Industry Update
Opinion Article16 January 2018

Innovating to meet the service demands of the traveling customer

By Wynand Smit, Chief Executive Officer at INOVO

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Arranging a vacation is often categorized as a stressful activity – from the planning process to the booking and traveling, enjoying the "holiday of a lifetime" can be disrupted by a number of factors. Some factors are out of customers' control, while others can be addressed by companies responsible for ensuring that your customers' experiences match their expectations. Often the infrastructure, support and services relating to the provision of customer service can make or break the customer experience.

Let's say the customer is planning on flying to a destination, staying in a ho tel and perhaps even booking transport, tours and restaurants. Those activities all seem quite disparate, but each one carries pain points that can be addressed.

The flying customer

Customers who are flying may find that circumstances require them to change flight details. Airlines and travel agents should ensure that their customers are able to do this seamlessly, even if in another country. The entire process from researching flights, and the journey, to picking up luggage after arrival should be smooth and painless. For example, it may not be possible for customers on the road to print out contracts, vouchers or tickets – are digital processes set up to accommodate the customer and any last-minute changes that need to be made to an itinerary?

This also raises a broader question when it comes to catering for travelers - banks and credit card issuers, are your customers able to resolve any issues (such as a stolen card or fraudulent activity) re motely? If not, you're placing them in the position of possibly not having access to funds while traveling – with devastating effects. They may not be able to call you via voice calls, so how can your customer resolve this efficiently and securely? Is an international toll-free number provided or an online chat facility available? A further consideration is time differences – in an emergency, does your customer have to wait for local business hours to secure their account or can they freeze their account immediately via a self-service option? Real-time interactions should be available and accessible to help your business provide the kind of service your customers expect.

Hotels and hospitality

Mobile-driven interactions will ensure that you're ahead of your game, with apps that can facilitate the booking, check-in and in-property experience. Not only will your customer be empowered to do more of these processes on their own, saving themselves time, you'll also free up your company's time, as you won't have to have as many contact centre agents handling interactions. Self-service options range from checking statements to having chatbots or virtual assistants on hand to help customers.

Since a hotel stay may involve a number of processes, all channel activity (voice, email, chat, online, messaging) should be centralized, so if your customer makes enquiries via a voice call, then books via email and receives a confirmation via SMS, all of that information about your customer should be in one place. The customer intelligence gained in this way will allow you to personalise your offering, too.

An important facet of hospitality is feedback, and you want this to be centralized too, even if it's done on the property, the data should be captured and analysed to see if there are processes that can be enhanced for customer service improvements. Ideally this feedback and analysis should be available in re al-time, enabling establishments to make amends and fix any issues as they arise, winning over disgruntled customers in the process.

This has a long-term and potentially strategic application too. Let's say customers consistently complain about a lack of information or a clunky process that clouds the customer experience – you can then develop a more systematic approach to providing information and streamlining that process – via a dedicated application, for example.

Peak season management

In peak travel season, it makes sense that a company whose business offering is travel-related will have more staff on hand. Workforce management tools in contact centres handling customer service queries or bookings can forecast what staffing requirements are according to previous years, aiding in providing enough agents to manage and resolve queries efficiently. This could also help a business reduce overstaffing costs by ensuring that the right number o f agents (with the right skill set) are available at the right time to cope with the number of interactions during any given period.

A further consideration is crisis management: if, for example, your airline company is suddenly grounded at multiple destinations owing to a volcanic ash cloud in the atmosphere, will your systems and contact centre agents be able to cope with increased interactions? Setting up a simple recording that plays as customers call your contact centre could notify customers of the steps required to rebook their flight when the air clears for safe air travel. This could help manage and decrease the number of incoming calls from distressed travelers that reach live agents, freeing up the workforce to deal with other more complex tasks and in doing so, provide a more efficient service to customers.

The holiday season should be one that's stress-free and fun, it's worth doing all you can to offer your customers the best possible expe rience.

Wynand Smit

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    Irvine Partners
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