The development of a smartphone app will be key to Jetstar coping with customer inquiries in the event of a disaster, according to the airline's head of distribution Alex Knigge.
Knigge today told an audience at the G-Force 2011 Conference in Melbourne that Jetstar has lived through seven natural disasters in the last 12 months.
"We had small ones and absolutely massive ones such as the ash cloud, where we cancelled 30 per cent of our flights," he said.
When the volcanic ash cloud disrupted flights across the globe earlier this year, Jetstar saw an increase in the number of calls to its contact centre by 2000 per cent. While the airline would normally take around 300,000 calls from customers per month, this increased at the peak of the cloud's effect to 732,514 in one week.
Through the Engage Genesys cloud platform deployed by Jetstar, the contact centres were able to prioritise certain calls in order of necessity, as well as allowing customers to rebook flights using speech-recognition services. Jetstar also used virtual hold queues to call customers back when the next operator was available.
Jetstar would otherwise not be able to cope with such a large volume of demand, he said.
"If you get above certain thresholds, a call centre will never be able to handle 200 per cent increases."
The only other way to deal with spikes, he said, would be to shift customers to mobile apps or online.
"There's huge opportunities for airlines in the smartphone space, and nobody has really nailed that," he said.
One such app would allow customers to rebook their flights at no cost in the event of a disaster.
"We can give the customers the ability to rebook themselves [rather than calling the call centre]."
Knigge said that 30 per cent of all Jetstar customers encounter some problem with the airline at some time; "it could be a tiny little problem, or it could be a big problem". The key to minimising this would be to eliminate the margin for human error. An example of this, in his view, was the roll-out of Jetstar's self check-in service.
But Knigge admitted that technology wasn't just about reducing the margin of error — it also saved the low-budget airline money.
"We cannot spend as much as Qantas or the banks in terms of resources," he said.
Josh Taylor travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Genesys.