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Angry about delays, lost luggage? Text your airline

Some carriers see the ubiquitous phone chat as a key to better customer service

Justin Bachman | Bloomberg 

Airplane ticket
Two airlines have dipped their wings into the waters of two-way texting — Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue Airways Corp Photo: iSTOCK

Our perpetual texting is strictly personal: Friends, family, and maybe an ex. We almost never text the myriad businesses we patronise in daily life, though some of them are starting to text us.
 
Now, airlines — an industry not known for stellar customer interactions — are joining the party, and not just to break the bad news about your flight. They’re inviting you to ask questions, and maybe even complain.

 
Two airlines have dipped their wings into the waters of two-way texting. Hawaiian Holdings Inc’s is adding the feature while JetBlue Airways Corp took a stake in a software start-up that will allow its call centre staff to start texting customers in the coming months.
 
Texting, technically called SMS (which stands for short message service), is arguably the world’s most favoured form of communication, but much of corporate America has been slow to adapt. The few that have — including Verizon Wireless retailers, British telecom company Sky UK, and Nestle SA’s frozen foods division — are dwarfed by an array of local commerce, from insurance agents, veterinarians, air conditioning techs and auto dealers, who have already jumped in to conduct their business.
 
“The reality is that consumers adore text messages,” said John Lauer, chief executive and co-founder of Zipwhip Inc, a Seattle start-up that’s hoping to evolve customer call centres into places that also handle texts. “Therefore, businesses have to adopt it into their workflow because consumers expect it and demand it.”
 
Today, most airlines offer one-way texting, happy to inform you of a gate change or flight delay via your mobile. But don’t respond to these hoping to vent your frustration — you can’t. That means there’s still the likelihood of a lengthy phone call, interminable airport queue or online chat with what may or may not be a computer-generated android.
 
A text-session, on the other hand, is conducted free of time constraints, over hours or even days. Changing a flight via text might even become a task to occupy your boring morning meeting. Another big advantage? “There was no learning curve,” said Tracy Behler, senior director for online experience at Hawaiian, since everyone already knows how to text. Hawaiian announced on Thursday that two-way texting would become a permanent customer communication channel.
 
Executives in the enterprise texting industry expect that airlines will join a broad array of industries over the next two years that will begin to expand their customer communications channels beyond 800-numbers, email and online chat. “There’s been this long gap between customers moving to instant messages for who they talk with and brands doing the same thing,” said Rurik Bradbury, an executive at LivePerson Inc, a New York technology company whose software platform powers Hawaiian’s texting.
© Bloomberg

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