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New Airline Customer Service Approach Could Also Transform Hospitality

Hoteliers may want to take a page out of United Airline’s approach to customer service and investigate how on-demand remote agents could significantly improve the guest experience.
woman on phone while in hotel room
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“How was your trip - any delays?” 

Delays have become an all too familiar refrain in the increasingly do-it-yourself world of travel where disruptions and less-than-stellar customer experiences have become the norm. By May 2023, the Department of Transportation (DOT) confirmed that airline service complaints from consumers were up 48.7% from the same time last year. To reverse this trend, United Airlines introduced Agent on Demand, its customer service tool aimed at connecting customers quickly with the airline’s contact center via, text, voice, or video. It’s been nothing short of a game-changer for travelers and the airline. The underlying technology that created this remote agent model was created for customer engagement, not for airlines. 

Wherever and whenever you have guests and customers, for example, in hotel lobbies, on-demand remote agents can help ensure service success. The application is very simple for customers to use.

1) Locate the promotional placards on display in airports, hotel lobbies, etc.

2) Scan the QR code with your smartphone

3) Connect directly with an informed agent for assistance via text, voice, or video.

For United, the use of remote agents has been an exercise in productivity and efficiency. The solution allows its gate agents to be better utilized during downtimes. Between active flights, agents can be on call to assist passengers locally and across the airline’s entire network. For customers, remote agents offer much-needed convenience when the situation they’re facing is anything but.

Similar to the customer service teams in the airline industry, hospitality agents also experience predictable ebbs and flows. For example, consider that during check-in and check-out times, hotel staff are preoccupied and less available to guests with issues to resolve. In cases like this, the availability of on-demand remote agents would relieve the burden on busy teams and more quickly address the customer request. Consider how national hotel brands can utilize a virtual, but remote front desk agent to be on call to support all their teams during busy periods. It’s good for the customer, for the front desk staff, and for the hotel.

Beyond the predictable, the idea of on-demand remote agents to improve the customer experience has many other applications, including:

Any Time Guest Needs - instead of a hotel house phone connecting with a busy front-desk ambassador, imagine if each room included a list of QR codes to connect with on-demand remote agents, providing cost savings for hotel operators and convenience to guests. Multiple QR codes can be used to connect with various departments, for example, the valet, housekeeping, and room service. It’s the type of efficient and personalized service that hoteliers want to deliver to their guests and simplifies the more traditional guest experience with the ‘house phone’, while at the same time freeing the guest to easily call housekeeping from the pool!

Guests In Transit - arriving at your airport destination doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve arrived. For many travelers, a hotel marks the beginning of a holiday or a business trip. Alongside the lineups for car rental agencies, consider QR codes displaying the variety of hotels serving the area. With just a few swipes of a smartphone, customers can be in touch with remote agents at these properties to check availability, confirm their booking, or arrange transportation from the airport. Using a QR code allows the hotel to identify the reason for the call; the customer’s location, and saves the pesky 1-800 look-up, reducing customer effort in all cases.

Guest Amenities and Excursions - the on-demand remote agent offers a great solution for the all-inclusive resort property. Consider the busy excursion desk at many sun-destination resorts. Placing placards throughout the resort with a QR code offering anything from reflexology to a snorkeling excursion, and spreading that load amongst the family of resorts, better utilizes hotel staff and again, reduces customer effort. It’s a great way for properties to grow revenue from their amenities while being mindful of economies of scale.

Regardless of the application, one of the standout features of the remote agent is the flexibility it offers to customers. Once the customer accesses the web app via the QR code, they can select to connect with agents via text, voice, or video call. As the call evolves, they can easily switch between text, voice, or video contact options as per their preference. As the customer enters their request to contact, the application will capture key information such as the guest’s name, booking references, and other pertinent information that can ensure the agent is well-suited to deal with the request. Each agent also has easy access and visibility to all previous interactions made with the customer.

Customers can reach out to the venue using a standard web-based solution. The back end of the solution ensures that agents have quick access to up-to-date customer and airport information from a single desktop application.

While the on-demand remote agent cannot eliminate wait times, businesses can offer entertaining videos or provide FAQ information to callers in the queue. Anticipating that callers on smartphones get distracted by other applications, remote agent systems alert staff if and when a customer is available for the interaction or whether they are engaged with another app. Furthermore, agents can prompt customers to return to the remote agent page when they are ready to connect.

Providing world-class customer satisfaction is the goal of almost every consumer brand. New tools that promise to transform the customer experience while considering the economics of scale make that goal more achievable.


Rob McDougall is the driving force behind Upstream Works Software as CEO. Upstream Works provides best-in-class omnichannel contact center solutions to increase customer engagement and agent success. Rob’s passion for making the agent experience better is evident with the company’s “agent first” approach. Upstream Works helps bring the customer journey together across all digital channels, applications, and platforms with desktop elegance.

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