The web has dramatically changed the travel industry, enabling customers to easily research and book the separate components of their break, rather than visiting high street travel agents. Organisations have had to adapt as consumers increasingly look for tailored holidays rather than ‘one size fits all’ packages.
But the impact of technology hasn’t stopped. The rise of mobile and social media channels have made it simple for customers to give immediate, visible feedback on every aspect of their holiday – from the flight and accommodation to the restaurants they eat in and the tourist sites they visit.
Online review sites, such as TripAdvisor, are now the first port of call for many researching their break. And recent TripBarometer research from the company illustrates the importance of delivering an excellent customer experience across the travel and leisure industry:
- 93% of worldwide travellers say online reviews have an impact on their booking decisions
- 95% of UK properties say reviews are important for booking
- Over half (51%) of travellers worldwide have written a review of accommodation after a trip
- 82% of UK properties invite guests to submit reviews, and 70% respond to negative online reviews
- 79% of UK properties actively monitor social media
TripAdvisor is obviously not a new site, but mobile is making it much easier for travellers to provide immediate feedback – rather than having to wait until they return home and access the internet via their PC. The TripBarometer study found that 47% of UK travellers browse the web using mobile devices during their break, and 34% post updates on social networks.
So travel companies are under unprecedented scrutiny. So how can they deliver a consistent, high quality experience that meets the needs of an ever-more demanding customer base? Based on Eptica’s experience working with travel companies including AirAsia and TUI, here are five key areas to focus on:
1 Embrace social media
Monitoring social media for mentions of your company, hotel or airline and responding quickly is vital. But ensure it is integrated with your overall customer service strategy, rather than forming a separate silo or team. This means that customers receive a consistent experience, however they decide to contact you.
2 Make it mobile
The rise of smartphones and tablets mean that travellers now want to contact you through mobile devices. Make sure your website is mobile optimised, and decide whether you need to create mobile apps for customer service. When leading low cost airline AirAsia introduced its own mobile customer service app, it quickly generated 2 million downloads, making it the No 1 selling app in the iPhone App store for Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. As the app shares the same Eptica knowledgebase as the rest of AirAsia’s channels, customers benefit from immediate, consistent answers, in the palm of their hand.
3 Let customers help themselves
Customers researching their holiday online have potentially limitless choice and want as much information as possible to help make their decision. Rather than forcing them to break the customer journey by calling or emailing to find out more, provide web self-service systems that allow customers to find answers online to common questions. This reduces the strain on your contact centre, allowing agents to focus their efforts on more complex enquiries.
4 Join up your channels
Customers hate having to repeat themselves, so ensure that you share customer information across channels. Practically this could be as simple as letting hotel front desk staff know about a customer issue raised on social media about their property, meaning they can solve the problem face to face without it needing escalation.
5 Incentivise good service
Service is at the heart of a good travel experience. Incentivise and congratulate staff who receive good online reviews. While it seems obvious, TripAdvisor found that only 38% of UK properties rewarded staff for positive reviews.
From the start the aim has been to provide updates and opinions on the customer service market, highlight best practice and show how customer needs are changing. And the market has definitely been transformed. We’ve moved from multichannel to omnichannel and new (at the time) technologies such as mobile and social media have matured to be central to the customer experience offered by every organisation.
The good news is that how companies interact with their customers has never been more important – businesses recognise that good service delivers increased sales and greater loyalty.
Since April 2011 we’ve had an incredible 31,120 views of our 195 blog posts. This means more people have viewed the blog than the population of Monaco! On a monthly basis the average is 1,200 views, a figure which is still growing. And while the UK makes up 36% of the readership, we’ve had visitors from 148 countries around the world. 15% of views come from the US, 5% India and 4.5% France.
We’ve looked through our archives and put together a list of the top 5 blog posts from the past two years:
1 Email customer service – why does it have to be so hard?
Research from the 2011 Eptica UK Multichannel Customer Service Study found that the UK’s top 100 companies were failing to deliver adequate service on the email channel. Unfortunately when we repeated the research in 2012, we found that email service had further deteriorated.
2 The key trends for customer service 2012
Based on presentations from the Eptica International Customer Summit, this post looked at the consumer and company customer service trends for 2012. Take a look through the post – the majority of the points are equally valid today for organisations looking to offer an excellent customer experience.
3 The cost of customer service failure
Fail to answer a customer’s question on one channel and they will either move to a competitor – or migrate to a more expensive channel. The result? Higher costs and angry customers. Recent research from Forrester backs up this post – 60% of customers switched from the web to the email or phone channels if they couldn’t find an answer to their question online, while 17% went to a competitor.
4 AirAsia mobile customer service app is a bestseller
With over 50% of the population now owning a smartphone, mobile is front of mind for customer experience teams. Leading low cost airline AirAsia has pioneered mobile customer service with an Apple iPhone app that relies on that same Eptica knowledgebase as other channels to provide customers with a consistent, accurate response to their queries.
