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Lessons We Can Learn From the Travel Industry’s Customer Service Woes

Today, the travel industry is riddled with mounting customer service woes, frustrations amid rising delays and cancellations. With summer travel plans at an all-time high, travel horror stories are becoming much too common as customers wait on hold for hours to receive help with vanishing luggage, rebookings, delays and cancellations. Meanwhile, employees’ burnout is at a crisis level due to staff shortages, difficult working conditions and unhappy customers.

Consumer summer vacation spending in 2022 is expected to reach $194 billion (a 26% increase from 2021) while flight cancellations are escalating every week and hotels continue to be severely understaffed, according to a survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Many airlines are offering passengers thousands of dollars to give up their seats on oversold flights — even as much as $10,000!

This demand-led pressure is a recipe for disaster if organizations fail to have a seamless, scalable customer experience strategy in place.

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A mistake many businesses make, and one most recently highlighted in the travel industry, is that technology infrastructure is not designed with the goal to delight customers through great experiences. Instead, the focus is on providing reactive support as efficiently as possible.

To transition this approach, organizations need to evolve from being business-centric to people-centric. This takes intelligent AI-based tools, digital channels, automation and connected data. When this is done right, organizations can engage customers seamlessly and remove friction when unforeseen circumstances inevitably occur.

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Here are three strategies businesses can implement to deliver a great customer experience: 

Make It Easy to Get Service and Reduce Customer Service Woes

The travel industry is notorious for burying contact information when it should be front and center. Mostly, this is done to keep call volume to a minimum. Instead of making customers search endlessly for a way to get service — which then leads to frustration-fueled experiences when contact is finally made — companies should make at least one channel readily accessible and convenient.

Today, people of all generations have embraced digital, self-service tools, and businesses can use messaging apps, SMS and web chat to provide quick efficient support. One caution though, if someone starts service one way — like booking a ticket and choosing seats online — they don’t want to be sent to an agent to finish the process if it’s not necessary.

When it comes to self-service experiences, make them simple, fluid and proficient in helping your customers achieve their goals.

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Prioritize Asynchronous Communication

It’s important for customers to receive information as it happens so they can respond when it’s most convenient for them. And, that timeline could fall outside of the established 9-5 business day.

Adopting intelligent and automated processes that allow for instant communication with customers outside of normal business operating hours moves communication from being synchronous (one party is in control of the response/communication timeline) to asynchronous (both parties have flexibility and access to communicate at any time).

For example: It’s midnight on a Thursday and a hotel discovers they’ve overbooked rooms for the upcoming weekend. An automated system could immediately notify impacted customers, offering ways to rebook or receive a refund. Now, instead of only giving customers the option to interact during normal operating hours, they are rapidly made aware of the situation and can make alternate plans accordingly and at their convenience.

Additionally, companies should adopt AND vs OR communication strategies and be unafraid to open multiple communication channels. Customers can call, message, OR email with the ability to communicate this way AND that way through various access points. If their preferred method of communication isn’t available, the customer will probably take their business elsewhere.

Have a Single, Insightful View of the Customer

Often, consumers begin using one channel to engage with a business and then move to another when their situation escalates. Context about the customers’ last interaction, history and preferences should follow them to ensure a connected, personalized experience.

A customer shouldn’t have to repeat the same information they already provided to a bot via their mobile app if passed to an agent for resolution. Intelligent technology should analyze available data like personal identifiers, call locations, account history, etc. to identify who is on the line and how best to handle their inquiry.

If a customer is notified of a flight cancellation through their app, and there is an option to transition to a call, their flight number or other identifiers should be passed to a customer service agent who already has context about the problem. Connecting data and systems are fundamental requirements for orchestrating experiences that meet consumers’ expectations today

Customers Are More Than a Transaction

In the travel industry and beyond, all companies should keep in mind that customers want to connect with brands the same way they connect with friends and family. They want to be known, understood and supported. This requires businesses to have the intelligence and capabilities to listen, process insights and act in real time so they can provide proactive and predictive experiences built around individual customers’ needs.

This ultimately will help build trust, foster brand loyalty, and prove to consumers they are more than a transaction. When both parties feel digitally empowered throughout their entire journey together, the customer and employee experience go from woe to wow.

[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]

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