Comment: Firms should ring the changes and ditch automated phone systems

Digital Drums’ Steve Dunne says companies that keep the human touch will reap the rewards

I had the shock of my life recently. I rang a travel company to ask a question about the holiday I was thinking of going on, and a human being answered the phone.

Yes, a person – and a very nice one at that – picked up the phone to deal with my enquiry.

There was no automated voice giving me a list of options and an instruction about which number to press for the desired outcome. No recorded message telling me that the company was currently experiencing “an unprecedented large volume of calls” or that “your call is important to us, so please hold until an operator can help you”.

There was also none of the usual automated voice telling me that I would actually be better off visiting the brand’s website for the answer to whatever question I had.

I have to admit that as the phone was answered and the person greeted me with their name before saying ‘How can I help you?’, I was momentarily perplexed and struck dumb. Perhaps I, like so many of us these days, had become so desensitised to the appalling customer service that big brands, both inside and outside travel, seem to think is perfectly OK that I’d simply forgotten how to respond when presented with a human being willing to answer my questions.

Questions answered

After getting over my shock, I proceeded to ask all my questions, each of which was answered competently and efficiently in a reassuring tone by the travel brand’s representative. Not only did that travel brand get my business that day, but it also has my undying loyalty – and valuable repeat business – for years to come as I book future holidays.

And I only declare that brand loyalty with one proviso: that the travel brand keeps its commitment to great personal customer service. Deviate from that and I’ll be gone.
Many travel companies get it so dreadfully wrong when it comes to demonstrating a unique selling proposition or standing out from the myriad of travel brands offering more or less a similar product, service or experience to the market. They forfeit excellent personal service for so-called automated efficiency.

There will, of course, always be a segment of the market that is influenced by price. But those consumers who make low prices their priority rarely spend additional funds on ancillary items while on holiday. And they never have a loyalty to the travel brand – they will always chase the lowest price, so in this segment it is volume that matters as margins will always be thin. Worse, a price-led strategy can be easily replicated by a competitor, removing any advantage in an instant.

Trust earned

But top-class personal service? That is difficult for a competitor to replicate.

Great personal service leads to a trust-based relationship. Consumers who trust you buy more from you. They come back to you over and over and they allow you to lead them, making suggestions and recommendations that lead to more sales. And they ignore overtures made to them by competitors.

In the marketplace of 2024, personal recommendations matter more than perhaps anything else – great personal service gets talked about, bringing more customers to you, directed to you often by satisfied existing clients.

So if you want your travel brand to be successful and highly profitable, ditch the automated answer approach that urges me to visit your website for an answer that it invariably cannot supply (hence me ringing you); abandon the message that my call is important to you (if it was, you would hire more staff to answer the phones); and cease with the missive that you are “currently dealing with unprecedented volumes of calls” (unprecedented means for the first time, not every time I call you).

Instead, focus on offering superb personal service. If you do, profits will follow just as day follows night.

Share article

View Comments

Jacobs Media is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.