This post is part of a series created collaboratively by Skift and Checkmate on the future of messaging in the travel industry. Read the first two posts to learn about the evolution of traveler communication habits and how the Post-App Economy is changing the way travel brands interact with customers.

Few experiences conjure more consumer loathing than being transferred from department to call center department. Youtube is replete with outrageous, frustrating call center clips. GetHuman built a cult following among consumers desperate to hack dehumanizing call center processes.

Messaging provides a path out of this morass, but like any new tool, adopting a better communications strategy demands an organizational change. Customer communication must be the shared responsibility of the entire team, not an isolated task for contact center agents.

Communications Between Travel Brands and Customers are Fragmented

Picture1Travel brands have concentrated customer interaction in large-scale, off-premise customer contact centers. Whether a hotel, rental car, or other travel brand, customer interactions are handled by agents in places like Omaha or Ireland.  What started as call centers handling an 800-number have grown to contact centers encompassing a range of communication channels, including email and social media.

While these scale operations have some real benefits – such as 24×7 support and lower unit costs – contact centers are ill-equipped to manage the real-time service requests from messaging. As Checkmate’s
study of tens of thousands of customer messages demonstrates, consumers use
messaging tools to ask questions about immediate needs.  Travelers seek answers to questions like “when is my room ready?” and “is room service is still open?”  Far from the property and disconnected from the operation, contact center agents struggle to respond.

These limitations are illustrated by one global hotel brand’s experiment with Facebook Messenger (see screenshot at left). To Hyatt’s credit, the brand invited guests to use Facebook Messenger to communicate with their properties.  However, responses were handled by their contact center agents, not the property team.  In this case:

  • A message to the Hyatt Regency San Francisco resulted in a response to “call the hotel directly”. Since contact center agents lack the tools to easily reach the team on property, this response is no surprise.  But for the guest this is confusing.  The typical guest will wonder “who did I talk to?” and “why did I waste my time?”
  • Despite an initial message (and response) via Facebook Messenger, the guest is directed to talk on the phone.  Again, internal systems dictate this response.  Since the property team lacks access to Messenger, the only way to reach the property team is through a phone call.  
  • Response times are challenging for service delivery interactions. A six hour response time would be fine for questions around a point balance, but for on-property service delivery this falls short.

Making Communication a Shared Responsibility

To realize the benefit of messaging, travel brands must approach customer communication as a team.  All employees – not just contact center agents – must be empowered to engage the customer. And teamwork requires tools that coordinate activity throughout the brand. What does this mean in practice?

One inbox to rule them all.  Today, messaging channels are fragmented. SMS, email, social media, in-app activity, and web chat (not to mention TripAdvisor and OTA messaging tools or voice) each have their own interface.  Expecting an employee to respond quickly across all these channels is a fool’s errand that leads to exasperated employees, disjointed responses, and disappointed guests.  A single inbox for all channels makes for timely interactions and sane employees.

Work as one team.  Travel brands are complex operations that require the coordination of many teams and individuals.  Shift-based employees must transfer information to colleagues who will cover when they leave for the day.  Different departments must interact to serve the customer; a request for a car to be brought up must be transferred to parking and a valet must get the car.  Messages and associated internal commentary are persistent and circulate throughout the team.

Build a memory of the customer.  A single conversation thread for each customer provides employees with context to respond intelligently.  Messages provide a record every employee can access.  They see past interactions and customer history, and they don’t start from zero in their interaction with the customer.   

For more insights on how messaging can change customer communication, download this case study about personalized messaging at Commune Hotels.
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This content was made collaboratively with our partner Checkmate.