Experts: Embracing Mobile is Key for The Travel Industry This Holiday
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With smart phones more prominent than ever before, the key to eliminating travel headaches this holiday season lies in the travel industry's ability to reach customers wherever they are.
"It's really all about mobile," says Travelzoo's Senior Vice President Of Global Customer Service Lisa Oswald. "What's the first thing you're going to reach for when there's a problem? It's going to be that mobile device."
After all, this past spring mobile traffic share officially surpassed desktop. "For the very first time, 53 percent of all searches were coming through mobile compared to desktop," said Oswald.
This year, AAA forecasts nearly 47 million Americans to travel at least 50 miles from home for Thanksgiving. But the sheer volume of holiday travelers is compounded by Mother Nature and other unplanned events, particularly for air travelers impacted by unexpected flight delays and cancellations.
For those travelers left stranded at the airport or unable to check in to their hotel, oftentimes their lifeline is in their pocket.
"The challenge and the opportunity for companies, travel companies in particular, is that they need to deliver that service to the consumer through the channel of convenience. The only place that's convenient is the palm of your hand," says Oswald. "The best company is going to push a mobile alert to your phone. The reason they do that is because they know from studies that customer satisfaction with mobile is always higher than it is with a desktop experience."
"This push and pull strategy needs to be fully coordinated so that there's enough information on the company's website, which you can access on your mobile device."
And in most cases a positive experience amid a negative situation is enough to win over a customer.
"If a consumer is satisfied they are four times more likely to be a return customer than someone who is dissatisfied," says Janice Lachance, the interim CEO of the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals (SOCAP) International.
Lachance also points out that traveler satisfaction is more likely when effective mobile service is complemented by the presence of an actual agent. "According to SOCAP's numbers, satisfaction rates go up to 90 percent when an agent is involved in helping. So this notion of combining an automated self-help option with the ability to cut wait time and get to a human being in case you need that, having that option to get in touch with an agent really amplifies the outcome and satisfaction rate of the consumer."
In addition to congestion and inclement weather, the holiday season is a time when emotions run high.
"Tensions are higher, people really do want to get home at a certain time. They are looking forward to family traditions. It's an emotionally charged time of year," says Lachance. So, her advice to companies?
"Be ready and assume the worst."
And that preparation is likely to be more effective if it's accompanied by transparency.
"Wouldn't it be great if companies were fully forthright and transparent about what the traveler's rights are?" asks Oswald. "There's lots of different compensations that travelers who are stranded have access to, but rarely will a company be upfront to help guide them through that process on how to get proper recompense."
"The biggest and best companies have these crisis plans that are fully fleshed out and vetted and they are ready to be enacted at a phone call's notice," added Oswald, who praised companies like Marriott International and Hilton Worldwide for their customer service efforts.
Nonetheless, Oswald says it's critical that other travel brands around the globe develop the same mindset.
According to Lachance, the question travel companies must ask themselves this time of year is "what can you do to be transparent, to alert people to the issues they are going to be facing that may get in the way of them fulfilling the plans they've been thinking about for months?"
Since it's not a matter of if, but when a traveler's plans will be impacted or potentially derailed by unexpected events around the holidays, it's clear the travel industry's ability to deliver quality customer service hinges on its ability to embrace mobile.
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