As we continue to hunker down during these dark days of winter, many of us find our minds wandering, daydreaming of sitting poolside with an umbrella drink or exploring the legendary white sands of an exotic island. And, while we imagine our ideal spring break getaways, travel and hospitality brands are preparing to do everything they can to make those dreams come true.
Following widespread travel disruptions in the spring of 2022 – and the more recent weather-related shutdown of air travel in late December – this spring’s academic breaks could be an opportunity for the travel and tourism sector to build back some trust with young families and start new relationships with college students. To deliver the vacation experiences that travelers expect, brands should consider deepening relationships with partners and updating policies and procedures.
Connected Travel Experiences
When airlines experience mass cancelations due to weather and staffing disruptions, many passengers are left to their own devices to find a new flight, secure overnight accommodations or make other arrangements. It can be frustrating and at times even scary for travelers caught unaware with few options.
The impact of these disruptions is not isolated to the airlines. Local hotels receive waves of unanticipated calls from stranded passengers, seeking a room for the night. Resorts get an unexpected flow of calls from travelers, needing to change reservation dates. Car rental agencies field requests from customers who are desperate for another way to get to their destination.
Unifying this ecosystem to provide connected travel experiences can help stranded and frustrated customers and mitigate some of the financial losses that often occur. If an airline is partnered with a major hotel chain and a flight gets canceled, it can offer an immediate lodging option in the cancelation notice. Travelers feel less desperate having this option and revenue can be regained both through the co-sale, as well as future repeat business from a grateful customer.
Partnerships are valuable but integrating the different customer experience (CX) systems and introducing automation can ensure operations are efficient and productive. Manual handoffs between organizations, or using outdated systems that don’t communicate well, can potentially cause even more problems for the traveler.
Cloud technology makes integrating CX systems between two different organizations much simpler and more reliable. Many of the leading cloud contact centers, customer relationship management and reservation systems, for example, already have pre-built integrations that allow them to input and extract data easily and securely across their systems. This also allows travel and tourism companies to introduce automation across the connected traveler experience.
While human agents might ultimately need to be involved in an issue like a mass cancelation event, chatbots and other self-service technologies can triage more routine situations (“I need to cancel my dinner reservation.” or “My family needs a room for the night near JFK.”) without having to escalate them to a human agent.
Omnichannel Is Vital
Nearly three-quarters (74%) of travelers surveyed said they would use a hotel’s mobile app for activities such as self-service check-in, room access and other conveniences. However, because hospitality ultimately centers around the human touch, brands cannot rely on technology alone to ensure guest satisfaction. Here, too, an omnichannel approach to guest relations is key to success.
According to research conducted by NTT, nearly two-thirds of organizations polled provide an average of eight customer support channels, with phones remaining in the top three channels for seeking support. When facing travel disruption, seasoned travelers know to pursue multiple channels simultaneously – mobile app, website, phone call and queuing for agent assistance at the gate. It’s imperative that brands have an omnichannel strategy that consolidates interactions from all platforms for a positive, uniform customer experience, whether digital or human.
For resorts and hotel properties, enlisting an omnichannel strategy can increase guest loyalty by providing an integrated, consistent experience virtually or in-person. Most guests prefer to use multiple channels for their vacation experiences. Whether it’s checking in at the front desk and closing out the bill online, or reserving a cabana via mobile app, then ordering lunch poolside with waitstaff – convenience and ease of use are going to drive their decisions.
Because of this blended environment, it’s important for all touchpoints to be uniform regardless of whether they are experienced virtually or in real life.
Communicate Honestly, Transparently
While travel and hospitality brands cannot always prevent an issue from arising, they can control how their teams respond to one. Most of the time, the employees fielding customer questions or complaints are not the ones who are responsible for fixing the bug in the computer system, getting the suite ready for the next guest or rectifying whatever the issue might be. They are, however, critical to mitigating the overall impact of the crisis.
There is no worse experience for a guest than feeling left in the lurch or unsure of when a situation will be resolved. Clear, transparent and honest communication – even when there is no definitive answer -- is key to preserving brand reputation. Ensure that these frontline agents receive frequent updates, not only on the status of the event, but also the steps that are under way to resolve the issue. Share what is known, even if that’s not much, and let people know when the next update is expected. These updates should be shared on every channel available to those affected – gate and property-wide announcements for those onsite, in-app notifications, push alerts for those relying on text messages, and email and website updates to provide additional detail and links to lengthier information not conducive to other formats.
After a solution is found, communication channels should remain open. Brands should thank customers for their patience while an issue was being resolved, be clear on any remuneration – be it refund, additional loyalty program points or other compensation – and seek feedback on how the situation was handled. This last part is essential and regrettably skipped by too many brands seeking to move beyond the bad news.
Conducting a survey of affected travelers can provide insight into how to prepare for the next problem. For example, while an airline might have provided updates on changing weather conditions, passengers might have found those updates too sporadic and unpredictable.
As spring break season approaches, hospitality brands are formulating special pricing and packages and staffing up to meet what is expected to be pre-pandemic-like demand. In addition to ensuring that properties are in ship-shape, customer support teams should build out partnerships, review their CX systems and plan strong communications programs to ensure a flawless customer experience – even if something should go wrong.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kevin McNulty is a Marketing Director at Talkdesk. He has helped launch numerous enterprise SaaS products for some of the leading technology companies in Silicon Valley and Boston. He has written extensively on the impact of cloud computing and digital transformation in the modern workplace and keenly understands the challenges organizations face when updating their legacy systems. Prior to Talkdesk, Kevin headed up go-to-market strategies for Everbridge, Veeva Systems, and Oracle.