In perhaps the most dramatic CX move from a North American company in 2022, Frontier Airlines said that it is ending its voice-based customer support. The decision, implemented right before the December travel season, has stoked significant discussion across the contact center industry, and rightly so.  On the one hand, it appears that the low-cost air carrier is on the cusp of alienating customers by taking away access to the most pervasive consumer management contact channel. But, with more end-users aggressively adopting digitally-based mediums, is Frontier on the cusp of a new CX dynamic?

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Most enterprises still use voice as a channel in their contact centers. According to the 2022 Front Office CX Omnibus Survey by Ryan Strategic Advisory, nearly all firms across the vertical spectrum deploy some type of voice-based support.  Furthermore, roughly two-thirds of enterprise contact center managers that were sounded believe that demand for voice services will rise in 2023.  Given this, one might quickly conclude that Frontier Airlines is making a significant error by terminating its voice-based operations.

Yet there is a compelling counterargument based around technology and efficiency.  Frontier makes a valid point when it states that it aims to provide its end-users with the information needed on its application, and across various digital channels.  In today’s world, there is sound logic in this; a growing number of consumers are comfortable in self-help environments, which have become a proverbial ‘go-to’ for issue resolution.

Also, many end-users prefer interacting with enterprises from which they buy goods or services via digital channels, such as email, web chat, or social media. Not only do these non-voice methods provide a record of the transcript for the customer, but if properly configured and powered, they can be faster than dealing with a voice-based agent. Consider another stat from the 2022 Front Office CX Omnibus Survey: email, instant messaging, and social media have penetration rates of 80% or more in enterprise contact centers.  Consumers like using these channels, and companies are responding by providing them.  On this basis, Frontier’s approach is clear and understandable.

Then there is the issue of cost.  According to some estimates, labor is the second biggest expense for Frontier Airlines, a figure that has only become more challenging in the tight employee market in recent years.  So, for an airline that runs on a low-cost model, the opportunity to replace excess front-line headcount with technology solutions must be an appealing option.

But no matter how attractive this alternative may be, getting rid of voice support is a gamble for Frontier.  The airline ranked among the top 5 for customer complaints in the USA just a few months ago. Betting big that technology-based CX is the way forward is more than just a roll of the dice. This is especially the case after the chaos air travel experienced earlier this year (and that some lawmakers fear may be in the offing this Christmas).

To be fair, customer experience technology solutions providers have made tremendous progress over the past several years. Some offerings can now provide support faster and more accurately than work done by live agents.  And, with telephone wait times seemingly longer than ever in many call centers (even those managing emergency services), tech-driven CX alternatives make sense.

However, what any company looking at adopting the Frontier Airlines strategy needs to keep in mind is that not every single customer will be comfortable with a digital approach. There will always be a segment that will insist on calling. This may owe to the individual end-user’s level of tech-savvy, their capacity to access digital devices, or the simple need to speak to somebody to address an urgent issue.  Regardless of how one looks at it, this move is indeed a gamble – and the stakes are high.

Image sourced from Tomás Del Coro and used under Creative Commons license