Published on Monday, February 6, 2017
Faced with so many ways to communicate with their customers, how do travel companies find the right balance between technology and human contact? Graham Ede, Yonder Digital Group, shares his views...
"Today's travellers clearly enjoy sharing their experiences on multiple online platforms. More than 85% carry their smartphone with them when travelling and many begin posting before their journey begins, and continue well afterwards appending the #latergram hashtag to their posts. Faced with this onslaught of online opinion, travel companies are easily seduced by customer service solutions that are partially or totally automated and therefore promise to make the process leaner and faster.
Automated tools that can manage multiple touch points are becoming ever more sophisticated and widely used. Consumers are now accustomed to artificial intelligence chatbots and robotic voices at the other end of the phone line. While these tools are valuable, they cannot be relied upon to manage customer queries alone and without human input.
When it comes to problem-solving or voicing complaints, customers want the option of speaking to someone directly. This is not to say that they do not turn to social media or chatbots first; they may have had multiple interactions before picking up the phone.
For instance, one customer may be happy to change a flight with a chatbot, as long as they receive an email confirmation afterwards. If something goes wrong, it's highly likely they will then pick up the phone to sort it out: only 18% of consumers turn to online chat as an alternative to telephone for fast resolution of customer service issues.
Cutting human input out of this customer's experience would be disastrous. A study by Accenture show 83% of consumers who switched providers say if companies could provide better live or in-person support, they may have retained their business. A clear understanding of the customer journey enables the intervention of a live agent at the right moment.
Quite often the problem is that when a customer does pick up the phone, the customer services representative has no record of any prior interactions the customer has had with the company. This means the customer must start explaining the issue from the beginning, instead of continuing seamlessly with their journey.
On the other hand, consumers quickly turn to social media when they are unhappy with the services they receive. This is a clear opportunity for companies to address a problem, ultimately retaining a customer and securing future business. Yet 55% of customer requests for service on social media are not acknowledged, never mind resolved.
Technology should be used to prepare agents by providing a fuller picture of the customer's preferences and their history with the company. This enables agents to respond quickly and more effectively, and even to go the extra mile by sending information via the customer's favoured method, or offering another travel solution that corresponds to their needs.
It is now the norm for travellers to use multiple channels to express an opinion. That doesn't mean human interaction between a company representative and a customer is obsolete. The difference is that companies should be able to provide more continuity between live and digital interactions, to maximise the effectiveness of their customer services."
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The recent insolvency of Low Cost Travel Group, one of the large players in the travel industry had a big impact on the travelers, hotels and all related players from both wholesale & retail arms. There were about 27,000 people on a holiday who had booked through the company comprised of a €200 million wholesale arm and €500 million OTA / retail arm.