So what can you do to get better customer service? Travelers and travel experts say you need to double down on tried-and-true strategies like persistence, courtesy, and patience. But amid the pandemic, some things have changed.
For starters, the staffing shortage associated with the Great Retirement gutted many customer service departments. If you have a problem, you’re probably talking to a bot – if you can get to one at all. 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 24/7 support and a way to access important information even when human support agents may not be available,” says Sourabh Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Skit.ai, a Developer of artificial intelligence driven language technology. You can tell your travel company has this by looking for a “Contact Us” feature on their website, which offers 24/7 phone, chat, and email support.
With fewer agents available, it’s important that you reach out to the right person. Lorena Kurtjian Hernandez, senior director at Medallia, a developer of customer feedback management software, says calling a company’s main service line is a mistake. Chances are you’ll just end up in the phone tree limbo.
“Instead, carefully check the travel company’s website to find contact information for the specific issue you need help with,” says Hernandez. “You’re much more likely to get help from the right person in the right department when you know exactly what kind of support you need.”
There are many ways to communicate with a company and it pays to be familiar with all of them. When you travel, experts say, you have to think outside the box. Consider what happened to Chris Michaels, a website editor living outside of Chicago, when he recently stayed at a DoubleTree near Houston. When his family ordered breakfast from the hotel restaurant, it took over an hour to arrive and it was cold. The waiter “barely” apologized, he said, before handing him a check for $60.
“We walked past the front desk several times to discuss the experience, but there was always a long line,” 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,” says Michaels.
It always helps to be kind. This has been a long and stressful summer of travel and your good manners will get you far in trying to get better customer service. “I recommend that both customers and service agents be as friendly as possible,” said Dan Skilken, President of TripInsurance.com. “The more positive that experience is, the better the outcome.”
He’s right. I’ve seen this in my own consumer advocacy as well. Threatening emails that say “I’ll never do business with you again” or “I’ll sue you” are far more likely to be ignored. But friendly requests for help get attention almost immediately. Don’t be too informal, by which I mean go easy on the emoji. But a little kindness can go a long way—especially now.
Businesses know that customer service will be a challenge as travel returns to pre-pandemic levels. How they meet this challenge can make or break their success. Consider what furnished apartment rental company Blueground has done to ramp up for the summer. Blueground has always offered a fully digital experience, communicating with guests through its app, which allows customers to quickly connect during their stay. But the company has been wary of over-automating, so it now makes sure a human, not a bot, answers every contact.
“We’ve also empowered our support teams to make quick decisions,” said Nessy Ismet, Director of Client Experience at Blueground. “It allowed every guest to have a human-to-human experience.”
The situation is not hopeless. Suzanne Hodes, a retired small business owner from Weston, Florida, recently visited Rome with her husband. She says the city is still in “welcome back mode.”
“Few restaurants include service charges or tips,” she says. “You leave it up to the guest to do the right thing.” Your snack bar? Maybe – just maybe – the hospitality industry sees its happy customers and wants them to stay that way.
Prospective travelers should consider local and national health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning a trip. For travel health advice information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interactive map of travel advice by destination and the CDC’s travel health advice website.