Customer Service Excellence in the Travel and Tourism Industry

As someone who works as a Human Resources Manager in the hotel industry by day while working on my (mostly travel-related) blog by night, the issue of customer service in the travel industry is at the forefront of my mind most days.

From a customer point of view I want my experiences with any business to be straightforward. If I’m dealing with a business online I don’t want to jump through hoops to find out the information that I need and, similarly, if I’m dealing with a business in person, whether that’s a shop, hotel, restaurant, or otherwise, I want to have the confidence that whoever I’m speaking to has the knowledge and skills to deal with my requests. Trust me, I’m not a diva, I don’t have many requests, and definitely nothing outlandish — a veggie meal on a flight is about my limit.

Do you know the business impact of the customer service you deliver?

It goes without saying that the level of customer service you provide will affect the performance of your business. The bottom line is that customer service is key to business performance — get your service right and your business will naturally benefit. This means that before a business can be customer-focused it must be employee-focused — what happens on the inside naturally has repercussions on the outside.

While I’ve never had any issues with them, Ryanair are constantly in the media as having poor customer service. In fact, in a recent Which survey they were rated the worst for customer service with reports of unhelpful staff and a poor complaints handling process. I doubt these staff go in to work each day wanting to do a bad job but, if they’re lacking the right tools and training to do their job and there’s no support from above, then where’s the motivation for them to go the extra mile for customers?

If you want to avoid all the problems that Ryanair has then you need to look at complaints as opportunities to improve your customer service so you can work towards developing a strong customer-centric culture. Remember that the culture of your business comes from the top — if senior management aren’t on board with the importance of employee engagement and the way it reinforces customer service then that will trickle down through the rest of the staff.

Do your customers trust that you’ll deliver on your promises?

It’s a rare business that doesn’t receive any complaints. By and large complaints are unavoidable and happen daily, but the way you handle problems in your business speaks volumes. Get it wrong and you could irreparably damage your business brand and reputation.

Your business, no matter how small, should have a complaints process that’s fit for purpose. If you don’t have any procedures in place it’s worth spending some time to put some together and, if you’re already one step ahead of the game, make sure you review your procedures regularly and update them if necessary. Don’t forget to make sure you’ve trained your staff on how the process works. All the procedures in the world aren’t worth a thing if nobody knows they’re there or how they should be followed.

A disgruntled customer wants to know that they are being listened to so make sure that you acknowledge their problem and, if your business has made a mistake, admit it. An unhappy customer wants you to take care of the problem to their satisfaction which means owning it — there’s no point ignoring it hoping that it will go away. It won’t and not handling it properly can be costly and cause untold damage to your business.

On the flipside, when you resolve your customers’ complaints successfully you’re better placed to understand their needs and keep them as customers.

Do you really know your customer?

Whether you have a small boutique hotel, a budget bed and breakfast, or a Michelin starred restaurant you need to show that you understand your customer.

These days it’s easy to find out what your customers want by looking at what they’re saying about you on social media. Don’t use social media? You really should. Twitter alone is a veritable goldmine of information about customer service (good and bad) and, if people are talking about your business, wouldn’t you prefer to be aware of what they’re saying?

TripAdvisor can also be a useful tool for business owners in the hospitality industry as it gives customers the chance to provide feedback. I use TripAdvisor for business and for pleasure. At work it highlights areas of concern for staff training (and lets me know when it’s time to give employees a pat on the back). Similarly, when I’m travelling I always read reviews before I book a hotel. However, I’m always conscious of fake reviews, negative reviews from rival establishments, as well as the fact that some people simply like nothing better than to complain whether it’s warranted or not.

I also leave TripAdvisor reviews myself although I tend to only do this when the experience has been mostly positive. If I’ve had poor customer service or had an otherwise negative experience I prefer to raise this with the establishment directly. There may be any number of reasons for poor service and the business in question should have a right to reply before getting into a potential online spat.

Have you identified the skills needed in your business?

If you want to be recognised as a business that’s easy to do business with (and why wouldn’t you?) speak to your staff. Have a brainstorming session with them to identify ways you can make it easier for customers to deal with you. In most cases they’re the ones ‘on the shop floor’ so to speak who actually deal with the customers. By listening to your staff they’ll feel empowered which should lead to higher levels of engagement.

There’s a definite positive knock on effect from having an engaged workforce. If the waiting staff in your restaurant are friendly, enthusiastic (without being over the top — a particular bug bear of mine), and helpful then your customers are much more likely to come back and/or recommend you.

If, however, the staff stand around chatting to each other, don’t engage in any pleasantries, and generally look like they’d rather be anywhere else then chances are your customers are going to take their custom elsewhere and no doubt pass on their horror stories to their friends.

The most important thing you can do in your business is train your staff at the start of their career — and keep training them. Give them comprehensive training during their induction period and top it up regularly. It’s very easy to pick up bad habits and, before you know it, everyone is following the lowest common denominator and adopting the sloppy ways of the least effective staff member. Raise the bar high and ensure that everyone is aiming for the gold standard.

Do you celebrate your customer service heroes?

Make sure you give recognition to those employees who provide outstanding customer service. It doesn’t have to be a huge costly gesture — a monthly gift voucher for anyone who receives a customer compliment is an unexpected and welcome bonus.

When you have happy and engaged employees who consistently provide excellent customer service you generally have lower turnover rates so reward the staff for their loyalty too. A simple bonus for length of service of an extra day’s leave can go a long way with your staff.

Be sure to also publicise the positive feedback you receive from your customers. Customer testimonials can be easily added to your website and if you have a Facebook page it’s easy for them add a review which you can use on your website and share on Twitter.

If you run a travel related business what are the secrets to your customer service success? Alternatively, as a traveller what are your expectations from service providers?

Travel blogger. Author. Freelance writer. Sometime HR Manager.