Posted April 6, 2017
Flight delays. Booking or check-in problems. Regional, cultural and linguistic differences. The travel and hospitality business can be a perfect storm for contact centers offering both added challenges and unique opportunities.
Not only are the purchases made by customers often constrained by budgets and very specific travel schedules, but also the buying cycles can be complex with many travel options to consider and compare.
Contact centers can play a vital role in easing customer effort by providing an exceptional customer experience before a customer even leaves their home. From our own contact center industry experience and the insights of industry experts, here are three ways contact centers can deliver a localized experience to each and every traveler.
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1. Controlling for regional differences
Leonardo Inghilleri, president and founder of Inghilleri Consultants Group and the author of Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit, believes that great service delivery comes down to managing expectations right from the start. “What do you expect from a call center? You expect people with excellent communication skills, you expect people who speak your language and understand the cultural nuances of you as a customer, you expect people who remember your preferences,” he says.
Inghilleria explains that some degree of cultural and language alignment is necessary, adding that regional offices can help bridge the gap. But when it comes to the travel and hospitality industry, it can be difficult to consistently anticipate the language and culture of the customer on the other end of the line before starting to interact.
Fortunately, contact centers are able to keep track of patterns and seasonality in customer behavior, allowing them to staff and train accordingly. For example, some of the busiest travel days for Americans are Fridays in July and August, with many looking to take advantage of a long-weekend. For U.K. travelers, February 12 is a popular option for families thanks to a mid-year school break for students. By acknowledging these travel patterns, contact centers are able to offer appropriate suggestions and travel tips to meet the specific needs of their customers.
2. Routing customers differently
Another opportunity to create a personal and localized experience is by orienting the customer, even before they reach their destination. In recent years, and especially among higher-end providers, it has become more common for brands to give employees an opportunity to travel.
By experiencing the destination and facilities themselves, customer service representatives are able to build a personal knowledge base that translates to better customer service. “It’s great when you’re talking to someone who can say ‘I’ve been there,'” said Brendan Dykes, the director of strategic marketing for Genesys, a customer engagement and relationship management provider. Many hotel and airline providers, including The Four Seasons and Hilton, accomplish this by offering significantly discounted rates for employees.
Another way to build a stronger connection with the customer is through affinity routing, or matching customers with agents who have similar interests. Dykes says some brands have begun experimenting with affinity routing as an option when employee travel is not plausible. For example, a customer planning a golf trip would likely prefer to speak with a customer service agent who follows the sport, even if they haven’t been to the destination in question. “You’d want advisers who have some understanding of the game of golf — not in that country necessarily, but in terms of what’s going on in the sport,” he says.
3. Finding common ground
Localizing the experience for customers doesn’t have to be a complicated endeavor.
According to Chip Conley, the founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, it can be as simple as an email newsletter sent prior to arrival. “Say it’s a hotel company. If every hotel in the chain came up with a list of five hidden treasures or tips for guests — either in the facility or in the surrounding environment — such that there was a URL that a call center agent could email customers, that would have the same effect [as making personal recommendations],” says Conley. “That doesn’t mean the call centers need to be acclimated to all the special secrets of every location, but they can help direct people.”
Inghilleri, adds that contact centers can always facilitate a connection and a positive customer service experience, by adding that personalized and human touch. “Whenever you can do so, humanize the experience and connect with the customer on a personal level, and those minor cultural differences kind of disappear,” he says. “You can show that you remember and understand their preferences, that you know what’s important to them and you’re willing to satisfy their needs on a human level. That’s all it takes.”
While contact center staff in the travel and hospitality industry face some unique challenges, there are an increasing number of technological and organizational solutions that are aiding in the management of that complexity. In the end however, an exceptional customer experience comes down to making a personal and human connection at any distance.