Jo Causon, chief executive, Institute of Customer Service

Going on holiday is a special time. We’ve worked hard and saved for it. Our expectations are high – we want the experience to be perfect and hassle-free.

That’s certainly how I felt when I recently went on a cruise in the Mediterranean.  What made it all the more important was that I was accompanied by my elderly mum.

The time we spend together is precious and I wanted her to enjoy a memorable and comfortable experience.  Generally, the travel and tourism sector performs well for customer satisfaction. 

In the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index, the national measure of customer satisfaction published by the Institute of Customer Service, the tourism sector was rated third out of 13 sectors, with an average satisfaction score of 79.8 out of 100 (the UK average is 76.3). 

But there is a significant variation in performance by organisation. A number of organisations in the tourism sector – Center Parcs, P&O Cruises, Premier Inn, Marriott and Hilton – rank among the top 50 for customer satisfaction in the UK, but others fare less well. 

The stats give an overall picture but, of course, what matters to us personally is our own experience.

One of the things that struck me is the range of customer experiences for cruise passengers. It starts from the way information is presented in brochures or online. 

When I make a booking, I want to speak to an agent who will engage with me and cares about helping me choose the best option. If I tell them I’m travelling with my mum, I expect them to remember that if I contact them again. 

And when we’re onboard we expect to receive consistent standards of courtesy and care, and a genuine interest, whether we’re speaking to the captain or the catering staff.  Attention to detail, consistency of attitudes and behaviours, and a genuine desire to look after customers are essential.

In today’s inter-connected world, our customer experience doesn’t just depend on the company we’ve booked with doing a great job. It can be influenced by a range of things that may not be under the control of, or even the responsibility of, the person with whom we’ve booked a holiday. 

When a train or aircraft is late or delayed, organisations often spell out what they are or aren’t responsible for. 

But we don’t want organisations to reveal the complex inter-relationships of their industry; we want a human response that acknowledges our frustration, avoids shifting the blame and keeps us informed. 

In a complex and challenging environment, companies often compartmentalise and focus on their own distinct components of the customer experience. 

But the key to long-term, sustainable customer relationships is the ability to look across the whole experience and have the emotional intelligence to respond with instinctive care – especially in the most trying situations.