By Craig Farley, Head of Consulting, IPI
The travel industry has endured countless upheavals over the past few decades, be it economic crashes or erupting volcanoes, but the chaos caused by the rapid spread of Covid-19 has presented the industry with fresh and ongoing challenges.
One aspect of the travel industry that has seen numerous challenges as a result of the pandemic, is customer experience (CX). From handling a tsunami of concerns over cancelled flights and re-booking holidays to helping re-patriate UK citizens stranded abroad, contact centre customer service agents have handled their fair share of pressure. What’s more, after over a year of becoming more digital, customers expect to have more options than a phone line to resolve their queries – leaving contact centres and their agents to juggle learning new skills with managing an increase in queries and concerns.
From social media and chatbots to email and video calls, omnichannel and self-service technology have never been more popular and in-demand. But how can travel sector organisations leverage this shift in customer expectations for their benefit whilst also ensuring they are offering customers what they’re looking for?
Customers want and expect a multi-channel experience
Self-service technology such as phone apps, voice assistants, and chatbots are now part of our everyday life, none more so than during lockdown where being digital-first became the new norm. From retail to banking, customers now more than ever expect to have multiple ways to contact a brand if they have a query or concern. For the travel industry, checking into a flight at a tap of a button or speaking to a customer service representative over social media is expected as a given for many customers today.
Indeed, since 2017 major European airline KLM has upped its use of social media so that 40% of all communication is conducted via Facebook Messenger and 10% of its customers receive their boarding passes through the platform. The desire for social media is undeniable and KLM has since expanded this service to include WhatsApp. Other travel organisations are also embracing social media to further support customers – Airbnb, for example, has a dedicated twitter account just for resolving customer issues. The Irish Travel Agency, Tour America, has created an entire new brand, Zoom Holidays, that targets younger digital natives that make up an increasing number of its customers. Zoom Holidays allows customers to video chat agents who can resolve issues face-to-face or via screen-sharing – an idea borne specifically from lessons learnt during the pandemic. Having a multi-channel offering will also strengthen brand loyalty for travel organisations, something that has been challenged time and time again over the course of the pandemic. By providing customers with premium and accessible services, communications and experiences across the multiple channels they expect, travel brands can be sure their customers will remain loyal through thick and thin.
What’s more, as the younger generations of true digital natives bring an even stronger desire for self-service omnichannel CX to the travel industry, adopting innovative technology solutions brings travel organisations into the future that a growing cohort of their customers want to live in.
In the cloud era, omnichannel CX just makes sense
Cloud-based and hybrid working is here to stay, helping organisations to keep their operations running no matter where their workforce is based. For travel contact centres, cloud solutions have enabled agents to work from home and continue delivering exceptional CX throughout the pandemic. What’s more, contact centre cloud platforms offer a wide array of up-to-the minute features that truly lend themselves to an omnichannel CX.
Chatbots, for example, can be easily implemented in a cloud environment and are a reliable means for travel contact centres to engage with customers quickly and efficiently. Many customers also prefer being able to ask questions directly to a chatbot who can bring up answers in seconds without having to wait on hold.
According to a 2021 Contact Babel report, legacy communication channels are seeing a decrease in usage with email correspondence dropping 5.1% since 2017 and telephony dropping 1.5% since 2019. The same report shows customers moving their interest towards an omnichannel customer service solution with a forecasted growth of 3.6% for webchat use and 1% for social media from 2019 to 2021 alone. Chatbots – and other self-service and omnichannel tools, from video chat to social media – put a sense of power into the hands of customers and a cloud environment has never made it so easy.
Customer service agents will feel the benefits of omnichannel too
With the challenges facing the travel industry throughout the pandemic, delivering a smooth CX has had its hurdles – and customer service agents have been on the front line of handling the dramatic increase in concerns, complaints and queries.
Omnichannel solutions can help relieve some of this burden. Automated features like chatbots, for example, offer a quick and easy way to answer frequently asked questions and handle, simple, repetitive tasks such as updating addresses or contact details. By easing the workload on agents in this way, they can focus on more complicated customer queries that require their attention. Here, technologies like face-to-face video chat can be a huge helping hand to agents, especially when dealing with a distressed or upset customer, as seeing the face behind the voice creates a greater sense of empathy and human connection between agent, brand and customer.
In addition, by supporting customer service agents with the right tools to handle customer expectations, not only will travel organisations build a greater sense of input and trust in teams who might feel distant from each other through remote-working, but they are also empowering agents to put their full training to the test, leaving them engaged, productive and more able than ever to provide an exceptional CX.
Now is the time to embrace new technology
Holidays hold a special place in our hearts and perhaps more than ever, people are looking forward to a relaxing escape. The past year has been a challenge, but travel organisations willing to adopt greater agility with people, processes and technology, and show that they can meet customer expectations of providing an omnichannel CX will be the ones to hold on to customer loyalty.