Digital self-service will be the key to successful customer support in 2022

by Sandrine Zechbauer

As we approach the end of 2021, it’s clear that the hospitality industry is already making a comeback. In fact, a McKinsey poll finds that travel is currently the second most desired activity among respondents. With controllable COVID-19 cases and rising vaccination rates, this increase is likely to continue into the new year. But travel brands shouldn’t be celebrating just yet. With the growing demand for a ‘seamless’ customer experience at the touch of a button, accompanied by leaner customer service teams, how will the hospitality industry rise above it? Adopting digital self-service is the key to success.

What is digital self-service and how can your brand implement it?
Self-service tools allow customers to get their questions answered without having to interact directly with a brand. Not only is it more efficient and cost effective, it is preferred by most consumers. 81% of customers will attempt to resolve a request on their own before contacting a representative. But of course, this is nothing new to the travel industry. Self-service kiosks at airports have been around for over 15 years. Hotels quickly followed suit with their own self-service check-in kiosks requiring little to no interaction with hotel staff. So what’s up?

When it comes to self-service systems, hotels and airlines have traditionally focused on the very short “pre-travel” window. You can find self-service tools when arriving at the airport or in a hotel lobby. However, new digital self-service tools address the post-purchase delay, typically the several months leading up to travel, where the need for customer support is just as prevalent. Online communities, knowledge bases, AI-powered messaging, and mobile apps all enable faster pre-travel resolutions and, in turn, satisfy the demand for a fast customer experience.

4 self-service strategies to exceed travelers’ expectations
The standards of travelers are higher than ever. Not only do consumers want their questions answered in a shorter time frame, but they are also increasingly looking for ways to get their own answers on their own. In fact, 45% of customers say they are more likely to use self-service tools today than before the pandemic. Dive into digital self-service in 2022 by considering the following strategies:

1. Create a brand community to answer common queries
Online brand communities offer consumers a way to solve their questions on an interactive platform without having to pick up the phone. Communities also dominate search engine results pages. All consumers begin their customer service journey with a Google search and being in front of them from the start is essential. When it comes to hotels and airlines, nothing is more powerful than online communities. Most of the world’s best-known travel brands have strong followers, most of them loyal customers. They know the tips, tricks, property details, frequent flyer questions answered and where the best tacos are. Chances are, they’ve already created their own community outside of your platform. Looking at the membership and popularity of flyertalk, it’s unclear why more travel brands haven’t invested in online communities to leverage and monetize travelers’ knowledge.

To take your digital self-service to the next level, once a user accesses your community page, you can add a bot to increase efficiency and optimize their experience. Research has shown that digital community bots mitigate community bounce rates (which are typically around 40%) by guiding users to the right place and preventing data pollution by answering redundant questions.

2. Use AI-enabled chatbots that answer repetitive questions
Travel-related customer service inquiries are often more urgent than most. AI chatbots allow agents to spend less time answering the same common questions, such as, “What time can I check in?” Or “In which terminal does my flight land?” and more time to help travelers with more complex requests, such as canceling and changing reservations. AI tools can also detect feelings and intentions of customers and help prioritize queues for timely questions. Hotels in particular face the challenge of providing personal interactions without the need for human contact. In fact, 60% of consumers now prefer to check in through an app rather than in person. Fortunately, technology now allows AI chatbots to provide more empathetic and humane responses and evaluate suggested responses. AI-powered messaging with the right digital customer engagement platform is key to a seamless experience.

3. Send outgoing SMS messages in a timely manner to reduce friction and volume of inbound requests
Consumers not only continue to shop through a mobile device, but they use it to improve their overall travel experience. When it comes to messaging, is there still a place for texting in the era of Whatsapp and Messenger? The data seems to tell us that.

One-way text messages have a 90% open rate within three minutes of receiving them, which means reaching your guests has never been easier. There is also a major benefit to continuing to invest in SMS messaging: it does not require data roaming, which is extremely valuable for overseas customers who might not have mobile data enabled. SMS remains the best channel to reach travelers in record time. For example, sending welcome messages to customers via SMS is a great way to build customer loyalty and value. Additionally, your brand can use two-way messaging to facilitate seamless mobile customer requests such as room service, restaurant reservations, or other complementary services.

4. Leverage CX information to provide a single view of all customer communications
Given the digital transformation that the hospitality industry is undergoing, it is essential to use a Customer Experience Information (CX) platform to track customer challenges and overall sentiment, especially regarding launching new properties, renovating rooms or servicing a particular location. By understanding what questions are constantly asked of travelers, hotel brands can update their digital self-service options to clarify and stop questions before they arise. However, tracking and analyzing critical CX data is often difficult for any business, given the multitude of digital channels that exist. And even more so for travel brands, which operate in multiple countries at once and often outsource customer service to third-party vendors, making quality control even more difficult to measure. By seamlessly integrating all conversations into a unified platform and reducing the volume of inquiries up front, hotel brands can optimize their customer service strategy for 2022 and beyond.

Celebrate the New Year with world-class digital self-service
As 2021 draws to a close, consumers are increasingly turning to digital customer service offerings. Investing in digital self-service for 2022 will take your customer experience to the next level while tackling dreaded call volumes and agent shortages. There is nothing better than a happy guest, and a sophisticated digital self-service strategy will build long-term customer loyalty in a highly competitive industry.

Sandrine Zechbauer is EMEA Marketing Director of Khoros.

This is a piece contributed to Hotel, written by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the point of view of the signed individual.

Joseph P. Harris