There’s no denying the significant impact COVID-19 has had on consumer travel behavior. Travel and hospitality organizations are still reeling from balancing decreased demand and the need to lay off workers with keeping their heads above water and staying in business. Meanwhile, customers are equally stressed as they deal with massive wait times to cancel flights, get refunds or even understand how new restrictions and policies apply to their travel plans.
Unfortunately, many hotels, airlines and other hospitality businesses are struggling to effectively address the stress that consumers are experiencing due to the turmoil caused by the pandemic. A recent study found that 96 percent of customers will leave a preferred company after a bad experience—and some of these companies have lost sight that customer experience (CX) is more important now than ever. The following customer expectations could be silent killers for travel and hospitality businesses’ CX and failing in these areas can negatively impact any company’s bottom line.
Here’s what you need to know so your hotels and/or restaurants can prevent losing customers to the competition.
1. Customers no longer compare you only to your direct competition, they compare you to the best service they have ever received from anyone
Customers are savvier than ever when it comes to customer service. They know what good service is because companies such as, Apple, Nordstrom, Zappos and Amazon have set the bar extremely high. If you think you only have to be better than your direct competitor, you are wrong. While it’s definitely good to be better than your competition, the CX standard your customers expect may be set by companies outside the hospitality industry. Particularly in times of crisis like the COVID pandemic, a customer’s interaction with a company can trigger an immediate and lingering effect on his or her sense of trust and loyalty.
2. Along with immediacy, transparency is key for customer experiences
Today, consumers are accustomed to immediate gratification. When their experience isn’t satisfactory, they can vent immediately by posting on social media about their negative experience. COVID-19 placed additional stress on finances for many consumers. If they can’t easily cancel a reservation or get their money back for a flight, they are likely to get upset and choose other companies that can accommodate such requests in the future. Responding to customers immediately, even just to say that the customer service team will investigate the issue, reduces their anxiety and can help to prevent additional friction in the customer’s experience.
Transparency is key here—customer service agents need to be candid about how it will take to get that refund, resolve an issue or even giving the customer an estimate on how long they can expect to wait on hold before someone can help them. Given this new reality, it’s important for businesses to always stay one step ahead of not only their competition, but the customer as well. An efficient way to do this is through automated CX testing, which reduces the time it takes to identify and react to bumps in the customer journey. Automated CX can also reduce costs by streamlining CX systems and processes.
3. Try to be extra flexible with customers, even when your business is hurting
Amid the pandemic, along with wildfires causing damage and polluting air quality across the West Coast this year, customers had to move weddings, vacations and other plans at a day’s notice. According to a survey conducted in April 2020, 87 percent of events professionals had to fully cancel their planned events, while 66 percent postponed them due to COVID-19 safety concerns.
Even though restaurants and hotels are struggling right now, we must remember that all of us are going through unprecedented circumstances this year and bear with last minute rescheduling, cancellations, etc. Customers are more likely to feel comfortable booking your hotel or restaurant if they aren’t worried about cancellation fees or not getting refunded in the event of an unexpected change. If refunds are not an option, offering credit so that the customer can reschedule to a later date is another good option.
For example, if airlines can’t offer refunds for financial reasons, they can offer customers who cancel flight credits that don’t expire for at least a year so they can book flights again when they feel comfortable flying again post-pandemic. Also, during the California wildfires this year, Napa Valley wineries and hotels had no choice but to allow last-minute reschedules and free cancellations since customers didn’t want to breathe in the smoke, and COVID-19 mandates still required outdoor dining. Thankfully, the fires stopped, and customers were able to return so it wasn’t too detrimental to those businesses.
Start Thinking About the “New Normal”
Once the public health crisis has subsided, the economic impacts will persist. Because of this travel and hospitality companies should focus on delivering the experiences that go above and beyond in order to delight customers in a post-pandemic world or the “new normal.” Rather than being set on returning to how it was before COVID-19, businesses can prepare for the next normal while finding ways to save budget and streamline customer service channels with automated CX technology.
Regardless of the circumstances, don’t give your customers a reason to switch because of poor CX. By having the right people on your customer service team, in combination with the right technology, you can ensure your customers are having the highest-level experience, despite the challenges posed by any disruptions.
Alok Kulkarni is CEO of Cyara.