Mike Atherton (left) is CEO at Mantic Point Solutions. They provide integrated itinerary management and duty of care services to the travel industry. Mantic Point supports travel management companies and travel agents in delivering a seamless experience to their corporate clients and travellers globally. This means that regardless of whether a traveller is accessing itinerary data via email, mobile apps, social media or online, their brand and content experience is consistent and familiar. www.manticpoint.com
Contingency planning is an important consideration for any business. In an emergency situation, it is vital that staff know what actions need to be taken, in order to stop the situation from escalating, or to adequately deal with the issue and communicate to their customers.
From the travel industry’s point of view, there are a range of unplanned events that can occur at any one time, such as delayed or cancelled transportation and flights, which creates a burden on customerfacing staff as they become deluged with enquiries from affected customers.
Ultimately, it is vital that the communications process is handled proactively. Travel companies often know in advance of the traveller the impact of a disruption. Being proactive means getting the right information to the right people at the right time, so that customers at least have information about what is happening to their journey. If not, the fallout results in major inefficiencies as staff try to deal with enquiries, and customer frustrations intensify if they can’t get appropriate answers.
One of the challenges we face is that in today’s digital world, the way in which we communicate with our customers is multi-channel – phone, email, online and social media interactions – all requiring a prompt and relevant response. Fast, proactive action and high levels of relevance are key to managing the communication process in times of high stress. Sending out generic messages to all will only aggravate traveller frustration and prompt more inbound calls.
TECHNOLOGY TO SUPPORT COMMUNICATIONS
Retaining control when an unplanned situation occurs is therefore of paramount importance. Many organisations are harnessing technology in order to achieve this and support the communication process. During periods of mass disruption, the number one complaint from passengers is: “The airline/airport didn’t keep me informed.”
A key way to overcome this in today’s digital world is to embrace mobile technology. Travellers carry four essential items: money, keys, travel documentation and mobile phones. So it makes sense to use this technology.
It is important to employ a system that enables ‘crosschannel’ communication. Using a decision rules engine, such systems allow the sending of targeted and relevant messages by an appropriate channel – for example by email, SMS or via an app – based on a customer’s preference and responses. This means the end user is engaged in a conversation that is not only sensitive to what went before, but prompts them about what to do next. This avoids bombarding them and makes every communication matter. It also saves the organisation money by reducing redundant communications.
PERSONALISED CONTACT WITH CUSTOMERS
A particular example of this was when the volcanic ash cloud closed Europe’s airspace for six days, affecting hundreds of thousands of travellers. For many of those stranded, mobile was their only means of communication. With call centres stretched beyond capacity, airlines and travel companies used cross-channel communications to send out over 100,000 personalised messages with advice to inform, reassure and ultimately help travellers get home.
Such technology is able to target specific messages to travellers, based on criteria including their location, the traveller’s intended flight and when they were due to depart. Replies can also be received via the system, so travellers can request help or ask for further information. Previously, this situation could have seen staff printing out the latest information, creating thousands of photocopies, and then distributing the information by hand, which would quickly become out of date.
It is vital to remember that customers associate a lack of information with a loss of control and this causes them to become irritated, anxious and negative. Planning for the unplanned may be an oxymoron, but I believe that preparation ensures that if an emergency occurs, you’ll have the necessary tools to deal efficiently with the situation and to reach out to customers in order to provide the reassurance they need.