The internet has transformed the travel sector, as holidaymakers can now book the separate components of their break online, rather than having to go through high street travel agencies. But in such a competitive market, customer service and fast responses to consumer enquiries across multiple channels are vital if travel companies are going to thrive.
However research carried out as part of the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study indicates that many consumers are suffering from poor service, with a growing disconnect between the email and web channels.
The study found that travel companies could only answer 30% of customer questions emailed to them. In contrast, their websites successfully provided responses to 63% of online enquiries (up from 54% last year). So, while web-based service in the travel sector is actually above average when compared with other industries, poor email response rates risk frustrating both passengers and holidaymakers.
The research evaluated 10 companies in the travel industry including airlines and package holiday companies as part of a wider study covering 100 companies from a range of sectors including insurance organisations and retailers from fashion, food and electronics. They were tested on their ability to provide answers to 10 routine sector specific questions on their web sites as well as their speed and accuracy when responding to enquiries sent via email, and links to social media.
The Study found that service over email is actually getting worse. Travel companies successfully responded to just 30% of customers’ email questions, compared with 50% a year earlier. And while an accurate email answer was received in 19 minutes from one travel company, it took another company 5 days to respond – not much use if you want information about a last minute break!
Comparing different types of travel company, we found that scheduled airline websites were able to successfully answer 66% of customer questions, performing slightly better that package operators (60%). These findings actually show a dramatic improvement from operators to narrow the gap – in the previous study the gap was 20%.
There was also positive news related to social media, with 80% of the travel businesses in the study providing links to Twitter and Facebook and 40% offering their own forums. However none of them linked customer service to social media, showing that this is an area for improvement.
You can see the full results in our infographic displayed below.
In an era of ever widening consumer choice, travel companies need to deliver fast, efficient and consistent customer service across multiple channels if they are to win and retain business. But as the Eptica Multichannel Customer Service Study shows, there’s a growing disconnect between response rates on email and the web that could affect the overall customer experience.
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.
Train operators are often the target of complaints of poor customer service. Indeed, the Eptica Social Customer Service Study found that 14% of those in the South East had taken to social media to criticise train companies. Add in recent, above inflation, fare rises and record numbers of passengers leading to overcrowding on some routes and you can see why many commuters are unhappy with the service that they receive.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Last year’s National Passenger Survey found that a record number (84%) of travellers were satisfied with their journey overall, with just 6% actively dissatisfied. The one area that declined was (unsurprisingly given fare rises) value for money, but as the industry points out rises are set by government. National Rail has just announced a £37 billion plan to overhaul services over the next five years, including a doubling of capacity, reduced journey time and a target of 90% customer satisfaction. Measures such as more access to real-time, ‘live’ updates on departure and arrival times at stations are a key part of this.
Like every consumer-facing business, rail companies continually need to look at improving customer service as expectations rise. Increased competition from options such as driving, taking the bus or flying all mean that passengers have a range of options to choose from.
There are obviously a lot of things (such as the British weather) outside the control of train operators, but here are four areas that they can look at to improve customer service.
Make information on your services (and fares) as easily available as possible. So as well as real time updates at stations make sure these are on the web or even sent via text or email to commuters with seats on particular trains in case of delay. Traditional channels such as briefing station staff and updating local radio also shouldn’t be ignored.
Make your website helpful
Choosing the right ticket from the multitude of options can be daunting. So ensure you provide the best possible customer experience on your website with a clear design that explains information clearly. Install web self-service so that passengers can ask questions in their own words and deploy web chat so that they can get answers to their enquiries without having to pick up the phone.
Make it consistent
A real bugbear for many passengers is receiving differing answers online, over the phone or at a station. Make sure you are delivering consistent information by underpinning all your customer communication with a single, easily updatable, knowledgebase that is available across all channels. In an era of tablets and smartphones, keeping your frontline staff in stations and on trains up to date should be a lot easier than before.
As we said social media is a favourite place for disgruntled passengers to complain. So make sure you have a presence on networks such as Facebook and Twitter and be prepared to provide updates and responses when people post about their experiences. Use social media in conjunction with other metrics to learn what needs changing and what really upsets your passengers. You can also use social media to publish updates on major disruption – however don’t overdo it by communicating constantly on minor issues.
Rail travel has never been more popular – delivering a superior customer experience is central to continuing the rise in passenger numbers, despite increasing fares.
There are lots of ways of measuring the customer experience, from First Contact Resolution rates to Net Promoter Scores. While these deliver useful data, companies also need to step into their customers’ shoes and see for themselves how good service is. Visit your own website and ask the same basic questions that customers do – is it easy to find the right information and do your online responses actually answer the question? If not, consumers will be forced to change channel and call or email your contact centre – or alternatively, will leave your site and head straight for your competitors.
At Eptica, we’ve used this customer focused methodology for several years to look at the state of UK online service. Our latest research report, the 2012 Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study, has just been released and demonstrates room for improvement when it comes to keeping customers satisfied.
100 leading companies in ten sectors were evaluated on their ability to provide answers to ten routine questions via the web, as well as their speed and accuracy when responding to email. Questions were tailored to each sector – so, for example one of the questions airlines were asked was “My flight was cancelled. How do I get a refund?”
The headline findings were that UK companies are struggling to deliver an adequate customer experience with websites only able to answer just over half (53%) of customer questions. While this is a slight improvement from the 50% answer rate of 2011, it does show there’s plenty of room for improvement.
There’s also a growing chasm between best and worst. For example fashion retailers could answer 75% of questions asked on their sites, while CD/DVD/Booksellers and food retailers scored just 40%. Worryingly given we asked the same questions as in 2011, 28% of companies performed worse than in 2012 – showing a real decline in the experience they are providing.
One thing that stood out in the 2012 Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study was the variation between different companies in the same sector. One food retailer successfully answered all ten customer questions on its website – but three other companies in the same sector could only score two out of ten.
This demonstrates two key points:
– Delivering the right customer experience online is achievable, and many companies are excelling at web customer service through sites that make it easy to access up to date, accurate information to answer customer questions.
– If you’re not providing the right information to customers, it is likely that your competitors are, meaning that you need to benchmark yourself against them and adopt best practice across your operations.
The 2012 Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study report is available for download here, with key findings summarised in this handy infographic. And we’ll be returning to the research over the next few weeks in the blog, drilling into the data to see the state of UK customer service, both in different industries and through channels such as email and social media. Let us know your feedback.
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