According to a recent survey by Discover, 7 out of 10 Americans will take to the roadways, railways and airways for some kind of vacation this summer. Given the changeable nature of travel, there will certainly be an uptick in customer service calls. And I’ll make a prediction: this summer’s travel season will bring new and unique customer service challenges that, unlike in years past, are completely solvable with the right technology and strategic partner guiding your organization.
So, let’s start with one of the key challenges in the travel industry: simply maintaining excellent customer service during the high season of June through September. High demand, with customers asking seemingly constant questions about everything from how they can easily change their flights, to why they are not eligible for marketed reduced rates, to upgrades that might be available for hotel rooms, can spread resources thin. Yet, being stretched for support is no excuse for low service quality in the eyes of customers.
Recent research shows that not only do customers expect exceptional service – they expect it fast. In fact, “fast” is probably not entirely accurate. “Immediate” is the better word to use, with 82 percent of consumers saying they expect a response to their questions about marketing, sales, or general customer support within 10 minutes or less, no matter the channel they are on. Brands need to turn to emerging technologies in order to keep up with these customer expectations. The truth is that computers can oftentimes solve customer questions more quickly than people, so automation in the form of voice assistants and chatbots should be used to speed up the customer service journey. These technology-enabled solutions can be made available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, oftentimes on different channels and in customer preferred languages. This means that brands can meet customers where they already are, cutting down on time and effort required by the customer.
In looking at the 2019 summer travel season more specifically, another challenge customer service needs to be prepared for is helping those who are actually not currently planning to take a summer trip. Bankrate.com found that many are skipping out on traveling because they simply cannot afford it. Herein lies an immense opportunity to have efficient customer service contribute to the overall cost of running the business. And these cost savings could be passed on to the customer to make vacations more affordable. Indeed, solutions are available in the market that help transform call centers to personalized, cost-effective, loyalty producing centers of excellence.
One of the factors that I believe shows we are on the cusp of a full revolution in the customer service sector is the fact that a lot has changed since the days of “the customer is always right”. Supply and demand has started ebbing and flowing based on many unpredictable outside factors, like the overarching job market. In response, businesses have routinely turned to using insights from customer calls to sell the products they need to, versus helping customers find solutions that will make their lives easier and less stressful. What we have seen in our own work transforming customer experiences is that using data to sell based on the “ebb and flow” approach is not a solution that will keep customers around for the long run. People can easily find quicker and cheaper solutions elsewhere – and they will not hesitate to leave even a beloved brand if they do not experience great service that puts their needs first.
The best way to build long-term loyalty and lasting relationships with customers is to strategically combine the traditional approach of putting the customer first, coupled with advanced intelligence. For the travel industry this summer, this can be boiled down to one main charge for customer service representatives: we need to point customers in the direction of products and services that can help them save money, and experience the summer trip of their dreams. With this in mind, travel customer service representatives must rely on both technology and the human element of their jobs because “few – if any – jobs can be fully automated using machine learning,” according to experts from MIT. Agents must be able to identify the real intent of each customer call, which requires insightful voice-based technology on the other end of the phone. This is certainly easier said than done, especially when considering “rapid recognition of customer intent” topped the list of reasons brands were looking to deploy speech analytics in their customer service operations in 2018 – but it is well worth the investment. Real-time insights shared via backend technology allow those in customer-facing roles in the travel industry to quickly acknowledge the problem a customer is facing and – even more importantly – take the appropriate next best action to solve those problems.
It is time that we take on the challenges of delivering excellent customer service head-on – and a good time to do that is going to be during the upcoming summer months. Redefining customer experiences is not easy, but it will be in embracing technology, automation, and analytics that businesses in all industries, not just the travel sector, can start shifting to a proactive approach to service that always puts the customer first, above all else.
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