowed them to model, predict, and plan. But 2020 has left much of that data entirely redundant: Customers’ needs, challenges, worries and expectations have changed and continue to change at an alarming rate, much like the constantly moving goalposts that you now face day-to-day.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, passengers said that they wanted1 :

  1. More control over their journey via their smartphones
  2. Biometric technology to speed up airport processes
  3. To be kept informed throughout their journey on their personal devices

Whereas in 2020 their biggest concerns were2 :

  1. Being in a crowded bus/train on the way to the aircraft
  2. Queueing in the airport
  3. Sitting next to someone who may be infected onboard the aircraft

The difference couldn’t be starker. Yet 2021 is bringing a whole new set of worries and demands that will inevitably change again once travel opens up.

With the industry expecting huge demand as soon as local travel bans are lifted, do you feel confident that your business will be able to meet expectations with the level of customer service needed?

Expectations around customer service have increased exponentially over the last decade

The introduction of personalisation in almost every other industry, digitalization, mobile technology…so many things have played a role in making consumers demand a smooth, stress-free experience in everything they do.

66% of consumers aged 18-34 say they have higher expectations for customer service today than ever before. And if their expectations aren’t met, they go somewhere else, with 96% of consumers saying customer service is an important factor in their choice of loyalty to a brand.

Lay-offs and budget cuts are leaving customers in the dark

But at the same time, mass furloughs and lay-offs have left teams struggling to offer even a satisfactory passenger experience at a time when it’s needed the most. A reduction in customer service and marketing personnel in particular, means that passengers are being communicated with far less despite needing more reassurance and support than ever. And as our CEO Nicholas Key said in mid-2022 – you really can’t communicate too much when things have gone wrong

“Over-communication during the recovery phase is OK. Your passengers will understand and appreciate what you’re trying to do. If you get the personalisation, accuracy and timing right, there’s no such thing as over-communicating anyway.” 

Back in 2019, passengers were accustomed to frequent touchpoints and quick access to customer services whenever they required. But keeping this up has been an indescribable challenge for travel companies since the pandemic broke out, especially with millions of changes, cancellations and refunds to process.

Poor customer service creates more than just a grumpy customer

Many businesses struggle to calculate the true impact of a negative experience. The truth is that disruption is not the biggest driver of lost custom. In fact, our clients have found that customer service that goes above and beyond when things go wrong is a fantastic opportunity to drive loyalty. On the other hand, research shows that poor customer service is costing businesses more than $75 billion a year, with 67% of consumers avoiding a brand after a poor customer experience.

“Your customers no longer compare you to just your direct competitors. Instead, they compare you to the best service they have ever received – from any company… Whoever provided great service – from whatever company – has now set the benchmark for your customers’ expectations.”

Travel companies are turning to automation to manage the pressure

Automation is no longer the shiny buzzword it used to be. Over the years, it has proven itself to be the saviour of many travel brands. And never more so than during 2020 when millions of notifications had to be sent at short notice. There were a lot of disappointed passengers out there, but the companies that automated their passenger communication processes were the ones that stood out for all the right reasons.

Like Spirit which used the 15below platform to set up advanced filters to find relevant passengers, message them at an optimal time via the best channel, and direct them to to take action.

“Spirit Airlines’ refund process was painless. There were no hoops to jump through, no funny fees involved, no long hold times, no mind-numbing hold music, nothing but a straightforward process. 

Taking apart trips you were looking forward to is sad, but it helps tremendously when the process is this simple.”

Summer Hull via The Points Guy

And Ryanair doubled the number of notifications it sent via the 15below platform overnight with no negative impact on speed, deliverability, engagement, cost, or processes:

“I don’t know where we’d have been without the 15below platform this past year. Being able to send 89 million notifications to communicate effectively with every one of our affected customers without having to change any of our processes was a huge relief at a time when our operational staff were under immense pressure. Whilst everything else seemed to change from one day to the next, 15below was unwavering in its support, and we knew they had our passenger communications covered.”

Customer Success Manager, Dave Wall 

Businesses that use the 15below platform see an immediate impact on their bottom line, and if you need help getting it sold in, we’ve got you covered: Download our free eGuide, A case for automation your business can’t ignore to access data, tools and insights that will help you bring automation into your business.

Or get in touch to chat with one of our customer experience experts today.


 1 IATA Global Passenger Survey 2019
 2 IATA Traveler Survey, July 2020