What airlines (and other customer support) should learn from AirAsia

Nobody likes calling up customer support hotlines and being put on hold to speak to a human. When my parents decided to cancel their travel plans as a precaution due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, I was bracing myself for a long and painful call with AirAsia as I booked the flights for them.

It turned out that my worries were unfounded. My dad, who diligently read through the FAQs on AirAsia’s website, told me that a (partial) refund was possible through their online chatbot. Introverts rejoice!

It was also helpful that the FAQs addressed most of the questions we had, such as the refundable airport tax for voluntary flight cancellations.

Screenshot from AirAsia’s FAQs page.

However, there were several abbreviations like ADL, PSSF, RSC in the fare breakdown which we couldn’t figure out. Hence, I turned to their support team on Twitter for clarification.

AirAsia receipt
ADL? PSSF? RSC? Are they refundable?

24/7 Twitter support

AirAsia Twitter support conversation
Conversation with AirAsia’s support on Twitter.

I got a response within 2 hours – quite impressive – except that the customer service officer didn’t answer my question. So I tried to be more specific in my following reply.

Almost a day went by without responses, I gave them a nudge as the flight was departing the next day.

Several hours later, another officer got back. He reasoned that they were unable to specify the refundable items because those were subjected by the airport, and not the airline. It sounded fair enough; I accepted his explanation but remained skeptical about how communicating with a chatbot would end up.

AI chatbot

A day after the “missed” flights, I initiated the refund process with AirAsia’s chatbot, which is interestingly branded as a virtual influencer named AVA.

I completed the refund requests in 20 minutes. Other than having to go through the process twice for separate flights in a single itinerary, everything else was seamless.

AirAsia chatbot conversation
The entire “conversation” with AirAsia’s chatbot aka virtual influencer, AVA.

Up to 30 days was the expected processing time for the refund. But just after 12 days, AirAsia promptly refunded the airport tax to my dad’s credit account.

Refunds deposited into AirAsia's credit account
Refunds deposited into AirAsia’s credit account.

No running around in circles. No questions asked.

While AirAsia may be a low-cost carrier, they did not give me the impression of you-get-what-you-pay-for service. This is seamless customer experience that is commonly lacking in many companies’ after-sales support.

Because of the recent COVID-19 situation, I have heard unpleasant stories about the unresponsiveness and long waiting time of customer support hotlines and e-mails with airlines. These have made cancellations and changes to travel plans difficult and frustrating for travelers.

My sister & her partner had no choice but to postpone their holiday to Seoul on Singapore Airlines after the government issued a travel advisory less than 48 hours before they were due to depart. They waited on the line for more than 2 hours before getting someone to rebook their flights. While my colleague, who was booked on Scoot, never get any response about the flight cancellation charge that should rightfully be waived, even after weeks.

Many believe that these are deliberate attempts to cut losses by making waivers, refunds or cancellations difficult for customers. Giving the airlines the benefit of doubt, they are most probably struggling to cope with the high volume of inquiries during this period of uncertainty.

I avoid dealing with customer support unless I absolutely have to. As a phone-reluctant introvert, I love the convenience of contacting AirAsia through Twitter, Facebook, and more notably, a functional chatbot that automates mundane or minor requests.

For short-distance travel in the future, at least I know I will be in the good hands of AirAsia with their hassle-free online support.


Feature image of AVA from AirAsia.

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