Vivian Lo, general manager of Customer Experience and Design at Cathay Pacific, speaking about disruption management at FTE APEX ASIA EXPO. Image: Lim Kok Wee

Flight disruptions are inevitable, so Cathay Pacific is taking a transparent and proactive approach by automating rebooking notifications.

Whether it’s a mechanical failure, a hailstorm or a political uprising, Cathay Pacific (CX) has a plan for managing disruptions – and that’s to keep customers informed at all times. Vivian Lo, the airline’s general manager of Customer Experience and Design, said that, since introducing a notification platform and chatbot, frontline staff have been able to automate conflict resolution for more common problems, such as rebooking a flight, and reserve their time for handling more complicated issues and addressing VIP customers.

“Essentially what we’ve done is put in a system which has substantially increased the speed and quality of [offering customer] protection. At the same time, we are using the notification platform to ensure customers get immediate and prompt communications along the way,” Lo said, during her presentation at FTE APEX ASIA EXPO in Singapore on Tuesday.

“There’s a commitment to take care of our customers … We try to notify our customers and have them at heart.” – Vivian Lo, Cathay Pacific

With the notification platform, which was developed with Amadeus and Accenture, CX can send pre-flight reminders seven days before departure, check-in reminders 48 hours prior, as well as updates in between. The chatbot can also propose a flight change when a disruption is anticipated, giving customers more control of their situation, Lo explained.

The notifications are currently only available for direct bookings on the airline’s official channels, but CX plans to extend the service for bookings completed through global distribution systems (GDS) as of next year.

The idea to find a solution to minimize the impact of disruptions began in 2015, when Lo was general manager of Airports for CX. Lo and her team identified then that the problem is often the lack of clarity around accountability, with departments pointing fingers at one another, when resolving disruption impact is a collective responsibility.

In her presentation, Lo revealed that customer complaints spike during disruptions, with 20,400 delay-related complaints per year – an average of 1,700 per month. The cost of disruption was more than $1 billion Hong Kong dollars in 2015, and drove CX’s customer satisfaction rating down to an average 44 percent.

Lo and her team realized that they had to design an experience that focuses on empathy for all stakeholders. “As a customer, we feel anxiety, we don’t know what the airline is doing … and the lack of transparency makes us suspect that we’ve been ill-treated,” Lo said. “Meanwhile, the staff feel like they’re at war when they need to handle a disruption and can’t understand why the other teams are so inept. And at the same time the company is losing money and reputation and valuable seats even in the first wave of recovery flights.”

With the notification platform and chatbot in place, Lo said staff are now able to handle disruptions with confidence and efficiency. “There’s a commitment to take care of our customers … We try to notify our customers and have them at heart.”