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How travel & hospitality brands can compete in an age of digital reviews

The rise of review and comparison websites and the proliferation of people talking holidays on social media means quality customer service experiences can often make or break businesses in this space.

Yet, many travel and hospitality brands struggle to engage customers in a meaningful way online. According to Deloitte, 81 per cent of travel business shopping baskets are being abandoned versus 68 per cent across other types of retail. No doubt, this is in part because travelers find better deals. It’s also because brands have not yet won their loyalty.

Customers pull up a page that places your airline or hotel business alongside five competitors, one cheaper, one with more convenient flight times, one flying out from a closer airport, one with higher star accommodation, and one with extra facilities. Customers want the most convenience and greatest value, and choose according to their personal preferences.

So how can brands become part of the conversation and establish strong customer connections and increased loyalty?

Engage in the conversation

Customers are talking about products and services to each other on social media. They are writing reviews. They are reading reviews. They trust each other the most, and are always a bit cynical about trusting brands – until one wins them over so completely that they become brand advocates. Our research shows that seven in ten UK adults would not buy something without positive online reviews.

Online reviews run the gamut from praise to rage. No matter where they are in the customer journey, customers turn first to peers to ask questions, solve problems, get advice, and for product recommendations.

If brands are not engaged in the conversation – real people talking to real customers – marketing and sales efforts will not win them over. Yes, you can compete on price points, flash sales, and rewards points – and this may win customers in the immediate, but it does not drive long-term loyalty. The key to driving customer loyalty is through exceptional customer service experiences.

Take care of your customers

Customers who write reviews or speak out on social media about brands often do so following a customer service experience. This is when they are at their highest or lowest emotional peaks. This is when a brand is at its most vulnerable. A negative experience can result in a viral tweet that might cause significant damage to a brand.

That said, it’s sometimes the most unhappy customers – those who express themselves loudly on social – who have the potential to become a business’ most loyal advocates. How? By the way you respond. So, how can businesses take care of customers in a way that meets their expectations for personalised, real-time interactions that address their concerns?

Create a community

Online social communities are a proven solution. Alongside review websites, communities are the most trusted source consumers look to for information about a product or service. In a community, businesses are providing space for customers to interact with each other and with the brand. Users ask questions and provide recommendations to a group of likeminded individuals. Customer service agents then have the ability to direct people to the community for additional resources, expert advice, and peer support.

For businesses, this means greater engagement and the creation of brand advocates, as well as a boost in traffic to the company website and higher SEO rankings. For customer service, it means being able to deflect calls and help customers achieve higher satisfaction by enabling them to self-serve first, and then seek help from customer service agents.

Improve your response rates

Another challenge for businesses in the travel and hospitality industry is the need to offer real-time customer service - the lack of which can be detrimental. Increasingly, we’re living in an ‘always on’ world. With the rise of digital channels, customers who aren’t getting the information or support they need quickly and on their platforms of choice, may be likely to switch to a competitor.

So what is real-time? Research shows that three quarters of UK adults expect queries to be resolved the same day and 47 per cent expect a response within an hour. With travelers wanting more on social, businesses need to step up – nowadays, the path to customer satisfaction is paved with faster response times and smarter online support. Businesses looking to stay ahead of the curve, will work this into an integrated digital strategy and make social the place where customers find and connect with you.

Use technology designed for social customer care

Not every customer care platform is designed for social customer care or community. It’s important that a platform has the functionality to scale with customers evolving expectations. There are SaaS platforms that can manage workflows, help with scheduling and allocate incoming requests—empowering customer service teams to manage high volumes of social customer service enquiries without sacrificing quality.

These technology platforms can be pivotal for businesses looking to improve service and delight customers. The right platforms can provide teams with a single view to track a customer’s activity across devices; social media accounts as well as conversations with customer care representatives.

Social media management tools come in all shapes and sizes and with all types of functionality. The most powerful of these will enable travel and hospitality businesses to extract insight from vast pools of data to get a 3D view of their customers, identify key influencers specific to a business’ customer base, and flag content on social which is resonating the most with target audiences. This will allow a brand to, not only improve customer satisfaction, but generate more revenue. Ultimately, better customer care experiences drive loyalty. When someone treats us with respect, delivers on promises, is quick to understand our concerns, and works to resolve them – we remember.

Even with the proliferation of reviews out there, brands still have the ability to impress customers with experiences that surprise them. When brands make customers feel valued as individuals – and this comes down to the technology that enables agents to create the best experience possible – customers are more likely to choose you. They will keep choosing you because of how they are made to feel. Personal experience with a brand still trumps the opinion of others.

By taking control of the quality of customer experiences, and creating a community where customers can interact with each other and with the brand, businesses can differentiate from competitors and win the hearts of people.

Eddie McGraw is the Director of Marketing at Lithium Technologies (opens in new tab)

Image source: Shutterstock/Shutter_M