by WEX Travel
One of the most talked-about—make that the most texted-about—customer service innovations in the travel industry today is instant messaging. Travel companies are increasingly giving customers the opportunity to “chat” on their computer or mobile device with a real-live-customer service agent.
Consider these scenarios: A holidaymaker is in the middle of booking a flight online and a question pops to mind. A business traveler has had a last-minute change of plans and needs help tweaking their itinerary. A road warrior is standing in a crowded hotel lobby, checking into their room on their smart phone, and have a quick billing issue to address. What’s the fastest route to getting their issues resolved?
Certainly, they can dial your toll-free telephone number or handle it face-to-face at a ticket counter or service desk (if your business is not solely online)—in either case they may have to wait in a queue. They can also hop online to read through FAQs on your company website. But there’s another option that’s more convenient than the rest: instant messaging. It’s immediate and gives your customers direct access to a live agent who can help expedite any request, from booking to billing.
Face-to-Face or Over-the-Phone? Forget It.
It’s not that the more traditional customer service methods—phone, face-to-face, DIY online—aren’t effective. But messaging technology delivers the stellar, more streamlined “experience” that consumers expect today. And that’s one that combines ubiquitous techno-access combined with a real, live human being. It’s the best of both worlds.
Consumers have already embraced new channels, like mobile, to communicate and transact business. Plus, messaging is aligned with overall market trends. Consider what Forrester Research found out about how US online adults access customer service:
- 76% used web self-service (help or FAQs) on a company’s web site
- 73% had a conversation with a representative via telephone
- 68% sent customer service an e-mail
- 58% connected with a live person through instant messaging or online chat
- 50% visited an online forum or customer community
- 43% used an online “virtual agent”
- 37% contacted a company using Twitter
For many travelers, especially Millennial and Generation Z consumers, instant messaging or chatting is likely the preferred method to address customer service issues. Read Mobile and Millennials: 4 Ways Hospitality Brands Must Accommodate and How Travel Companies Are Gearing Up to Accommodate Generation Z for more.
Making a Difference to Travelers
Service-via-chat is an important customer service feature to offer to travel shoppers throughout the online research-to-purchase process, where people are comfortable finding the “best” deals but may also have questions they’d like answered from a live agent. Picking up the phone, drafting an e-mail, or clicking around a website in search of an answer isn’t necessarily streamlining the process for them. It simply makes sense for travel providers to take live service to the next level and put a service representative at their fingertips when they’re online and potentially booking—and need help the most.
The travel industry has just begun to explore the potential of instant messaging customer service. In fact, Skift’s 2-part trends report, The Rise of Messaging Technology in Travel Booking, examines bookings and the ways messaging can fuel conversions, how the melding of marketing and operations via messaging can foster positive customer experiences and loyalty-building interactions, and dives the opportunities for commerce on the various messaging technology platforms.
And in Messaging Apps With Travel Agents Are the ‘It’ Thing for Travel Startup World in 2016, Skift investigates the travel startup landscape and the question of whether people prefer to chat with agents from standard messaging apps (like Facebook’s Messenger) or inside specific travel apps. Here are just a few examples of companies gaining ground in the look-to-book messaging space:
- Jovago partners with WhatsApp, Viber, and LiveChat to allow travelers to book hotels directly via messaging without having to open a browser
- Pocket Tour uses Viber’s messaging platform to enable customers to “chat” with travel agents who help them research and book trips
- Hyper Travel develops their own apps enabling customers to communicate with travel agents via text and email-based travel booking services
The bottom line is that messaging and chat are becoming a must-have customer service option that all players in the travel industry should consider, from airlines and hotels to traditional travel agencies and OTAs. Think of your customer: on their next visit to your website, serve up a chat window and answer some questions, give some travel advice, or book some accommodations. It just might become their preferred way to interact with your brand.