The travel industry has been desperately struggling in recent weeks with the post-pandemic rush of travellers 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 cap 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 cancelling 13 per cent of its summer schedule, a total of over 10,000 flights. And for travellers with disabilities who manage to travel, there have been increasing reports of service failings that have left them stranded.
The increase in fuel and energy costs worldwide also means that travel companies are struggling to operate as they once used to, with some tour operators now considering fuel surcharges as a necessary evil. The International Air Transport Association estimates overall expenses for the aviation industry in 2022 will be up 44% on 2021, for instance. This, coupled with the rising cost of living, has resulted in many consumers choosing to travel and holiday closer to home, which all has a knock-on impact on travel around the world.
Hungry for human experiences
Unfortunately for the travel industry, these issues couldn’t have come at a worse time. Born out of frustrations caused by repeated COVID-19 lockdowns, we’re all hungry for human experiences – and holidays. This has meant that customer perceptions are being disproportionately harder hit, with front-line staff bearing the brunt of these frustrations.
While many of the factors causing the disruption are beyond travel companies’ control, the industry has been hit – hard. But the good news is that a considered customer experience (CX) can mitigate consumer 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 to futureproof business resilience and agility.
Placing humans at the heart of travel CX
The best way the travel industry can respond is ensuring that humans are at the heart of everything that businesses within the sector do. At its most basic level, travel is an experience industry, which means that everything customers experience related to their journey will have a huge bearing on their opinion of a brand.
Luckily, the industry is well-placed to respond. In many ways, the sector leads the way in consumer insights and proposition innovation. It is now a case of further integrating physical and digital experiences to create seamless, ‘physically and digitally joined-up’ customer experiences that not only put smiles on faces, but make frontline staff’s jobs easier, whilst also cutting costs.
By delivering omnichannel CX that is proactive, transparent, empathetic, efficient, and fair, short-term brand damage is unlikely to cut too deep. At a time when much-anticipated ‘wow’ experiences are failing to deliver, it certainly pays to have CX that has been designed to build emotional connections with customers and in turn fosters long-lasting goodwill and loyalty. Customer centricity is key to help the travel industry play a supportive role when there is disruption, to ensure customers feel that brands are on their side.
Separate the best from the rest
Trade body ABTA suggests that three quarters of UK families are planning a holiday abroad this summer alone, so we’ve unfortunately not seen the end of the turbulent times this year. Delays, cancelled flights, mile-long queues, and strikes are not problems that are going away any time soon.
While some players are rising to the challenge, some others require a mindset shift. The high-profile issues hitting the news should serve as a wake-up call for companies that regard CX as a cost centre: the future is founded on humanity-driven experiences that both protect the brand and drive loyalty and recommendation. Whilst it’s true that these events are often difficult to predict, it’s also true that how a business responds to them is key to customers’ perceptions of a brand and their behaviours towards it.
With more than 65% of people expecting more from customer service than they did three to five years ago, reacting quickly and being flexible to customer needs in a crisis will help travel companies develop and maintain a competitive edge. 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 required to tackle inevitable future crises.
About the Author
Nora Boros is Chief Sector Growth Officer at Webhelp. Webhelp creates game-changing customer journeys. As your global CX BPO partner, we design, deliver, and optimize unforgettable human experiences for today’s digital world. Because brilliant brands demand brilliant experiences.