4 musts for the travel industry to ensure your CX flies first class

by | Dec 9, 2021 | Analysis, Public Relations

Planning a trip this year? Airports look different—and not only because of mask mandates. Traveling was a stressful adventure even before the pandemic. Now, health concerns, behavior expectations, increased travelers, labor shortages, and constantly changing policies and norms have dramatically increased that stress. Travelers have many new questions they need answered before confidently booking those trips we’re all desperate to take.

Brands that can address these concerns and manage inevitable hiccups in a trustworthy, convenient, and reliable way will win the next travel surge and establish a great reputation for years to come.

And the stakes are high. Fifty-four percent of consumers say most companies must improve their customer experience. For those getting it right, though, the rewards are hefty: 84 percent of companies that work to improve their CX report revenue increases.

What does first-class CX look like? While every moment of the journey matters, one of the most vulnerable spots for making or breaking customer experience sits within your four walls: your contact center. Below, we’re sharing four key pillars for architecting a strategy that will ensure your contact center is winning your customers’ love, not securing their exasperation.

Number one: Get serious about a digital-first contact center strategy

Getting it right starts with being available and prepared. You need to be able to have conversations with customers on the channels of their choice, whenever they need you, and be prepared to get them the fastest path to resolution.

Imagine you’re the traveler for a moment: you might have a simple but time-sensitive question (like you’ve gotten to the airport earlier than expected—are there any earlier flights you could stand by for?) or you could be in a real panic (like the time my family of five missed our once-a-day-only flight to visit my mother-in-law). If the airline makes it simple and intuitive, you can easily solve the first “problem” with a simple interactive voice response (IVR) or bot message that surfaces flight options. The second problem, I can tell you, took some serious human intervention to resolve—and I’m forever grateful!

It’s crucial your contact centers are equipped to apply the right resources to the right problems as they come in, and that means having one pane of glass across all customer interactions. With the right visibility, you can save your most valuable resource—your contact center agents—for the most complex and sensitive issues.

Set your agents up for success and you’ll see some major advantages:

  • Free up agent time. A self-service community (more below) helps anyone find relevant, verified, and recent answers. A bot answers simple questions and guides people to proper resources for more extensive issues. Midco’s Modern Chat is a great example of integrating humans and AI. The chatbot answers the most common questions; humans assist with complex queries.
  • Get better analysis. Chatbots detect signals in real-time a human otherwise couldn’t see. For example, a high page-per-session number could mean information is hard to find. Armed with those insights, brands boost their online customer experience.
  • Reach your customers wherever they are. SMS is a common touchpoint for airlines, with updates about flight-time adjustments or gate changes. Pay attention to every channel, though: voice, chat, email, social media, and more. Pair contact center conversations with other benefits (like a brand-owned app) to offer a seamless check-in experience or highlight additional member perks. Since 28 percent of users 18-29 only rely on their smartphone for the Internet, ensure they’re updated.
  • Easier upgrade selling. Airlines have additional products, packages, and services to sell. People might want a better seat but may not upgrade unless prompted. An agent can make that offer during the conversation through the same platform. If a customer reached out via Facebook or Twitter, they don’t need to leave to buy something additional. It’s right there for them.

Number two: Help customers help themselves

Thirty-nine percent of customers would rather clean a toilet than call customer service. Yes, that’s an indication of just how frustrating the customer experience usually is—but there’s another reason behind this trend. Customers increasingly prefer to find their own answers to questions or ask their peers for solutions instead of hearing from the brand.

But how can you create and publish the best knowledge for people when everything is constantly changing? There’s actually a simple way to maintain a living, breathing self-service hub full of curated, verified, and recent answers—and it’s almost as old as the internet itself.

I’m talking about online brand communities.

The average brand community deflects at least 10 percent of customer service inquiries by allowing customers to ask and answer questions in forums a service team controls, moderates, and fact checks. “How long is the wait at La Guardia security on a Friday morning?” “Do I still need to take off my shoes to get through security?”

Instead of your company being the single source of truth for thousands of repetitive questions for every airport, every week, rely on the thousands of customers that have recently completed their own travel adventures to help their fellow adventurers. Someone asks a question once; the community answers many times to keep it fresh. Advanced communities also incorporate bots to help users find relevant information even faster. The post adds SEO value to your brand, too, serving as a landing page for people typing that specific question into Google.

Number three: Embrace AI and machine learning

Despite movie efforts to portray otherwise, robots aren’t taking over our jobs and livelihoods. Instead, they’re making us more efficient.

Many customers are open to AI experiences—a chatbot or an automated SMS update—if it’s beneficial to them. Positive AI experiences include quick resolution of issues, swift and responsive interaction, and the ability to speak with a human representative.

Customers want whichever combination of AI and human interaction will resolve their issue quickly and with limited frustration. Bots help brands improve their self-service and operational agility via automated messages and virtual assistants.

Meanwhile, machine learning helps your brand better recognize and classify conversations customers are having with and about you. Is there product criticism you’re not currently monitoring? Machine learning will eventually learn to track that feedback, providing real-time insights into customer experience.

Are customers frequently waiting on hold for answers they could easily get from a community or bot? Speech analytics and keyword detection highlight hot topics in service conversations in real-time across channels for reacting and managing call loads. Sentiment analysis provides agents with updated scripts and answers proven to improve customer satisfaction.

Number four: Discover the why

A customer saying they’re “disappointed” in or “annoyed” with your brand is a negative in keyword tracking. The brands providing today’s best CX go beyond this, exploring the “why” behind their customers’ feelings.

Look at customer conversations under a root-cause analysis lens. The words are only part of the puzzle—why are they feeling this way? Are they disappointed because you usually deliver a great experience and this most recent time wasn’t so hot? Are they annoyed because you took away their favorite travel perk?

Maybe they’re disappointed they won’t get to stay with you while they’re in town. That’s actually positive sentiment wrapped in a negative keyword — and it changes how you view the conversation.

Access to those insights highlights conversational trends, informing how you address customer feedback and experiences.

Customers won’t necessarily speak directly to you, either. Sometimes they’ll only talk about you, so look at both types of conversations. Online forums are good starting points for “about” discussions, potentially unlocking new brand feedback.

While the travel industry opening back up is exciting, it’s introducing several new challenges. Embrace a truly digital-first mindset and you may see results surpassing pre-pandemic times.

And if you don’t take digital customer experience seriously? You’ll find yourself stuck on the runway, watching your competition take off.

Katherine Calvert
Katherine Calvert is CMO at Khoros.