Air Canada and the Customer Service Question

Customer Service | 3 minute read

There are some amazing benefits to living in Canada (socialized health care, an abundance of maple syrup, and plenty of expressions for foreigners to mock, eh?). However, one clear downside is a lack of competition in the airline industry (that, and the proximity to polar bears).

This is where our story begins.

By all counts, Air Canada is an award-winning airline, a brand built on the notion of customer service. However, they are no stranger to customer complaints: According to (a site that catalogs hold time complaints on Twitter), they rank fifth-worst.

Obviously, airlines are often at the mercy of forces beyond their control. But even the most unpredictable events can result in predictable responses.

For example, let’s say that your family is about to return home from march break, and your airline has to cancel your flight (for reasons beyond their control). They might send you a text like this one:

image of text from AC 'flight cancelled'

What would your next move be? Really, what else can you do but call the airline and re-book? I know this, you know this, so presumably, this airline does, too.

The hypothetical family in this situation was actually mine. And, in fact, I did call to re-book. Unfortunately, so did everyone else affected by this situation, which turned out to be a fire at the destination airport. Given that this occurred during both a seasonal peak and a partial grounding of their fleet (737 MAXs), the options to electronically re-book were limited.

I called the flight cancellation line. My wife, a frequent business traveller, called her fancy points-status line. And on yet another phone, we dialed the general Air Canada booking number. The wait? Over TWO HOURS on each line (three agents literally answered within minutes of one another), despite the estimated hold time announcement of “45 minutes” (yet another reason not to broadcast estimated wait times – but that’s another story).

I’m not sure what Air Canada’s marketing budget it is, but I’ll wager it’s a fair sight higher than what they spend on their call center. It’s a shame because all of the marketing in the world won’t make up for a disastrous experience like this. So, my advice to Air Canada (if you’re listening):

Prepare for the Predictable Reponses!

Most call centers aim for a decrease in call volume. Why send a “Your flight is cancelled” text knowing customers will immediately call you, resulting in high call volumes?

Imagine, instead, sending a text or email that says, “Your flight has been cancelled. We’re working on getting you on the next available flight, and will be in touch soon,” and actually doing that.

The outcome is still the same: The customer will be serviced by an agent and put on another flight. But this way you’ll help to avoid the surge of call volume, while at the same time providing much better customer experience and possibly a positive mention on social media, reinforcing your marketing budget. ?

Offer a Call-Back!

This is a little ‘inside baseball’, but I happen to know that Air Canada offers call-backs. They use a solution from our competitor, which is limited in a number of ways, one of these being the inability to scale to handle these kinds of spikes in call volume.

Call-backs are an amazing way to smooth out call spikes while improving the experience for callers, so they don’t have to wait on hold (… for two hours, incurring roaming charges …). But they’re not effective if you don’t offer them!

Why invest in a call-back solution you can’t use on all of your queues, across multiple call centers with different infrastructure, when call volume spikes significantly?

Why not make the investment in a solution that can handle these kinds of events, and improve your overall reputation with customers at the same time?

I’ve said it many times before, but it bears repeating: Many companies look at the call center as a cost center, rather than an opportunity to interact with customers. Air Canada: If you spent a small fraction of your marketing budget on call-backs, think about all of the positive press it would garner.

And with that, I’m off to catch a flight.

Or so I hope.


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