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Comment: Travel industry must focus on customer service

Restoring confidence crucial to survival, says Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service

Last week’s announcement of a gradual easing of lockdown measures came as welcome news to businesses, and their customers, across the country.

For those in the travel sector – struggling to navigate the impact of nearly a year of unprecedented disruption and challenge – a gradual easing of restrictions offers a much-needed glimmer of hope that better times are on the horizon.

There is no escaping that the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a huge blow to the industry. A year of border closures, cancellations and refunds combined with ongoing economic uncertainty has presented complex and far-reaching challenges to organisations across all corners of the sector.

The results of our latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), published in January, revealed that customer satisfaction levels within tourism dropped a huge 1.8 points year on year – hitting the sector’s lowest score since 2009.

As we cautiously look to rebuild from the crisis, restoring customer confidence will be crucial to survival.

Now more than ever, where organisations turn their attention to creating a genuine service experience they will be able to differentiate themselves.

Those organisations that have performed well over the past year have been those that have maintained clear, honest communication with customers – balancing short-term responsiveness with long-term goals and providing genuine, human communication around the challenges they have faced.

As we emerge from the crisis, these principles will be even more important.

As we have seen play out time and time again – customer satisfaction is intrinsically linked to business performance. Excellent customer service delivers better financial results and helps improve productivity.

How organisations act now will be remembered long into the future – and if we are to successfully pull the nation out of recession, allowing the travel sector to begin its recovery, service must remain a high-level boardroom priority.

The good news is that the travel sector has a genuine opportunity to bounce back quickly from this crisis.

After a year stuck indoors and separated from loved ones, many customers are anxiously anticipating precious holiday time with family and friends.

Yet, to truly recover, organisations must balance the immediate opportunity for short-term financial gain with the need to rebuild long-term customer confidence.

The impact of the past year has had a significant effect on the consumer psyche, and the world we now live in simply is not the same as the one we left behind.

As the financial impact of the crisis continues to bite, consumers are becoming ever more discerning with the brands they choose to engage with, particularly when it comes to big-ticket purchases such as holidays, and brands will need to work harder than ever before to secure a ‘piece of the pie’.

As uncertainty rages on, cautious customers are increasingly looking for reassurance and choice, and turning to brands and businesses they can trust.

Those that focus on building long-term relationships, taking the time to understand the shifting needs of their customer base and adapting to meet them, will be rewarded with long-term loyalty.

True recovery will require greater efforts to find engaging, thoughtful ways to connect – showing empathy and emotional intelligence throughout the entire customer journey.

With the impact of the crisis likely to be felt for many years, if not decades, to come – the travel industry needs to be prepared for more turbulent times ahead.

But there is also great hope for the future.

Those organisations that remain connected to their purpose, demonstrate a commitment to doing the right thing and stay connected with customers in an authentic way, will be in the strongest position to survive – and thrive – long into the future.

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