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United Airlines Launches "Agent on Demand": What it Means for Cx and Ex

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Brooke Lynch

airline agent

United Airlines announced a new service enabling passengers to contact customer service agents virtually in an effort to promote social distancing in airports. Contactless travel is an ongoing objective for airlines, as the negative public perception regarding air travel safety persists.

This new “Agent on Demand” service, currently available at Chicago’s O’Hare and Houston's George Bush International Airports, marks a continued effort by the brand to enhance passenger safety. The airline will offer the technology in all of their hubs by 2021.

Customers can access agents virtually on their mobile device via call, text, or live video messaging. By scanning a QR code, placed strategically on signage throughout the airport, they are directed to an agent on their preferred channel. They can bypass lines and communicate with agents from anywhere in the airport, effectively decreasing the usual person-to-person contact air travel requires.


What This Means for Customers

Customer service standards are increasing, people are ordering their coffee on apps and getting groceries delivered to their door. Convenience is key and customers expect instant gratification. United’s new technology brings this concept into a space that historically requires in-person interaction. By increasing virtual touchpoints, the service upholds the level of convenience people are used to.

With the rise of technologies like buy online, pick-up in-store, and mobile ordering, customers are also looking to use digital technologies as a complement to their in-store experience.“Agent on Demand” marks success in offering a version of this hybrid support model. The technology acts as a valuable addition to, rather than a replacement of, their in-person service.

Ultimately, customers can expect a safer and more seamless experience overall. The service boasts decreased wait times and quicker access to qualified agents, all while limiting unnecessary personal contact.


What This Means for Agents

This new service will most certainly impact the agent experience. Agents physically working at each gate can devote more time to customers with complex questions and concerns. It also helps mitigate time spent on confused travelers seeking simple directions. Instead, dedicated remote agents can resolve standard queries, like seat assignments and upgrades, virtually. 

The agent-customer interaction is also improved by the elimination of language barriers. Translation features are integrated into the chat service, with over 100 language options. This represents an opportunity to deliver clear communication, reducing any friction in interactions.

Decreasing points of contact keep agents safe as well. Agent experience is always top-of-mind for organizations and people need to feel protected in their workplace. Allowing some agents to work remotely, while reducing superfluous interactions for in-person staff, adds another measure of safety for both the customer and employee.


The Future of Customer Interaction

With new technologies like “Agent on Demand”, it’s easy to get excited about the implications on future customer service interactions. Digital transformation has been limited in these spaces because of the traditional emphasis on in-person service. 

Digital transformation is a consistent objective, but it doesn’t make sense in every setting. This new service exemplifies a more purposeful use of technology. Customers are not only gaining the ability to connect on their preferred digital channel, they’re also safer for using it. The technology offers a solution to allow social distancing while also coinciding with the current desire for convenience. 

We have already seen brands use technology to enhance in-person experiences. Curbside pickup is essentially a standard offering in today’s market, and retailers like 7-Eleven and Fairway are allowing customers to complete the entire checkout process on their mobile devices. Virtual support is sure to continue gaining traction in other industries as well. Hotels, for instance, can empower customers to not only check in virtually but request maintenance, room service, or housekeeping without picking up the phone or waiting at the front desk.

With this adoption of technology, however, purpose is important. The technology should act as a value-driven solution and tool for customers; it should never be a hollow gimmick, let alone a forced replacement for necessary in-person support.