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12/03/2021

Contact Center Efficiencies Help Hospitality Companies Meet Unpredictable Demand and Alleviate Rising Pressure on Staff

In an effort to balance staff shortages, rising customer expectations and increased bookings, hospitality brands should consider the benefit of adapting efficient contact center operations in order to drive growth during this recovery period. 
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After a year of stay at home orders, Americans are once again ready to travel and their expectations for exceptional customer service are just as high, or even higher, than they were prior to the pandemic. This has placed significant pressure on hospitality brands - particularly hotels, restaurants and airlines - to keep up with heavily increased demand and put the customer experience first. 

Unfortunately, following a large furlough rate and low staffing numbers, keeping up with this demand has become a major challenge. In fact, in early August 2021, Spirit and American Airlines both cancelled hundreds of domestic US flights due to “operational challenges” according to NPR. And it’s likely that straining situations like these will only become more common. As worry of the Covid-19 Delta variant continues to spread through the U.S., hospitality brands should prepare for a rush of inquiries requiring attention, as there could be a second wave of mass cancellations and rebookings. 

In an effort to balance staff shortages, rising customer expectations and increased bookings, hospitality brands should consider the benefit of adapting efficient contact center operations in order to drive growth during this recovery period. 

Less Room for Customer Experience Error

When it comes to hospitality, customer experience isn’t a component of the business, it is the business.  And as of late, customer experience is only becoming more important as a factor for travel and hospitality customers. In fact, a recent study found that American consumers rank customer experience as the top three most important aspects of why they choose which hospitality brands to do business with. Interestingly, while usually having a great experience took the number one spot at 50%, having a fast and easy customer service experience when issues arise and a consistent experience every time were also important, at 40% and 35% respectively. This shows that consumers are not only looking for a great experience every time they interact with your brand, but an easy and consistent experience that they can expect time and time again. 

Since receiving a great, easy and consistent experience is a major factor for customers, knowing their ideal methods of interaction can also be an advantage when thinking about how to best provide quality service. In the same study mentioned above, a whopping 67% of travel customers surveyed said they prefer to handle travel related inquiries and issues with a phone call. Of that 67%, 45% would like to speak to an agent and 22% would prefer to self service over the phone. With phone calls being the ideal contact point for the majority of customers, hospitality brands would likely benefit from prioritizing exceptional service through the contact center to keep up with consumer expectations. 

Unfortunately, this is not the case today. Of those who called travel companies in the last year, over 66% say their experience was “Slow & frustrating” or “Just OK.” This is bad news considering over 60% of travelers say it would only take 1-2 poor customer service interactions to switch travel brands. Because phone calls are an important touch point for travel customers facing issues, brands looking to boost retention should consider the contact center experience as a method of connecting with customers and providing an exceptional experience that brings them back to your brand again and again.  

The Contact Center Is the Tip of the Spear for Customer Experience

Customers’ expectations for the contact center are continually rising, and with the contact center being a frequent touchpoint when urgent issues arise, creating consistently positive experiences matter. Moreover, with growing pressure placed on customer service interactions, the contact center should be attuned for a personalized, frictionless experience with every customer touch point.   

With the massive increase in bookings that have occurred in 2021, having the ability to mitigate hold times is of a growing importance. In the same vein, alleviating frustrating self-service scenarios should also be a top priority for hospitality brands looking to retain customers. By implementing passive technology to assist agents with authenticating calls and the caller’s needs, hold times will likely lessen and customer satisfaction will likely rise. For instance, by implementing passive ANI Validation, calls are almost instantly authenticated for the agent. This can alleviate strain on the agent, while also helping to eliminate identifier questions for customers. Automating the call authentication process helps  remove friction from knowledge based identifiers like Knowledge Based Answer (KBA) questions and One-Time Passwords (OTP) which are often used in the Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Doing this can help improve self-service opportunities and help save time, which are both very important to service elements for customers.

Additionally, optimizing the contact center with automation has an added benefit not often thought about within hospitality: fraud. Over 30% of travelers surveyed are worried that their information or loyalty points are at risk of fraud. Another 15% say they’ve already been a victim of loyalty point fraud. While loyalty program fraudulent attacks can create a huge barrier for loyal customers facing a seemingly terrible customer experience.  And although hotel and airline miles may not be an immediate suspect for fraud attacks compared to banks and credit unions, sophisticated schemers still utilize contact centers to gather information and take rewards away from valuable customers. And prioritizing efficiency in the contact center does not only benefit customers, it helps create an easier, more pleasant experience for employees as well. 

Using Contact Center Efficiency to Alleviate the Current Staffing Crisis

Hospitality brands around the world are facing a severe labor shortage crisis as a result of the past year’s events. According to Bloomberg, just over 50 percent of hospitality workers said they would not be returning to their old jobs.

While the recent increase in travel bookings is financially optimistic for brands recovering from over a year of stay at home orders, logistically it is placing a pause on the customer service pipeline - particularly in the contact center - and leaving customers to deal with long hold times and inefficient service experiences. The effects have been so drastic; last month, one passenger tweeted a complaint that they had been kept on hold for over nine hours by a U.S. airline. 

The customer experience should be the top priority for hospitality brands looking to grow and recover in today’s economy, especially when the caller experience has become an inflection point for customers determining which brands they want to interact with. Companies looking to alleviate the burden on employees tirelessly working to accommodate customers, should start by taking a look at the call center, prioritizing customer service agents and applying passive technology to support efficiency. Creating efficient processes in the contact center through automation and passive technology will help lower hold times, reduce the strain on employees and bestow a positive service experience upon customers.  

As travel trends continue to shift throughout 2021, hospitality brands could benefit from creating efficient processes in the contact center to create call experiences that customers can rely on. Furthermore, as customer expectations continue to evolve with heightened weight placed on the contact center, preparing for unpredictable call volumes will be a helpful way for hotels, airlines and restaurants to stay ahead of the next wave and keep customers happy during this recovery growth period.