The experience economy is booming. Last year, people traveling to and within the U.S. spent over $990 billion—roughly $20 billion more than the year prior. If the past is any indication, Q1 2018 will kick off a record-setting year. At the same time, travel customer service will be tested like never before.
Consumers looking to escape the winter doldrums or plan for summer vacation might engage travel companies only during peak season, or perhaps two or three times throughout the year. Nevertheless, they expect the same hassle-free, high-touch service they receive from industries they deal with daily.
This is a big challenge for the travel industry. It’s tough to use data to personalize the travel customer service experience when customers rarely travel and often take a fragmented approach to travel planning.
Even AI, which travel companies are increasingly relying on to personalize the experience, has its limits. Chatbots and self-service tools can’t solve complex problems, and they couldn’t care less—the two primary reasons travelers reach out to customer service representatives.
Ultimately, service excellence is about emphasizing the human element on the front line: authenticity, concern, flexibility, and ownership of the service experience. Brands that do this best are the ones that make an indelible and lasting impression.
In 2017, The Values Institute ranked Southwest, Marriott, and Hilton among the top five most trusted brands based on five “C-Trust” variables: consistency, competence, candor, concern, and connection. Common to all three brands, from both a cultural and business standpoint, is a heartfelt investment in the people they employ and the people they serve.
So how can you set yourself up for customer service success in Q1 2018 and throughout the year? What will it take to rise above the “sea of sameness” and humanize your brand?
Understand what your front-line teams need to deliver excellence, and give them exactly that.
5 Best Practices That Will Distinguish Your Travel Customer Service
Given the changing nature of customer service contacts, consumers’ emotional and financial investment in their travel experiences, and the value travelers place on quick, meaningful resolution, your contact center is teeming with opportunities to create customers for life. To ensure those opportunities don’t slip away, you must commit to the following best practices.
1. Plan for peak call volumes.
We’ve written about this issue as it relates to the retail industry, but it’s just as relevant for our travel industry clients. When the contact center is overwhelmed by high call volumes during the Q1 busy season, your customers will feel the pain. Make sure you have detailed plans in place to deal with expected and unexpected surges in volume, and communicate regularly with other teams whose operations might affect call volumes.
2. Understand exactly what’s happening on the front line.
When it comes to measuring customer sentiment, NPS® and traditional customer satisfaction surveys can give you an overall temperature reading. What they can’t do is provide precise data on every single interaction in near real time, which agent-level survey programs can. Feedback from the front line not only reinforces agents’ positive behaviors, but also gives managers the information they need to provide micro-coaching in the moment.
3. Strengthen your onboarding and training programs.
What does the ideal service experience look like? What kinds of inquiries should your agents expect? Prepare and equip your front-line team to address customer issues and questions related to your offerings, policies, and promotions and to achieve resolution during the initial contact. Emphasize brand values—the “why” behind your service standard—as well as revenue-driving behaviors (offer to complete transaction, etc.). Revisit and adjust your training as needed based on front-line survey data, seasonal changes, and evolving business strategies.
4. Optimize your QA program.
As we explain in our eBook “Doing Contact Center QA the Right Way,” QA programs don’t drive continual performance improvements based on one or two captured calls. By using a more representative sample taken from a steady stream of agent-level customer feedback, QA leaders will have what they need to conduct meaningful reviews and keep agents engaged in the process.
5. Motivate your team.
This is especially important in Q1, when your team is in a post-holiday slump and must contend with a flood of new service contacts. For contact center agents, the greatest motivator by far is seeing the impact they’re making on both the customers they serve and the brand’s image and growth. Contact center dashboards that display customers’ star ratings, kudos, and suggested rewards will keep your team focused on service goals, boost brand pride and morale, and encourage friendly competition.
Why Not Go Further to Connect with Travelers?
Customers who receive outstanding service are likely to share their experiences on social media. You can use that to your brand’s advantage by incorporating service-driven marketing into your front-line customer feedback requests.
Travelzoo did just that, asking customers who completed surveys to post tweets that included a promotional offer. During the initial pilot, which involved only a few select agents, the resulting membership growth and revenues from new bookings far exceeded Travelzoo’s expectations.
Like Travelzoo, more and more travel brands are turning their contact centers from cost centers into profit centers. Not only are agents connecting with customers on a deeper level and earning their loyalty through great service, but they’re closing the service-sales gap—both during the service engagement and long after.
Technology alone can’t achieve these ends. But your people can—and will do so eagerly—if you train, empower, and inspire them to bring your brand promise to life.