How to get better customer service from travel companies

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During the pandemic, travelers enjoyed some of the best customer service in years. Hotels welcomed returning guests with low room rates. Airlines eliminated customer-unfriendly fees. The rental cars were cleaner than ever. But now, amid labor shortages and high inflation, the industry is reverting to its old ways.

The latest Airline Quality Rating highlights the shortcomings of the airline industry. “Fewer planes arrived on time, airlines mishandled more baggage and more ticketed passengers were denied boarding,” said Brent Bowen, co-author of the report. “And we’re seeing this lack of customer service in all segments of the travel industry: employee shortages, supply chain delays and lack of management planning.”

So what can you do to get better customer service? Travelers and travel experts say you should double down on proven strategies like persistence, courtesy and patience. But amid the pandemic, some things have changed.

For starters, staffing shortages related to the Great Recession have devastated many customer service departments. If you have a problem, chances are you’ll be talking to a bot – if you can even get to one. User-generated reviews can help customers identify companies whose customer service has been hit or miss. But there are other ways.

“Travelers should look for companies that offer round-the-clock assistance and a way to reach key information, even when human support agents may not be available,” says Sourabh Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Skit.ai, a developer . of voice technology driven by artificial intelligence. You can show that your travel company has this by looking for a “contact us” feature on their site that offers 24/7 phone, chat and email support.

Because there are fewer agents available to help, it is important that you contact the right person. Lorena Kurtjian Hernandez, senior director at Medallia, a developer of customer feedback management software, says calling a company’s service hotline is a mistake. Chances are you’ll just end up in phone tree limbo.

“Instead, carefully review the travel company’s website to find the contact information for the specific issue you need help with,” says Hernandez. “You are much more likely to get help from the right person in the right department if you are very specific about the type of help you need.”

There are many ways to communicate with a company, and it pays to be familiar with all of them. When you’re traveling, experts say, you need to think outside the box of complaints. Consider what happened to Chris Michaels, a website editor who lives outside of Chicago, when he stayed at a DoubleTree near Houston recently. When his family ordered breakfast at the hotel restaurant, it took over an hour to arrive and was cold. The server “barely apologized,” he said, then handed him a $60 check.

“We stopped by the front desk a few times to discuss the experience, but each time there was a long line,” he says. So he contacted the hotel through the Hilton app. “That evening, the hotel manager texted me, called my room, and called my cell phone to apologize and remove the charge from my bill,” Michaels says.

It’s always helpful to be friendly. This has been a long and stressful summer of travel and your good manners will go a long way when trying to get better customer service. “I recommend that customers and service representatives be as friendly as possible,” says Dan Skilken, president of TripInsurance.com. “The more positive the experience, the better the outcome.”

He is right. I have seen this in my consumer advocacy practice as well. Threatening emails that say, “I’ll never do business with you again” or “I’m going to sue you,” are much more likely to be ignored. But friendly requests for help get almost immediate attention. Don’t be too informal, by which I mean take it easy on the emojis. But a little kindness can go a long way—especially right now.

Companies know customer service will be a challenge as travel returns to pre-pandemic levels. How they meet that challenge can determine their success or failure. Consider what furnished rental company Blueground did to get ahead for the summer. Blueground has always offered a fully digitized experience, communicating with guests through its app, which allows customers to quickly reach out during their stay. But the company was cautious about over-automating, so it now makes sure that a human, not a bot, responds to every contact.

“We also empowered our support teams to make quick decisions,” says Nessy Ismet, Blueground’s director of customer experience. “This enabled a human-to-human experience for every guest.”

The situation is not hopeless. Suzanne Hodes, a retired small business owner from Weston, Fla., recently visited Rome with her husband. She says the city is still in “welcome back mode.”

“Few restaurants include service charges or gratuities,” she says. “They leave it up to the guest to do the right thing.” Her delivery? Maybe — just maybe — the hospitality industry sees its customers happy and wants them to stay that way.

Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Travel health advisory information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s travel health advisory website.



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