Customer service is the current battle ground where competing destinations are slugging it out to show off how personalized their service is. They have oodles of CRM data that tells them everything about you when you arrive. But what about before they arrive? What about the customer service experience they get from you online? After all, its there that the relationship begins.
Travelers have questions but they don't want the canned FAQ answers. They don't want an algorithm to answer their questions, they want to tell you their unique needs and get the real-deal answers from a real live person.
They also don't want to wait until 9AM when they're trying booking their vacation at 9PM.
Focus on when you need to be available to provide service.
Here's what I'm talking about....
Expedia is arguably the most dominant force in Travel right now. In March they embarked on a a campaign called #ExpediaInterns featuring a modern Felix and Oscar (Jay & Stuart) who answer all of your travel questions. Its brilliant. The campaign features TV/Youtube spots that introduce the service with smart tips and guide travelers to Twitter where they answer questions using #ExpediaInterns. This is online customer service that is human based, not machine based, and gives the brand personality.
Every brand can do this. Every brand can provide better and more personalized customer service online to compete. But don't worry, this won't be hard.
You have a bunch of tools that are fairly cheap to implement and easy to use. Now, before you say "but we don't have the manpower to support this", I would counter that you do. You just need to reallocate and train your resources.
So what are these tools?
Start With Your Website
Your website is the first place people go to learn about what you can offer them or to get help. Perhaps shift the emphasis from selling to helping. Or should I say, good helping is good selling.
So first, make sure the site easy to use and navigate across desktop and mobile. Then make sure your phone number and email/contact forms are readily available. Table steaks.
Now, add LiveChat. Its cheap and super easy to use. The response I hear too often is "we don't have the staff for that". However, using this, a rep can work with at least 3 people at the same time. Given the choice between picking up a phone and hitting chat, customers are trending heavily toward chat. Plus any employee you choose can log-in and help from any computer and at any hour... and there's the rub. Customer's aren't buying between 9-5. Travel and many other purchases happen at night after the kids are tucked in.
Winning business used to be about the convenience of 'where'. Today its about 'when'.
This is the perfect channel to help people and to build relationships between customers and a brand.
People very often go to social media to ask questions, and are thrilled when they receive timely responses that help them... buy what you sell. When they don't get a response, they get angry.
So make sure you are monitoring Facebook and Twitter, and use it as an opportunity to show the world how awesome your customer service is.
Update 4/21/15 : Twitter just added the option to allow anyone to Direct Message you (previously both accounts needed to follow one another), which opens up this channel even more to provide great customer service on Twitter.
I love hearing about apps that leverage people versus machines. The New York Times recently did a piece on Apps For Encounters of the Local Kind, and each app is about connecting travelers with locals.
Featured in the article is one app that a buddy of mine is involved with: Urban Buddy. Urban Buddy partners with hotels to provide a modern live concierge service by using hand-selected locals (buddies) who answer questions in real-time. So this is a great example where technology provides person to person service that can reflect so well for any brand.
So not only are all of these great tools for delivering modern customer service, but they're also tools for sales. By learning their needs, you have the opportunity to maximize yield by listening and cross/up-selling at every step from the very first step.
Wait. I have another....
When each resort, each hotel, each business has their product all dialed- leaving less and less to differentiate, customer service becomes all the more important. So make sure that service is expressed as well online as it is at your location.