The days of consumers heading to their local travel agency peaked more than two decades ago due in large part to the rapid adoption of online travel booking. During the industry’s top years in the mid-1990s, there were more than 30,000 retail travel agency locations across the United States. Today, that number has been cut in half. Although bookings through traditional brick-and-mortar travel agencies have diminished, interestingly there has recently been an increase in bookings at larger leisure agencies with regional or national travel contact centers.
Understanding Today’s Traveler
With ever-changing security issues, airline mergers, promotions, incentive programs, rules, and policies, travel is more complex than ever. There is no doubt that experienced, informed travel agents offer tremendous value to travelers who need assistance with booking trips. Although do-it-yourself booking websites are popular with consumers who are willing to take the time to search for deals, most consumers simply don’t have the patience for comparison shopping. According to a study by the I.B.M. Institute for Business Value, more than 20 percent of travelers surveyed stated that it took them more than five hours to search and book travel online.
Today’s traveler who dials a contact center for help is seeking convenience, expertise, and up-to-the-minute information. They are educated and aware because of the Internet and may even compare options online before escalating their query to the contact center level.
Offer Greater Personalization
Because there are countless online options for booking flights, hotels, cruises, and package tours, consumers expect that they will get a more personalized experience when they call a travel contact center. Providing agents with callers’ preliminary digital interactions that take place before calling can help provide a more personalized customer experience (CX). For example, an integrated CRM solution can capture details on what website pages a customer viewed so that the agent can tailor information and offerings based on this data.
Leverage Big Data
Big data is a popular buzz word these days and one that certainly applies to the travel industry. By leveraging big data technology, airlines, hotels, cruise companies, travel agencies, and others gain an opportunity to collect, identify, and analyze a wide range of disparate types of data to help customers with what they currently want and what they may want in the future.
Work towards Omnichannel
The average travel contact center now has five or more digital and voice channels. Customers are using multiple channels (sometimes at once) and want seamless engagement between them. Legacy contact center systems do not have the level of integration required to enable customers to have low effort journeys. Thus, the investment in an updated system has become a must for supporting how customers now want to engage with travel-related businesses. For example, British Airways uses consumer insights from their website and loyalty program to generate exclusive offers to targeted customers.
Offer Time Savings
Because customers are calling a travel contact center to save time that would otherwise be spent on online travel sites, it’s important to value customers’ time during voice interactions. This includes reducing on hold times, providing a call back option and optimizing the IVR system to minimize time and frustration.
The travel and tourism industry was valued at nearly 2.5 trillion dollars last year. Both consumers and businesses spend on accommodations, transportation, entertainment, and attractions. Those businesses that are able to offer a great customer experience provided by a highly efficient team of engaged agents will be positioned to capture market share from one of the world’s largest, yet always changing industries.
One of the most important ways to sustain service levels is to provide ongoing education and training for agents. This must include soft skills, product knowledge, and brand understanding. As well, sales training can provide the essentials necessary to successfully upsell and cross-sell to give agents the skills to build rapport, personalize the call, identify needs, handle customer resistance, and successfully close.
Provide Mobile Capabilities
Customers are increasingly using handheld, internet-enabled devices to make travel plans. Thus, it only makes sense to provide options for connecting via smartphones and tablets. This can include click-to-call buttons on websites, video IVR, and mobile apps.
Customers rely heavily on the companies they choose for their travel needs for real-time updates. Whether this is a flight delay, a drop in a cruise price, or a travel warning, having a solution for delivering proactive messages is essential for being successful.
Integration between the Contact Center and Other Divisions
Siloed departments and divisions is particularly damaging in a fast moving industry like travel. Integration between the contact center, marketing, billing, and other relevant departments is necessary for agents to be able to do their jobs successfully.
The travel industry, as well as travel contact centers, are rapidly evolving. Signs point to increasing multichannel journeys, more use of digital channels, and the need for even greater personalization. Those businesses that are able to adapt and stay one step ahead of their competitors when it comes to customer service will be the industry leaders positioned for future success.