How to Prepare for Increased Travel Amid a Labor Shortage

While automation can sometimes help with customer service, outsourcing may just be a better option. Here's why.
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Travelers wasted no time booking trips once news of the U.S. reopening its borders broke in early November. Within days, we saw joyous reunion videos of families who had been separated by the pandemic. For the hospitality industry, it’s one promising step closer to pre-COVID normal. Thanksgiving saw a full rebound, and by 2022 industry experts are anticipating a major travel boom.

Unfortunately, this boom coincides with a significant labor shortage in the industry -- meaning managers might be processing the good news with a small dose of panic. The guests are coming, so hotels and hospitality companies will need to staff up in time to manage the influx of customer service needs.

Using automation to streamline customer service

One of the options that many hotel customer service managers may look at is technology and automation. Even before the pandemic, it was clear that many customers preferred to help themselves in certain situations. Not every inquiry needs a human touch. As one (very expensive) example, Amazon is now relying solely on automation to handle all refund requests. While smaller hotels may not want to go to such extremes, there could be situations where automation can help streamline the triage process until a customer service representative becomes available.

That said, automation technology is very much still in its infancy, and still requires a significant amount of human effort to keep it running.

Tap into outsourcing for scaled customer service

For hospitality customer service teams, the holidays mean an influx of customers who likely only interact with your brand a few times a year. This often leads to brand new, unanticipated questions, in which case automation wouldn’t be very helpful.

In preparation, customer service managers need to build a team of people who are trained in finding answers to new -- and possibly unusual -- questions. Enter outsourcing. Outsourcing can help you put together a team of people who can quickly become subject matter experts, understanding all the ins and outs of your services.

To get the most out of an outsourcing partnership -- that is, to build a team of people who are true members of your organization and ambassadors of your brand -- view the outsourcer as a true partner, rather than just another vendor in your ecosystem.

Look for a partner who can engage in true dialogue with you. The goal should be so much more than hiring people who can answer questions. If you want to build a successful customer service team, you want to trust the partner that is building that team to embrace your organizational structure, values, and management style. An effective partner should ask about volume, trends, and channels to help you get a long-range perspective of what level of staffing you need. They shouldn’t try to sell you a 24/7 service just to get a big contract. A good outsourcing partner should help you find the right fit that will help make your business successful now, and one that will also grow with you as you grow your business.

Doing your due diligence here should translate into a team of customer service representatives who share your values and believe in your brand’s mission. This will help your customers feel more connected and keep your operations -- and reputation -- intact.

Preparing for 2022

As the labor shortage persists, companies must make their customer service jobs look more attractive. That starts with wage and compensation, whether you recruit your own team or work with an outsourcing partner. Meet the candidates where they are and ensure that you are creating an opportunity that prioritizes their well-being.

That also means focusing on growth and mental health. Give them a place where they can develop in their careers, and then double down on creating a space where they feel safe, included, and heard. This is a real and pressing issue in customer service in general, and even more so in hospitality where customers have high expectations of the frontline employees. Add to that the chaos of the holidays, and there is a lot of stress to go around.

On the tactical level, make sure your team is comfortable with emerging channels and that they understand that the needs of customers on social media are different than those on the phone or email. Teams should lean into the newer channels instead of always trying to steer the customer to the companies’ preferred channels.

The past two years have been a roller coaster, and for hospitality companies, the ride isn’t over. Preparing your customer service teams - whether that means scaling to meet demands or training them in new techs or channels - will be critical to keeping your customers satisfied.