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Six ways to help your CX team handle the influx in travel volume

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The travel and hospitality industry is bouncing back from a two-year hiatus. But the return to pre-pandemic levels of travel is bringing with it a number of challenges for customer experience (CX) teams. Here’s a look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the industry and the strategies brands can implement to empower their CX teams to effectively meet customer needs.

Impact of the pandemic on the travel and hospitality industry

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the travel and hospitality sector was booming. In 2019, people took 1.5 billion international trips, spending an estimated $1.8 trillion to sip wine in Tuscany, explore Brazilian jungles, visit ancient Thai temples and more. The sector also accounted for a quarter of new jobs created around the world, and contributed 10.3% to global gross domestic product (GDP), according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

And then COVID-19 happened.

In 2020, international travel fell 72% compared to 2019, according to the UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and layoffs across every layer of the travel and hospitality sector occurred. Travel remained slow in 2021, gaining only a 5% increase over the previous year’s volume.

Now, years later, 2022 may be the start to the recovery the industry has been waiting for. The current demand for travel is high, with the industry projected to achieve between 55–70% of 2019 travel levels according to the same UNWTO report.

Unfortunately, however, the growth of staffing has not kept pace with the influx of travelers. The struggle to hire on-the-ground workers has had considerable repercussions for customer care teams working the phones, chat services and social media support pages — people who are bearing the brunt of traveler frustration.

Media headlines have shared tales of cancellations, delays, lost luggage and impossibly long security and customs lines at major airports, especially those serving as links to international destinations.

Australia flag carrier Qantas acknowledged the recent challenges faced by the industry in a media response, stating: “Call volume has increased from an average of 7,500 calls a day to 14,000 calls a day, with calls on average taking 50% longer to resolve than pre-COVID given the complexity of some itineraries across more than one airline where routes are re-opening and flights are re-starting at different times.”

With travel and hospitality industry trends showing signs of continued growth, now is the time to invest in smarter, more efficient customer service to help ease the crunch and better streamline the customer experience.

Six strategies to help lighten the workload for customer experience teams

Here’s a look at six ways travel brands can help their customer care teams handle the influx of travel demand and provide exceptional experiences.

1. Bring in more (and better) self-service options: Automated rebooking systems for cancelled and delayed flights are just one piece of the puzzle. Airlines and hospitality brands can expand their use of customer service chatbots, intelligent FAQs and other self-serve options that enable customers to manage their reservations on their own without forwarding them to live agents. As well, internal-facing chatbots and automated services can give agents more tools and information to solve customer problems faster and more efficiently.

2. Have a strong mobile strategy: Globally, nearly 84% of people have a smartphone according to BankMyCell. Capitalize on the ubiquity of pocket computers by facilitating online check-in, enabling digital room keys and providing up-to-the-minute gate and boarding information. Not only do these mobile applications facilitate touchless experiences, but they provide travelers with the flexibility to get exactly what they want instantly and effortlessly, without having to engage a support agent.

3. Take advantage of cloud contact centers: By centralizing customer information and internal tools, cloud technology can make it easier for agents to do their jobs. A successful cloud strategy can empower agents with omnichannel capabilities, enabling them to handle customer interactions on multiple channels through one user-friendly interface, instead of switching back and forth between different platforms and applications. Additionally, the cloud provides the unique ability to quickly and easily scale operations, up or down, depending on demand — a feature that will be valuable as travel appetite continues to fluctuate.

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4. Utilize data: When it comes to providing personalized customer experiences, having access to data is key. A 360-degree view of customers can be developed using customer intelligence data that provides agents with unique insights into a customer’s habits and previous interactions with a brand. Arming them with this information assists in solving customer issues efficiently and effectively, and is a way to boost loyalty even during difficult times. Additionally, data can be used to assess the health of your customer experience strategy. Understanding the types of customer support calls received and how efficient your team is at handling those interactions can help identify where changes need to be made, where agents may require additional training or areas where technology investments could help further streamline processes.

5. Nurture a strong corporate culture: Having a strong corporate culture that centers around the employee experience and worker well-being is intrinsic to reducing turnover and building a loyal and experienced workforce. Providing employees with opportunities to gain new skills and upward mobility, the freedom to bond and de-stress with colleagues (e.g. company sports team, on-site fitness facilities, volunteering and team-building activities), along with health and wellness programs will all help team members weather the storm.

6. Work with an outsourcing partner to help scale operations: The middle of a massive crunch may not be an opportune time to try and hire and train customer service agents internally. The right outsourcing partner will provide brands with trained and skilled customer experience agents along with the digital solutions that complement CX delivery.

The travel disruptions brought on by the pandemic have been significant, but they have also brought a unique opportunity to the travel and hospitality industry. When it comes to booking their next stay or flight, consumers have hit the refresh button. A brand’s identity pre-pandemic is in the review mirror and this is a rare chance to make a new first impression on travelers. Investing in the right tools and partners to elevate the customer experience is a first step towards forging a strong brand reputation.

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