So what can you do to get better customer service? Travelers and travel experts say double down on proven strategies like perseverance, politeness, and patience. But amid the pandemic, some things have changed.
For starters, staffing shortages related to the Great Resignation drained many customer services. If you have a problem, chances are you’re talking to a bot – if you can even reach one. User-generated reviews can help customers identify companies whose customer service has taken a hit. But there are other ways.
“Travelers should look for companies that offer round-the-clock support and a way to access key information, even when human support agents may not be available,” says Sourabh Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Skit.ai, a developer. voice technology based on artificial intelligence. You can tell your travel agent this by looking for a “contact us” feature on their site that offers 24/7 phone, chat, and email support.
Since there are fewer agents available to help you, it is important that you speak to the right person. Lorena Kurtjian Hernandez, senior manager at Medallia, a developer of customer feedback management software, says calling a company’s main service line is a mistake. Chances are you’ll find yourself in the limbo of the phone tree.
“Instead, carefully review the travel agency‘s website to find contact information for the specific issue you need help with,” Hernandez says. “You’re much more likely to get help from the right person in the right department if you’re very specific about the type of support you need.”
There are many ways to communicate with a business, and it pays to know them all. When you travel, experts say, you need to think outside the box. Consider what happened to Chris Michaels, a website editor who lives outside of Chicago, when he recently stayed at a DoubleTree near Houston. When his family ordered breakfast at the hotel restaurant, it took over an hour to arrive and it was cold. The waiter “barely” apologized, he said, then handed her a check for $60.
“We walked past the front desk several times to discuss the experience, but there was a long line each time,” he says. So he contacted the hotel through the Hilton app. “That night, the hotel manager texted me, called my room, and called my cell phone to apologize and remove the charge from my bill,” Michaels says.
It always helps to be friendly. It’s been a long and stressful summer for travel, and your good manners will go a long way when trying to get better customer service. “I recommend that customers and service representatives be as friendly as possible,” says Dan Skilken, president of TripInsurance.com. “The more positive this experience, the better the result.”
He is right. I have also seen this in my own consumer advocacy practice. Threatening emails that say “I will never do business with you again” or “I will sue you” are much more likely to be ignored. But friendly requests for help receive almost immediate attention. Don’t be too informal, by that I mean take it easy with the emoji. But a little kindness can go a long way, especially now.
Businesses know customer service is going to be a challenge as travel returns to pre-pandemic levels. How they meet this challenge can determine their success or failure. Consider what serviced apartment rental company Blueground has done to prepare for summer. Blueground has always provided a fully digitized experience, communicating with guests through its app, which allows guests to quickly get in touch during their stays. But the company was cautious about over-automation, so it now ensures that a human, not a robot, responds to every contact.
“We also empowered our support teams to make quick decisions,” says Nessy Ismet, Director of Customer Experience at Blueground. “It allowed for a human-to-human experience for every guest.”
The situation is not hopeless. Suzanne Hodes, a retired small business owner from Weston, Florida, recently traveled to Rome with her husband. She says the city is still in “comeback mode.”
“Not many restaurants include service charges or tips,” she says. “They leave it up to the guest to do whatever it takes.” His takeaways? Maybe – just maybe – the hospitality industry sees its customers happy and wants them to stay that way.
Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information on travel health advisories can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and on the CDC’s travel health advisories webpage.