If you’ve traveled, you know how frustrating it is when the travel customer experience goes wrong. Just last month, I got bumped from call center agent to call center agent when I wanted to change a flight. I had to tell my story repeatedly, even though the airline had all my data.

The pressure of a difficult balancing act

The good news is that experiences like this have been the exception, not the rule for me. Because travel companies know how critical getting the customer experience right is—especially as the pandemic has changed travelers’ expectations, and the travel industry is hyper-focused on recovery.

But the reality is that travel companies face a dilemma here—an undeniable catch-22 situation. They are under massive, even existential, pressure to cut costs. Not only has delivering customer experiences become more expensive, cutting customer service budgets risks alienating the very travelers that the industry desperately wants (and needs) to welcome back.

Travel companies have to strike a difficult balance. The goal? Achieving sustainable servicing costs and providing an inspiring, delightful customer experience to regain customer favor and loyalty.

Data insight can release the pressure

Data is key to breaking this juggernaut. And the good news is that travelers’ changing preferences are making more data available to travel companies. After all, travelers are more digital than ever.

Consider that:

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The majority (61%) prefer an online channel like websites for customer service and support. 

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ONLY 31%

Want to call the contact center. 

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Also, the popularity of digital self-service through virtual assistants like chatbots and Alexa has jumped from 16% to 24% over the last year. 1

Digital solutions aren’t just in demand, they’re the foundation for advanced insights into customer behavior and intelligent use of customer data. By building on a broad foundation of relevant data, travel players can anticipate needs, automate transactions and deliver the experiences that travelers crave. Digital solutions are often less expensive in the long run because they reduce both the need for interactions and the handling time. So it’s a win-win for travel companies and travelers.

When you discover the secret sauce

Once travel companies get their foundational data layer right, they have taken the most important step to lower customer service costs and improve travelers’ experience. Just think of the possibilities when you finally find this “secret sauce.”

  • If you know the typical customer concerns that call agents deal with, then you can focus on the highest-impact concerns and implement automated solutions that provide immediate assistance to travelers.
  • If you know where travelers are in their journey and can anticipate the issues they might face, then you can provide tailored and proactive information and the right tools at the right point in time and decrease the number of transactions.
  • If you know or can anticipate how many people might call at what times, then you can reduce wait times by intelligent handling of customer requests and dynamic prioritization of agents.

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Data has become the glue between servicing across the journey and sustainable cost savings.

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Think big to get started

Travel companies often try to become data-driven through a piecemeal approach. They implement small, isolated solutions with singular prototypes, proofs of concept and “agile projects.” They end up with a patchwork of point solutions that simply don’t deliver.

Without a shared, sponsored vision and clear target picture, companies run the risk of causing more damage than good. What happens? Customers get stuck in a maze of disconnected and inconsistent service interaction points, and travel players get more cost and complexity to manage.

Instead, travel companies should embrace a comprehensive approach to customer service with data at the core by making changes across these dimensions:

  • Customers. Understand customers’ challenges and through which digital channel(s) they prefer to get support.
  • Employees. Upskill employees so they can focus on value-adding tasks and delighting travelers instead of simple, repetitive customer service requests.
  • Processes and technology. Evolve from a legacy environment with siloed data and lack of data capture to an integrated service command center that supports full transparency, automation and intelligent data handling.

Travel must chart its own data course

Other industries have worked with data to achieve “no compromises” approaches to cost-effective and strong customer experiences. However, “lifting and shifting” what’s worked elsewhere isn’t enough. Industry-specific solutions are key to address the nuance, complexity and volatility in Travel.

I believe that travel companies can make this next era of Travel one where data is power, and they don’t have to sacrifice cost for experience or experience for cost. The secret sauce is there for taking. Are you ready for it?

Think big, start small

Looking to understand more about the impact a solid data strategy can have on your organization? Delve into more articles from our data digest:

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1 Accenture Global Consumer Pulse Research 2020/21, n=2663

Thank you to the colleagues who contributed to this content: Christian Winter and Jonas Drewitz.

Tuba Guclu

Managing Director – Travel

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