As the travel and hospitality industries try to make a comeback after months and months of COVID-related stagnation, how companies manage their customer service operations can be a huge differentiator. Americans are slowly returning to air travel, hotel stays and rental bookings, and travel and hospitality brands must deliver the high-touch, personalized experiences modern travelers demand — from start to finish. Failure to invest in the right kind of customer service tools and technology will put an already volatile industry on even shakier ground.
According to Tripadvisor, nearly half of U.S. travelers surveyed say they are planning to travel internationally in 2021, with many more planning to travel domestically. In the first week of January, nearly 70% of hotel clickers on Tripadvisor were booking future domestic trips. While this is certainly a promising trend, competition will be stiff among brands to win over customers and build loyalty for the long haul.
With the holiday travel season fast approaching, here’s how hotel brands of all sizes can flex their customer service muscle to deliver a standout experience and keep travelers coming back for more:
Prioritize Omnichannel Service
Travelers, by their very nature, are always on the move, and demand immediate resolution if expectations aren’t met or issues arise. Brands must be able to reach and interact with travelers on their terms, wherever they are. Consider this scenario: a traveler reaches out via email to a resort with questions about safety protocols and receives a response that sanitizers will be found in the room upon check-in. The customer checks in and finds that the information about sanitizers was not correct and calls the front desk to complain. With an omnichannel strategy in place, the agent at the front desk should be able to see all prior interactions the customer has had with the resort, regardless of channel used, and resolve the issue at hand without asking the customer to rehash prior interactions. The beauty of omnichannel support is that it provides customer service teams with real-time context of conversations so that they can address customer concerns quickly and seamlessly.
Personalization Is a Must
Whether you are a small boutique hotel, multi-property chain or a budget bed and breakfast, you need to show that you understand your customer and their unique needs. Customers don’t want to be treated like a transaction or a ticket that needs resolution, they want to be treated like a valued member of your brand. By ensuring you have a customer service platform that unifies your data, the easier it will be for your CX team to deliver the highly personalized attention and service today’s travelers demand. This is especially relevant as travel regulations and guidance continue to change during the pandemic and travelers have more questions and concerns than ever leading up to and throughout their travels. Understanding these concerns and either proactively addressing them or having personalization tools ready to help ensure quick responses will go a long way in building and maintaining relationships with customers.
Lean into AI and Chatbots
Now is the perfect time to rely on AI and chatbots to automate mundane tasks and complex workflows so that your customers are routed to the right person and your business processes don’t get in the way of the standout experiences. For instance, tech-enabled experiential hospitality brand Avantstay needed to implement queue rules to help triage customer needs and route conversations appropriately. Travelers contacting Avantstay to locate the key to their rental property, for example, needed more immediate attention than a customer inquiring about future bookings. By storing check-in and check-out dates on each customer’s profile, Avantstay was able to leverage AI to provide added support and information to their customer service team and better meet the needs of their customers.
Businesses also have the opportunity to provide more self-service opportunities with the help of chatbots, which are growing in popularity with both businesses and consumers. Chatbots are effective in collecting initial information and directing customers to a help center if human intervention is not needed. With the travel and hospitality industry needing to be available 24/7, chatbots can deliver swift answers to customers, even when it’s not during regular business hours.
As travel picks up for the holiday season, brands’ customer service teams may not be fully staffed, but nonetheless will be expected to do more with less. Balancing scalability with the human touch will be especially important to the brand loyalty building process. I predict that the travel and hospitality brands that can deliver an exceptional customer experience through thoughtful application of customer service technology, complemented by a human touch, will be the winners in this space.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gabe Larsen leads Kustomer’s worldwide marketing efforts, including advertising, brand, communications, demand, and digital. Prior to joining Kustomer, Gabe was the VP of Marketing for XANT (formerly InsideSales.com). Kustomer is a leading CRM platform.