The 3 Key Traits of a Digital Customer Service Strategy in the Online Travel Industry By Simon Lawson, Operations Manager at Billian IT Solutions
By Simon Lawson, Operations Manager at Billian IT Solutions
The advancement of digital media has brought with it many opportunities for the travel industry, from ecommerce and round-the-clock online bookings to big data and targeted digital marketing, but it has also introduced a new set of challenges for some areas of a business, none more so than the Customer Service department.
Gone are the days when a customer grievance was exclusively dealt with in hushed voices via a telephone helpline, shared only between customer and employee. A unique poor experience, shared as a tweet or star-rating on a site with millions of daily visitors, now has the potential to cause some very real damage.
Travel is a commodity that feeds off social media; when was the last time a colleague or friend jetted off for a week in the sun and didn’t upload an obscene amount of selfies or hot-dog-legs photos to their profiles?
Unfortunately, as well as the desire to be the envy of all of our friends and followers, travel consumers often turn to the social pages to let off steam when they have been let down by travel providers.
Particularly dismayed consumers will also head to review sites, sometimes bypassing any formal complaints channels altogether.
So how can you ensure your Customer Service representatives are prepared for the digital age? Here’s our suggestion of the three main traits that your strategy should encompass …
Try to anticipate the problems that customers may face when using your service. Do a trial run of your consumer journey from start to finish and note any instance that may lead to system errors or user-confusion – no matter how silly or unlikely they may seem!
Next up, keep a record of all customer complaints for future analysis, even if the problem is solved with little fuss.
By doing so you can determine the severity of each issue. Does it require a rethink of your current processes? Or will it only pose a problem in a small number of unique cases?
If it is the latter you might consider making the solution readily available in the form of a self-help guide or FAQ section on your website, giving the customer the opportunity to solve the problem themselves before making a complaint, and linking to these pages at key stages throughout the consumer process.
A good example of how to do this is Thomas Cook’s Customer Support area, purely for it’s ease of use for the user.
Once typically confined to a single page, linked to only by a small hyperlink in the footer of a website, the FAQ section has come a long way, as our example demonstrates.
Visiting the Thomas Cook homepage we find that Customer Support has been promoted to the header menu of their site, and we click through to a search bar that offers suggestions of popular enquiries.
It is clear that these pages are the result of past complaints analysis and a serious investment in the customer service department.
Although you should strive to make all of your frontline processes user-friendly, it is not possible to please all of the people all of the time and this means that there will be times when you need to prioritise.
It is also important that all customer-facing employees – including social media managers – have a sound knowledge of the company and how it operates, and that internal communication is strong.
By taking steps to anticipate customer needs as outlined above, you can make staff aware of common complaints and keep them two steps ahead.
When it comes to customer service in the digital age, it is a lack of curiosity that could kill the proverbial cat.
Pay attention to what’s being said about your company and service on social media and review websites. Luckily many social sites allow you to search for relevant posts simply by typing in your company name, and when it comes to review sites you will have a dedicated page.
Another good practice is to set up Google Alerts for your company name, which will send you emails when you are mentioned anywhere online.
Tackle the problem head-on and respond to complaints, but first determine if it warrants a response. An offhand sentence on a small, niche travel blog is probably not going to make the mass media and responding may just draw unwanted attention to the issue – after all, the complaint has not been formally reported. Focus on the sites with users in the millions, because this is where your future customers are.
Many contemporary companies go a step further and utilise social media accounts, particularly Twitter, as channels dedicated to customer care enquiries.
This could take the form of a separate account that operates alongside your official account, responding to tweets directed at the main handle, or you can keep it all together under one account. All that matters is that you respond to any mention of a poor service – and quickly!
A good example of this being done right is JetBlue Airways @JetBlue, whose Twitter replies feed really sets the standard for social customer service. Browsing these tweets, you may notice a couple of things:
Firstly, not all of the tweets that JetBlue respond to include their @ handle – which demonstrates a good amount of curiosity. Not only are they responding to enquiries intentionally directed at their brand, they are also proactively searching for tweets and dealing with them.
Secondly, they also respond to positive mentions and compliments of their service, using light-hearted language and thanking the customer. This is also important as it demonstrates a balance. Other users are much more inclined to believe that a bad experience is sometimes unavoidable when they are also shown the times you have gotten it right.
It may seem daunting to encourage feedback via social channels and it does have the potential to put your brand in a vulnerable position, but customers will keep on tweeting and ignoring the problem with only make it worse.
When it comes to responding to a complaint in the public arena, transparency is key.
Try not to overthink the response too much. Level with the customer; if you don’t know the solution right away then tell them you are unsure but will investigate the matter and come back to them. This allows you to respond quickly, showing that you value their opinion, while managing expectations of when the matter will be dealt with.
Whatever you do, don’t hide behind corporate jargon. Consumers will recognise a tactical response and take it as an insult to their intelligence.
Speak their language and try to recognise their tone, there may be times when a bit of subtle humour or light-heartedness will diffuse the situation – but keep it inoffensive and reassuring. Be more than just a brand carrying out damage control, be human.
KLM is another airline that is totally killing it with their digital customer service game, with rapid and straight-talking responses. The airline has heavily invested in Twitter as a means of dealing with customer grievances and even provide an expected response time in the header of their profile, which they update every 5 minutes (at the time of writing the response time is estimated at 33 minutes).
The way that they achieve the promised response time is through honesty. A look at their Replies feed shows many instances where they let the customer know they are investigating or request further information so they can deal with the complaint effectively.
They are not claiming to fix the problem in 33 minutes, rather just acknowledge it, which still earns them points with the affected customer.
Holding your hands up and admitting a mistake is likely to calm down a disgruntled customer because it demonstrates that you respect them enough to be honest, this will also earn you valuable credibility in the long run.
The key difference between a traditional customer service strategy and a digital strategy is that, rather than dealing primarily with incoming enquiries, the latter calls for a much more proactive approach.
There will always be problem cases when a customer will not back down, so be prepared to lose some; getting in to online arguments is not advised.
And most importantly – watch out for the trolls!