The travel industry has been struggling desperately in recent weeks with the post-pandemic rush of travelers hoping to escape for some long-overdue rest and relaxation.
It has been a trying time at best and a complete nightmare at worst. As an example, staff shortages at Heathrow Airport have forced it to limit the number of passengers that can fly out of the hub to 100,000 a day. This has resulted in the UK’s national flag carrier British Airways canceling 13 per cent of its summer schedule, a total of over 10,000 flights. And for disabled travelers who do manage to travel, there have been increasing reports of service failures that have left them stranded.
Rising fuel and energy costs around the world also mean travel companies are struggling to operate as they once did, with some tour operators now viewing fuel surcharges as a necessary evil. The International Air Transport Association estimates that overall spending for the aviation industry in 2022 will increase by 44% in 2021, for example. This, along with the rising cost of living, has resulted in many consumers choosing to travel and vacation closer to home, all of which has a negative impact on world travel.
Hungry for human experiences
Unfortunately for the travel industry, these issues could not have come at a worse time. Born out of the frustrations caused by repeated COVID-19 lockdowns, we’re all hungry for human experiences – and vacations. This means customer perceptions are being hit disproportionately harder, with frontline staff bearing the brunt of these frustrations.
While many of the factors causing the disruption are beyond the travel companies’ control, the industry has been hit hard. But the good news is that a considered customer experience (CX) can mitigate customer dissatisfaction, so now is the time to ensure that CX does just that. It’s also a key time to reimagine customer service technology and operations for future business resilience and agility.
Putting people at the heart of the CX journey
The best way the travel industry can respond is to ensure that people are at the heart of everything businesses within the sector do. At its most basic level, travel is an experience industry, meaning that everything customers experience about their trip will have a huge impact on their opinion of a brand.
Fortunately, the industry is well placed to respond. In many ways, the sector leads the way in consumer knowledge and innovation proposition. Now it’s a case of further integrating physical and digital experiences to create seamless, ‘connected physical and digital’ customer experiences that not only bring smiles to faces, but make the work of staff easier. front line, also reducing costs.
By delivering omnichannel CX that is proactive, transparent, empathetic, efficient and fair, short-term brand damage is unlikely to be too profound. At a time when long-awaited ‘wow’ experiences are failing, it certainly pays to have CX that is designed to build emotional connections with customers and in turn foster goodwill and long-term loyalty. Customer focus is essential to help the travel industry play a supportive role when there is disruption, to ensure customers feel brands are on their side.
Share the best from the rest
Trade body ABTA suggests that three quarters of UK families are planning holidays abroad this summer alone, so unfortunately we haven’t seen the end of the turbulent times this year. Delays, canceled flights, miles-long queues and strikes are not problems that are going away anytime soon.
While some players are rising to the challenge, others require a change of mindset. The high-profile issues hitting the news should serve as a wake-up call for companies considering CX as a cost center: the future is based on human-driven experiences that protect the brand and drive loyalty and referral. While it is true that these events are often difficult to predict, it is also true that how a business responds to them is key to customers’ perceptions of a brand and their behaviors towards it.
With more than 65% of people expecting more from customer service than three to five years ago, responding quickly and being flexible to customer needs in a crisis will help travel companies develop and maintain a competitive advantage. And the rest would do well to invest in scenario planning, robust customer crisis response, and proactive customer-centric omnichannel communications to build the resilience and agility needed to handle the inevitable future crises.
About the Author
Nora Boros is Head of Growth at Webhelp. Webhelp creates game-changing customer journeys. As your global CX BPO partner, we design, deliver and optimize memorable human experiences for today’s digital world. Because great brands require great experiences.
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