Whether your online travel business is growing in size or extending its reach, having the right communications infrastructure in place is crucial. The thing is, setting up telephony and messaging is really, really complex. You could read volumes about the ins and outs of setting up the right channels for team collaboration, customer support, and sales. But who has time for that?
In the spirit of keeping things strangely simple, Voxbone has written this Pocket Guide to keep on your smartphone or tablet, to read in line at the supermarket or squeezed into the subway. Pretty much whenever you have a few minutes to spare.
In this edition of the Voxbone Pocket Guide, we’ll be looking at how online travel agencies (OTAs) can use enterprise communications to establish a local presence around the world.
In the past couple decades, customers have turned to OTAs in droves to book transportation, rent cars and stay in hotels, whether as all-inclusive offers or last-minute deals. A dream vacation is just a click away, with photos, reviews, and availabilities at a user’s fingertips. Making travel arrangements online is easy and convenient, but what keeps people coming back to your company?
A focus on customer service
One aspect of the customer experience that we’d like to cover in this Pocket Guide is customer service. Why does it matter? Consider this: more buyers are using traditional travel agents and making direct bookings than they were a few years ago. In order to stay competitive, OTAs need to implement better ways to support users with an even higher level of customer service that will win trust and inspire loyalty. It’s time to get talking.
In this Pocket Guide you’ll see why the right communication channels are vital to growth, and how it can be done easily, at a lower cost and with a greater reach. Voxbone makes it simple to give a voice to your customers around the world, whether they have access to high-speed internet or a coin-operated payphone is the best they’ve got. So, fasten your seatbelts and let’s get started!
Communication equals opportunity for OTAs
Despite the advantages OTAs can offer budget travelers and tech savvy users (read: Millenials), there has actually been an uptick in consumers using traditional travel agents. They’re luring travelers away from OTAs through personalized marketing, social media testimonials and by being able to offer one-on-one advice to travelers before and during their trips. After all, it’s a major advantage for customers to know that someone will pick up the phone, no matter what time of day or where they’re calling from. Just because your company is based on the web doesn’t mean it should be impossible to reach someone by phone.
It doesn’t look good when an online travel agency asks its customers not to call them. There have been high-profile examples of OTAs posting to social media during that they were at peak capacity, asking users to call only if they were having an emergency. Customer service limitations like these lead to negative reviews on the channels that are available to users. Without an agent to speak with, customers experiencing an issue will likely turn to social media sites like Twitter to air their grievances, which is becoming a common stage for expressing dissatisfaction. Bad reviews will hurt future business, plain and simple.
A study by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), shows that overall customer satisfaction with online travel agencies hasn’t seen any improvement between 2016 and 2017. In fact, there has actually been a slight decrease in the perceived helpfulness of their customer support. Satisfaction with both airline and hotel websites, however, have increased, and the numbers show that most people prefer to book directly. If these findings are bumming you out, look at it this way: OTAs have a great opportunity to win over more customers by stepping up their customer service game to give users the same or more support than travel agents, hotels and airlines offer.
But isn’t it a safe bet to say, “Build it on the web and they Millennials will come”? So, what gives? Could the resurgence in popularity for travel agents or direct bookings have something to do with the fact you can send a text or make a quick call to resolve an issue and expect a speedy resolution? We think so. Let’s look at taking the next step for developing an effective communications strategy that will leave the competition speechless.
Getting a leg up on the competition with customer support and marketing
A report by J.D. Power found that the two highest-rated OTAs for customer service were Travelocity.com and Expedia.com. It’s no wonder that these sites offer extensive customers service including local and toll-free phone numbers around the world. These services also offer personalized promotions that are activated when a customer registers with their mobile phone number. Having a direct line of communication between business and customer is what makes the difference between a one-time customer and a loyal fan.
On the other hand, when a company only offers customer service via email, the red flags start to fly. As a traveler, will I get a fast response to my problem? Will anyone speak my language? What happens when I don’t have an internet connection? Being able to connect to an agent instantly, or at least with minimal wait times, is increasingly important to people who use online services. Travel is no exception. After all, people are about to be or already on vacation–and perhaps no time is more precious than vacation time.
So, having a web-based strategy for marketing and support is important. But there are other effective ways to reach customers, or to be reached by them:
How to do it via voice
- Set up phone channels (with toll-free and/or local numbers) in case users need help making their booking through your company.
- Offer a way to make changes or cancellations over the phone (many sites charge an additional fee to do this, so make sure agents are trained to explain why).
- Be prepared to handle whatever in the world your customers throw at you! The right strategy can keep satisfaction high and complaints resolved quickly by one of your agents. Talking to them means they aren’t taking to social media with angry posts.
- Ask questions and engage with customers to find opportunities for additional sales. How will you get around once you’re there? We can offer a great deal on a rental car for those dates.
How to do it via SMS
- Ask questions via text–this can help ensure customers will call the right department rather than waste time explaining the issue multiple times and waiting on hold.
- Send automated travel alerts like flight time updates or cancellations to customers who opt in.
- Deliver customized notifications for loyalty programs and promotions, another area where the ACSI report showed a decrease in satisfaction–it’s time to reverse the trend.
- Take it the next step personalized suggestions for travel partners or additional services. As in, your customer just booked a flight to Budapest–you can send them offers for car rental or hotels in the same city, or what restaurant to go to for the best goulash.
Taking the next step: Voxbone can get you where you need to go
You’re ready to boost communication between you and your customers on a local level. This must mean you’ll need to set up offices in each country where customers are calling from, right? Before you waste a massive amount of resources doing this the old-fashioned way, take a look at the benefits of a web-based communications infrastructure. You can operate on a global level without having to invest in complicated and expensive telephony.
As an online travel provider, you are well aware that there are myriad regulations and nuances to navigating an international business. Global communications is no exception. Voxbone simplifies global communications so your business can be available to customers–wherever in the world they may be–without spending a huge amount of resources to get there.
Here are some options Voxbone gives you for connecting with new and existing customers to grow your business internationally:
1)Toll-free and city-specific numbers
Voxbone’s DIDs let you provide channels for your customers to reach you “locally” from more than 9,000 area codes across the globe. You can also make outbound calls using your Voxbone numbers. Learn more here.
2) 2-way SMS and mobile numbers
Whether you want to use them for marketing, customer service or get the most of modern UX, two-way SMS allows you to send messages to mobile phones worldwide and let let customers call you back on the same number. This is a great way to give your OTA an advantage in a world where the travel agent is using texts for a personalized customer experience. Two can play that game.
3) Burst capacity
When your numbers start to grow unexpectedly, whether during the holidays or when things heat up at the beach, you’ll want to be prepared. Voxbone offers the flexibility to go from receiving a standard amount of call traffic (when people aren’t snatching up the last seats on flights or needing support while on their vacation) to peak months when usage skyrockets.
It’s time to beat the travel agent at their own game with an evolved communications strategy. Voxbone can simplify your infrastructure and make things flow smoothly with its API-based provisioning.