The global travel and hospitality industry is enjoying boom times with spending on recreation, travel, and eating out all on the increase and predictions for continued growth. The flip side of all this good news is that competition remains fierce. Travel startups aimed at disrupting the status quo are setting new records for funding. And everyone is fighting for their share of the consumer wallet. To woo today’s guests, brands need to meet consumers’ higher levels of expectations for service. But what exactly are those expectations when it comes to interacting with a human or a bot? And do those preferences change when your trip doesn’t go according to plan?
Delivering the experiences that guests are looking for starts from the moment they begin thinking about their travel through to arriving back home—and those experiences will mean the difference between getting their business and losing out to your competition. Most travel and hospitality companies have adopted digital channels to help streamline the customer journey using self-service. Whether consumers realize it or not, they have most likely interacted with a bot while conducting research or booking online. Bots are used to proactively engage consumers while they browse and help navigate them to the best flight or hotel deal. Additionally, bots help make certain aspects of the experience easier, including processes such as booking, check-in, cancellation, and adding amenities. Since bots continuously learn from consumer interactions, they get smarter over time to better answer inquiries. However, bots cannot completely replace human connection and emotions, which are important elements of the guest experience – especially when something goes wrong.
We Still Need Humans
Experiences with flights, baggage, hotels, and other aspects of the trip are all important micro-moments that have a big impact on a traveler’s perception of a brand and willingness to rebook in the future. When issues arise, they are usually complex and emotional. It’s in these moments when travelers not only expect but prefer to speak with a human – but not just any human. According to recent research conducted by Startek, consumers told us in no uncertain terms that they specifically want to interact with people who are empathetic. Interestingly, it wasn’t just one or two age groups that express the desire for human contact, but every age group reports a preference for a human when the interaction is complex or emotional. Furthermore, when asked to choose what their ideal customer service interaction would look like, 57 percent of respondents said they want to speak with “an individual who cares about me personally and both answers my questions as well as offers insights.” During adverse situations, brands that frame the issue optimistically, educate guests in ways that reduce their anxieties, and anticipate guest needs to lessen effort will be rewarded.
A Two-Prong Strategy
There is no doubt that consumers expect to use technology to make their guest journeys easier. As another Startek study on customer satisfaction revealed, 78 percent of respondents have diligently tried to solve issues on their own before contacting a brand. When self-service fails, it takes a human to step in and frame a customer’s situation in ways that positively impact their perception of the brand. Humans remain an essential component in customer service because only humans can show emotional understanding, reduce customer anxiety, and build rapport.
To meet the needs and expectations of today’s guests, travel and hospitality companies should take a two-pronged, human-centric approach as part of your digital transformation strategy.
- Use technology to automate simple questions and transactions to enable guests to self-serve whenever possible.
- Deliver an authentic and personalized human conversation for more complex issues.
With authentic human dialogue, supported by the science of human communication, your organization can improve your outcomes from customer interactions, promote your brand, grow brand value, and increase omnichannel sales revenue.
Check out how we partnered with a leader in inflight Internet services to help consumers at 35,000 Feet. Read the full story here.