Due to a last-minute cancellation, a traveler from Vancouver, BC was forced to book a flight that cost four times the amount of her original ticket ($960 CAD instead of the original $250 CAD). While she was booked on a replacement flight scheduled to depart days later, this interfered with her larger plans, an “adventure of a lifetime” to Australia. The once giddy and enthusiastic mood quickly darkened.
Such stories are all too common today, as staffing shortages, coupled with soaring demand for travel, have taken their toll on the industry. For travelers, both novice and seasoned, a seamless travel experience is the optimal solution. How can travel companies go above and beyond (pun intended) to enhance the travel customer experience (CX)? Here are 4 of our favorite examples of companies doing just this.
4 Examples of Travel Companies Taking Steps to Enhance the Travel CX
- At Orlando International Airport, Clear is testing a pilot program that allows members to arrange for a Clear employee to meet them at the curb and help them navigate the complete airport process. Mitigating the hassle of navigating through airport terminal mazes, Clear Premium takes travelers all the way from TSA checkpoints, luggage tagging and through to the departure gate.
- Signaling an end to a long-standing policy of travelers exclusively booking tickets through their own website, for the first time, Southwest announced that it would allow customers to purchase tickets on the travel booking website Kayak. This summer, the airline also announced that it would be getting rid of expiration dates on flight credits issued to passengers, becoming the first major US airline to establish such a policy.
- Bypassing the website and app and meeting customers on the channels where they are, South African airline FlySafair launched new features within its WhatsApp business account, allowing passengers to check-in directly within the messaging platform. By simply sending a message to FlySafair’s business account, passengers are presented with a menu with several options, including checking on their booking and flight status. This conversational approach brings to mind elements of conversational ticketing that we explored in a recent article!
- Ahead of Labor Day weekend, the Department of Transportation (DOT) launched a new dashboard to help keep travelers informed. The tool offers travelers’ clarity on the services and amenities they should receive from airlines if they experience flight disruptions caused by something within the airline’s control, such as a mechanical or staffing issue. It also shows a clear comparison of amenities the airlines are committed to providing, such as meal vouchers in the event that passengers are stuck waiting for three hours or longer. Urging airlines to reevaluate their customer service commitments to passengers, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said that “the level of disruption Americans have experienced this summer is unacceptable.”
Enhance the Travel CX with AI
The smallest of actions, such as the addition of new services, can go a long way to build and maintain customer loyalty and make the travel journey even a modicum amount better. Yet, to keep up with high demand, which will likely endure, and to meet evolving customer expectations, more change is needed. “We did anticipate. Yes, the planning did start. What we underestimated, unfortunately, was the desire to which everyone wanted to travel and everyone wanted to travel at the same time,” a Canadian member of Parliament recently noted. By leveraging AI and automation, travel and hospitality companies can ensure that they are well-prepared for travel seasons to come, and for smooth skies ahead.
Swiftly handle cancellations, changes and upgrades
Due to widespread staffing shortages in the industry, most actions – from trip bookings to processing paperwork and securing refunds – take longer, and raise more work for customer service teams to tackle. While some may think that the travel agent/advisor role has been in decline due to the ease of self-bookings made online, this is not the case. For booking of trips, expert travel advice is increasingly sought-after, as nearly half of US travelers (44%) who rarely or sometimes used travel advisors in the past have said they were now more likely to use one post-pandemic. For travel agents and those keen to help others decipher the world of travel, opportunities await. Fora, launched in 2021, is a tech-powered travel startup that provides resources, training and access to a supplier hub to entrepreneurs interested in a part- or full-time career as a travel advisor.
Hiring more agents to meet soaring demands is not always the answer, when scaling a human-only support team is more difficult and costly than ever. An AI-powered virtual assistant can deal with highly repeatable queries, such as ‘How many frequent flier points will I receive for this flight?,’ ‘What are your COVID policies’, or ‘Is your hotel dog-friendly?’ This enables agents to service customers with more complex tasks and engage in more fulfilling work while freeing up their bandwidth – big time. Both can work alone or in tandem to resolve the issue – for instance, if the AI is not trained on an answer, it smoothly hands off the support ticket to a live agent, or works alongside the agent to augment their capabilities.
Proactive and 24/7 care, in an uncertain landscape
It is an ambiguous time for travel with lots of questions abound (Will my baggage arrive? What happens if I miss my connecting flight)? As evident through the DOT’s website plans mentioned above, the federal government is now taking additional steps to help frustrated passengers – in the first six months of 2022, 24% of US flights have been delayed and 3.2% have been canceled!
Being proactive rather than reactive, AI can go beyond supporting customers in the event of delays and cancellations, such as alerting a customer of a drop in fares to Amsterdam (based on their travel history pulled from backend systems, they have visited the city several times). Perhaps a guest is traveling to Jamaica for her upcoming nuptials, wedding dress in tow. An airline could proactively send her a message telling her that the flight is full, but there is space for the dress in the crew compartment. Alternatively, perhaps the International departures terminal is exceptionally busy, and passengers are notified that it would be best to arrive at the airport earlier than they normally would.
Immediate responses are now widely expected by customers – 90% of customers consider an immediate response to be important for customer service queries. The good news is that AI is available 24/7, supporting customers even when human agents are off the clock. Plus, as conversational AI grows more well-versed to handle a wider variety of use cases (such as flight status and arrival, baggage rules and requirements), and is trained by a larger body of live customer interactions and customer experience histories, it becomes better able to conduct more complex tasks.
Now that summer is coming to an end, who’s ready to take on the fall/winter travel season to enhance the travel CX? With the right AI-powered measures in place, it could be you.