In 2017, UK residents jetted off on 72.8 million trips abroad. With the volume of journeys only increasing, travel and tourism providers must adapt quickly to ensure quality service for every customer.
Why is customer service important in the travel industry?
Since 2012, the number of trips abroad taken by Brits has increased by almost 29%. With such a dramatic increase in just six years, why are travel provider profits not increasing accordingly? Profits are down across the board, and several high-profile operational disasters have left the reputations of many brands at their lowest ebb for decades. To regain customers’ trust, the industry must make a meaningful commitment to improving service levels.
Why isn't good service at the top of travel companies' list of priorities?
Competition is rife in the highly-saturated travel industry. Historically, this has meant that providers have sacrificed customer loyalty to engage in fickle price wars, leaving high-quality service low on the priority list. However, engaging with customers in a meaningful way represents a huge opportunity for this industry to build a loyal base of travellers and generate stable, predictable growth.
The purchasing process in the travel industry has become a hugely complicated endeavour. Customers are bombarded with information from a wide variety of companies, comparison sites, social media, opinion pieces, travel blogs, and magazines, leaving price as the only clear differentiator for those looking to buy. For travel providers, this means they must work extremely hard for minimal gains. Poor online service and unhelpful staff cause the loss of 22 million customers every year in the industry, so the potential for improvement is huge.
What constitutes meaningful customer engagement in the travel industry?
Customer engagement is about a mutually beneficial dialogue between company and customer. The more businesses can simplify processes and promote quality and convenience, the more likely they can stand out in the crowd and offer something unique.
The challenge for travel companies is to balance the need for driving profits with the delivery of a personalised service to every individual. The modern customer expects interactions to be tailored to them; they don’t want to repeat the same information to three different agents, and balk at being left on hold during lengthy transfers.
In order to move the focus from volatile price wars to meaningful customer engagement, ITC Travel Group took a bold step back: they removed all online booking functions from their website, in order to focus on the traditional travel agent experience. Bookings can now only be made either over the phone or in person in their store. Since making this change nine years ago, profits have soared, and the company has tripled its employee headcount. ITC attribute this success to customer loyalty, which they have achieved by providing highly personalised customer service and helping travellers navigate the abundance of choice in the market. While such a drastic approach may not be suitable for every travel and tourism provider, their commitment to quality customer service is a lesson for all.
Travel technology specialists Sabre have corroborated the customer engagement approach, noting in their Travel Expert Index that:
“A richer, more connected traveller experience and end-to-end customer engagement is fast becoming the bedrock of how loyalty is earned in the travel industry. Customer data needs to be the force behind this evolution.”
What happens when things go wrong?
Offering high-quality customer service at every touchpoint of the customer journey is the best way for tourism providers to differentiate themselves. That doesn’t mean persistent phone calls and emails, but rather proactive, helpful reminders, and timely delivery of critical information that may affect the travel experience.
The travel industry and the experiences of its customers are often susceptible to unexpected events that nobody can predict, such as weather events or technical faults. For travellers, being armed with the right information delivered quickly and directly from their travel provider can significantly soften the blow. InfusionSoft found that 86% of consumers would be prepared to pay more for guaranteed customer service – so why is the travel industry still obsessed with price? Taking a holistic perspective, and putting just a little extra effort into caring for customers at every stage of their journey will earn travel providers the respect that will ultimately translate into loyalty and sustained growth.