Online travel firms are going to have make sure customer service is part of their DNA by exploiting advances in technology to gather intelligence about the performance of their sites.
Geoff Galat, vice president market and product strategy for site optimisation specialist Tealeaf said in a flat market making sure you retain and convert existing customers will become more vital.
He said estimates of the amount of business retailers are “putting at risk” in the UK each year because of website functionality issues come in at around £20 billion.
“Your sites’ competition really is www.somebodyelse.com – there is almost nothing you can’t buy from someone else. It’s not hard to hit the back button.
“How many people call Travelocity when they can’t book a flight? They just go to Expedia. On top of that because of social networking they are not going to tell the company they’ve had a problem, they’re going to tell everyone else.”
Galat said despite the downturn since 2008 the last three years have been the most successful in Tealeaf’s history – the company was founded in the US in 1999.
“At the beginning of 2009 our board of directors looked at us in the management meeting and said we do not know if we are going to sell any software.
“But in the last three years companies have had to sharpen their pencil. There is a finite number of customers out there and they are very price conscious and focused on customer service as a differentiator.”
Galat commended Gold Medal’s consumer direct arm Netflights, one of its UK customers, for its work in customer experience management.
It has been calling back any customers who have almost completed a high value booking but do not check out for whatever reason.
Galat said firms must be careful how they do this as they do not want to “spook” customers, but he said the feedback from Netflights’ has been very positive.
He said in Netflights’ 300-strong call centre 20 people are doing this and they now account for around a fifth of the revenue of the call centre.
“Travel booking is one of the most complex processes there is. You are putting together different product and every customer has a different dynamic,” Galat said.
“It makes the customer experience challenging because you are trying to add together all this complexity.”
Galat said firms had to identify booking problems customers are experiencing in real time to nip any problems in the bud, particularly as consumers are now likely to air their grievances on Twitter.
Another Tealeaf customer, Delta Airlines, has addressed this with its Delta Assist Twitter account which it uses to communicate and take any issues offline.
“Customer gripes have a very viral effect, especially if you are a casual traveller if you hear one of these horror stories. Those sort of things get tweeted about and that can really damage the brand so companies really have to try to mitigate that.”