60 Seconds with Alaska Airlines

60 Seconds with Alaska Airlines

During a recent visit to the Alaska Airlines customer care offices in Seattle, we had the opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Mileage Plan call center. If you’ve ever called to find out your mileage balance or ask a question about Mileage Plan, you’ve encountered the friendly voice of one of Alaska Airlines’ own employees asking you to select from a list of menu options. Theresa Miller is the voice behind the automated answering service and she is as friendly in person as she sounds on the recording.

The customer care office in Seattle not only supports Mileage Plan, it also supports Web, customer relations and baggage-related calls. Alaska Airlines reservations centers (Seattle, Boise, and a new facility in Phoenix) also play a critical role in supporting the Mileage Plan program. The MVP Gold desk is located in Phoenix and is dedicated to assisting the Mileage Plan’s elite customers with their travel needs. The dedicated service offered by the Gold desk is highly valued by Alaska’s best customers and considered one of the most valuable benefits of their elite status.

One customer care representative we talked with during our visit said people expect the call center to be located in another city, or even another country, and start telling her about the overcast skies and rain in Seattle. The Seattle-based customers are surprised when she says she knows because she can see the same weather out her window.

Alaska has started an effort to support calls in Spanish and has a small base of employees that speak the language with plans to increase this later in the year. The airline is also in the process of implementing a real-time, online application that will answer Mileage Plan questions — think of an avatar with frequent flyer knowledge.

Trudy Dobbins, a customer care supervisor, showed us around and we were able to ask her a few questions:

InsideFlyer
Does Alaska Airlines have a call center overseas?
Trudy Dobbins
We have a long-term relationship with an excellent vendor who assists us with online support and other tasks related to the customer care call center. They currently provide only minimal support by phone.

IF
Does Alaska Airlines have a way of monitoring the wait time for callers? What do you do to ensure that the calls are answered in a timely manner?
Dobbins
We closely monitor our projected call volumes, hold times, and also look for ways to improve our self help options via our automated call attendant system, online crediting, and very soon, a knowledge-based application residing on our Web site able to dynamically answer most frequent flyer related questions.

IF
Are there Mileage Plan specialists or is everyone trained to help members?
Dobbins
Everyone on our team is trained to assist our customers with all of their Mileage Plan needs. This excludes reservations, which are handled by our dedicated reservations call centers as earlier referenced.

IF
When is your busiest day of the week and time of day? When is the best time for Mileage Plan members to call?
Dobbins
Mondays and Tuesdays are typically our busiest days while Wednesday through Friday (2pm-5pm PST) have lighter call volumes. The days following a monthly e-statement drives higher call volumes.

IF
Now that Mileage Plan members have to pay an extra 5,000 miles to book award tickets via reservations, have you noticed fewer calls for award reservations?
Dobbins
We have seen a significant increase in customers electing to book on the Web site, alaskaair.com.

IF
Alaska recently changed the MVP Gold reservation line to be available 24/7. Why the extended hours? What are the reservation call center hours in general?
Dobbins
We felt it was important to provide assistance to customers at any time of the day. With travel across the country and into Canada and Mexico, there is always a plane in the air. The general reservations call center hours are daily 5am to midnight, PST.

IF
What is the most common Mileage Plan complaint?
Dobbins
Customers anxious to see a growing mileage balance, will call to ensure that their most recent partner or flight activity has posted. It’s probably important to note that our online crediting tool on the Web site for Alaska/Horizon flights is really a popular feature.

IF
And, the oddest question you’ve received?
Dobbins
We had a customer who wanted to transport a very large stuffed elephant in the seat next to him. He had purchased a seat for the large toy and wanted to ensure it received mileage.

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