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The days of customer service being a ‘nice-to-have’ are long gone

Steve Miller, head of customer success at Cirrus, says mixing the latest technologies with effective face-to-face communication is key for brand reputation as the travel sector continues its post-pandemic recovery.

With the travel restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic having largely been lifted, international travel is back on the agenda for holidaymakers looking to make up for lost time. Alongside the swathes of sun-seekers are the people in suits getting back into the world of business travel with meetings to make and deadlines to hit.

However, long airport queues, delays and cancellations are leaving travel agents and tour operators with a plenitude of disgruntled holidaymakers demanding answers as to why their dream holiday or travel plans have been anything but smooth sailing.

There are several factors causing travel disruptions: staff shortages due to sickness, the rising cost of fuel, and strikes in response to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis to name a few.

It’s not the fault of contact centre agents yet, as always, they are the ones on the frontline facing the brunt of the discontent.

Customer service in the travel industry

Customer service is fundamental to business – gone are the days where it was a ‘nice-to-have’. This new era of convenience, speed and expectation means delivering exceptional customer experience, or more accurately, failing to deliver acceptable customer service, has a significant impact on brand reputation.

Customers demanding answers and solutions to problems out of their control are never easy to deal with. The levels of emotion are heightened when you add into the mix that it’s often a family’s savings, or a pivotal business contract, that are on the line when it comes to disruptions in the travel industry.

These customers demand a fast, reliable, and favourable solution to their problems.

The current state of contact centres

The pandemic and its fallout triggered major changes across the business and consumer landscapes. The travel industry has been hit harder than most, having gone through turbulent times of fluctuating restrictions on a daily basis. In response, they have had to pivot their focus to match changing consumer habits and expectations.

At the top of the list is the greater use of cross-channel communications. Traditionally, phone calls were the primary method of contact but that is no longer the case. Now, various forms of messaging (including email, social media chatbots) have taken hold and travel agents need to be able to transition between them as and when required. The logistical challenges that this presents to agents make it harder for them to do their job, further contributing to agent burnout.

All too often, companies respond by introducing an arsenal of brand-new technologies to help combat these challenges in a fight-fire-with-fire approach. However, technology stacks often remain disjointed, failing to address the issues at hand. Instead, agents are left confused about which technology to use, when, and how.

Personalised and effective customer service needs to be streamlined and easy to use if it is to be effective at supporting brand reputation. Especially during challenging times.

The power of omnichannel

Technology is an important part of a contact centre agent’s toolkit. But if technology is used in isolation, you leave customers frustrated without any sense of personal service being offered.

Remind yourself that while your customers are seeking answers and solutions, they also want to feel a connection to your brand and a level of service that they would receive in other walks of life.

Choice remains critical; some customers may prefer to speak over the phone while others prefer a less intense chatbot or text message to voice their queries or concerns. Providing your customers with the option to interact with you in the way that they want is vital.

Agility is also crucial. A customer should be able to elevate their query to a human, or change their communication channel during an interaction, on demand. And if a change in channel occurs, the agent dealing with the query should have full visibility of the communications that have gone before.

For customers, there is nothing more frustrating than having to repeat your query to different agents like a stuck record on a seemingly endless cycle.

By getting the right mix of technology with the emotional intelligence from your agents, you’ll be able to successfully deliver a greater level of customer service on a more consistent basis.

Supporting agents with AI

AI technology that we first saw a decade ago is far removed from the capabilities that it delivers today. Evolutions within contact centres enable us to analyse calls and decipher the impact on the customer, including issue resolution, long-term loyalty, and constantly deriving ways to improve.

Through predictive analytics, customer service agents can more accurately gauge customer behaviour on the phone, quickly providing recommendations to agents on how best to resolve the issue in a way that leaves the customer satisfied.

As mentioned above, one of the biggest challenges for workers in the travel industry are the heightened emotions and time pressure that come with panicked holidaymakers and distressed businesspeople.

Much like the human brain, AI has the capability to automatically organise, categorise, and store data in huge quantities. More than anything else, disgruntled customers want to feel listened to. Utilising AI provides agents with the tools to manage and access data in real-time, freeing up brainpower to better focus on the human element of customer service.

Overall, the powerful combination of AI, omnichannel technology, and the human skills of contact centre agents can transform the levels of customer service that travel providers are able to deliver.

In such a competitive industry, providing efficient and reassuring communications with your customers will not only help maintain customer loyalty but deliver a competitive advantage among other providers.

Written by Steve Miller, Head of Customer Success