5 Who should run social customer service?
Customers increasingly want to use social media to interact with businesses. With potentially thousands of customer interactions on networks such as Twitter and Facebook, which department within a company should be in charge of social customer service? The blog looks at different approaches and comes up with some recommendations for keeping customers happy.
As always, do let us have your feedback – what’s been your favourite post and why?
With the English weather remaining drab and grey and Easter coming up, many people are looking to book their summer holidays. But how they do it has changed dramatically over the last ten years due to the internet. The traditional trip to the High Street travel agent has been replaced by the web, which provides virtually unlimited choice of countries, flights, destinations and places to stay.
According to new research only 7% of holidaymakers booked their last break via a shop, with 23% booking direct with the hotel or accommodation’s own website and 27% using web-based travel agencies. The market has been transformed. The latest example of how this change is affecting the travel industry came this week when Thomas Cook announced it would shut 195 shops across the UK.
The web, and particularly the rise of social media, is also driving another major change in the travel industry. The ability to share experiences, whether through social networks or review sites such as TripAdvisor is now incredibly fast and simple – and with the rise of the mobile internet you can post comments before your holiday has even finished.
1 Deliver comprehensive answers
People want their holidays to be relaxing and memorable (in a good way). So they have lots of questions before they book. Therefore make sure your website provides comprehensive answers, and look at investing in web self-service systems to improve the experience.
2 Speed of response
With the amount of choice available competition is intense. So when consumers do contact you they want a fast response – fail to answer their email quickly and they may well give up and book in at your rival hotel down the road.
3 Offer a personal service
A good travel agent understands what a customer wants and helps them choose the holiday that is right for them. This need hasn’t gone away, but in today’s world contact is likely to be via phone and instant channels, such as web chat. Arm your agents with as much information as possible about customers, such as their browsing history, and give them access to a knowledgebase of answers so they can provide informed, relevant advice.
4 Be social
There is no point hiding from the power of social media. Holidaymakers are now used to sharing their experiences and asking questions online, so it is better to embrace social media by monitoring networks and providing fast answers to customer complaints. Fail to respond and a minor issue could quickly escalate into a reputational disaster.
5 Join up customer service
There is no point offering an excellent experience on the web or phone and then failing to deliver when a holidaymaker arrives. Make sure your systems are joined up so that any special requests are seamlessly passed to hotel or resort staff and they have a proper record of all previous discussions. After all nothing annoys a customer more than having to repeat themselves.
The travel industry has been revolutionised by the internet. Moving forward the companies that survive and thrive will be those that deliver the best service across every channel to best meet holidaymakers’ needs.
The current wintry conditions are leading to treacherous driving conditions, travel disruption and the closure of thousands of schools across the UK. It is also having a major impact on customer service. Contact centres are receiving an increased volume of calls, emails and tweets from consumers looking for information, complaining about delays and seeking help.
- Retailers – calls from consumers checking on delivery of their online orders
- Garages/motoring organisations – repairing/recovering broken down and stuck vehicles
- Insurance companies – increased claims for road accidents and damage to property
- Utilities/plumbers – calls to unfreeze water pipes and repair boilers
- Schools – worried parents asking whether they are going to be open or not
- Councils – calls about disruption to services
- Doctors/healthcare workers – not just a greater number of accidents but calls from patients that can’t make it into surgeries or hospital for appointments
If poor weather continues, the customer service impact deepens – in an era of just in time deliveries disruption to roads will hit manufacturing and the supply of food to shops. And customer service managers will have to handle increased calls with (potentially) many of their staff unable to make it into work due to the weather.
So how can companies ensure that customers still receive the highest levels of service, despite the weather? Here are five top tips from Eptica:
1 Cover all the channels
Consumers get their information through an ever-widening variety of channels, from the phone, web, social media, mobile and email to listening to the radio, watching television and visiting your branches. Cover all of these channels with the latest information, and don’t neglect any. All companies should have a crisis plan in place on how to deal with adverse weather conditions that includes quickly mobilising multichannel responses.
2 Be consistent
The danger with communicating through multiple channels is that different messages are issued. Avoid this by having a single, centralised knowledgebase that delivers answers that can be adapted for each channel (such as being shortened for Twitter) but remain consistent.
3 Keep communicating
Conditions change quickly so make sure you are continually updating information for consumers. And time stamp updates so people know when they were issued, and be clear when the next update will be published.
4 Make it easy to find information
With potentially fewer customer service staff at their desks, and consumers wanting to find out information 24 hours per day, embrace self-service to help people find information. Web self-service allows customers to ask questions and get fast answers online – avoiding the need to call or email. Add a self-service option to your Facebook page, using the same centralised knowledgebase, so that consumers can ask questions through their channel of choice.
5 Be social, engage – and apologise
With travel plans disrupted, many people turn to social media to vent their frustrations. Therefore as well as broadcasting updates (such as delays/cancellations of trains) make sure you are monitoring for aggrieved customers. Take the time to engage with them and apologise, even if the weather conditions mean problems are out of your control.
With snow an annual event, consumers rightly expect organisations to be prepared – so make sure your customer service delivers, whatever the weather.
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