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3 Tips to the Travel Industry for Supporting Customers During COVID-19

By: Boaz Omanuti, Co-Founder and CEO at Reps AI

Airlines customer service during COVID-19

It is undeniable that one of the industries hit most severely by the global COVID-19 crisis is the travel industry. On March 5th, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicted a revenue loss of over $110 billion to the airline industry alone. As the Economist reported, Alex Cruz, CEO of British Airways noted to its employees that “Most of the industry should pull through if the situation lasts one or two quarters. Any longer, and the future of air travel could be altered for good.”


The COVID-19 crisis has several interrelated impacts on the airline and hospitality industry’s customer service teams:

  • The massive drop in revenues is leading companies to preserve cash in the form of drastic cost cuts

  • A tremendous influx of COVID-19-related incoming customer support requests

  • Call centers moving to work remotely which is pushing them to buy relevant technology in days (just imagine a PCI compliant team with an on-premises system that needs to work from home...)

  • New management challenges in performance and shift management


Most support teams simply cannot cope with this increased volume, but cannot increase the number of agents, leaving customers frustrated and helpless in a time where global anxiety levels are already sky-high. This would be a poor time for companies to damage the brand they’ve spent years building.


As we’ve heard many times before, drastic times call for drastic measures and these include transforming our way of operating and our way of approaching the new reality. The faster companies adapt, the more likely they are to survive these crazy times. All that is needed is a new perspective and some adjustments.


In the last weeks, I’ve seen several travel companies adapt their customer service teams to the new reality in a way that improves their brand and effectiveness. I believe other companies should follow suit. Here are three tips for how you can do what others are doing.


Tip 1: Leverage New Kinds of CS Automations

We’ve all heard endless gospels about automation in recent years. While I strongly believe that automation cannot replace live agents completely, there are definitely new ways to leverage the benefits of automation during these times.


At this moment, support agents are bombarded by high volumes of requests but many of these requests are similar and can be easily automated so that an agent can execute the task at the click of a button. Take RPA, for example. RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is the use of software to handle high-volume, repeatable tasks that previously required humans to perform. Combined with AI or machine learning, this could really make a difference in handling time. Companies should apply an ‘RPA + AI mindset’ for internal tasks such as creating a chatbot for quickly checking claim status, creating an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) bot that sends a text message if a flight has been canceled, or allow an agent to email a refund receipt or invoice to a customer at the click of a button.


Tip 2: Track & Optimize More Aspects of Your Remote Team’s Day-to-Day

Pre-coronavirus service teams normally sat in the same center, giving managers oversight and control over agents and the ability to respond quickly to issues. That reality is now gone with more and more support centers working remotely. In order to ensure teams are staying efficient and agents are getting the support they need from senior agents, managers must adapt their way of monitoring and analyzing their teams. New KPIs need to be created and tracked.


For example, the classic AHT (Average Handling Time) formula of dividing the total time by resolved tickets, is simply insufficient in this new reality. Managers should get more specific and start measuring sub-tasks like AHT for responding in chats or emails. Moreover, managers should track the frequency of use of templates to ensure agents are leveraging resources provided by CX or Marketing. Finally, in times where managers are not around and customer satisfaction is more crucial than ever, it is important to track the use of the right brand voice in all interactions with customers.


Tip 3: Improve the Digital Experience by Measuring Sentiment with NLP

As mentioned above, customer satisfaction is a critical element to maintain during the crisis and can make the difference in loyalty once the crisis passes. With call centers at full capacity, more and more customers will turn to alternative digital channels, not because they prefer them to speak to an agent, but simply because wait times are too long. There is a higher risk to create irreparable damage to your brand.


Instead of treating your queue with the usual First-In-First-Out (FIFO) mechanism, you could benefit from a system that allows you to flag customers that are experiencing higher levels of discontent based on NLP, not on surveys. There are several AI tools that allow you to measure sentiment, enabling you to flag unhappy customers and provide them with an incentive or wording that is likely to de-escalate the situation and please the customer. It may feel counterintuitive with travel companies facing a financial crisis themselves, but times of crisis are actually an important time to be more generous with your customers who are going through these rough times, too. There are plenty of ways to improve satisfaction, whether it be offering an incentive, a voucher or simply more encouraging language. This will allow you to provide a personalized approach to customers based on their sentiment, and avoid escalations which can be trickier during these times.


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The medium and long term impact of COVID-19 is still unknown. It could very well be that even once the crisis is behind us, its indirect impact will stay for years to come. One thing is for sure, the companies that survive will be the ones who were quick to adapt and transform and leverage technology to make the most of the new reality.


To learn more about Reps AI’s offering and how it can help your support teams feel free to talk us at www.reps.ai

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