People based interactions in the Digital decade

We are now firmly ensconced in the new decade and most are back to work and back to business as usual. There is no doubt in my mind that, based on the massive progress of the digital age within the last decade, this one promises to be possibly even more advanced and may even become known as ‘the digital decade.’

I think in my previous articles I have made it abundantly clear that I have encouraged TMCs to embrace technology and utilise it to the best of their abilities. However this should always be moderated by remembering that the ‘personal’ touch has always been the great differentiator between successful and less successful travel companies.

The ironic thing is that this seamless, efficiency based digital technology is exactly what is leading the people we serve to expect more and more customer satisfaction. What is not surprising though is that these needs still extend beyond simply being comfortable.

More than anything, both corporate and leisure travellers want to be reassured that if there is a real problem they will have someone they can talk to – someone who has their backs. So how do we maintain these people based interactions in the digital decade?

Will the digital decade de-humanize us?

This is not by any means a question posed only by the travel industry. A recent survey by NGDATA found that “41 percent of consumers in the USA cited bad customer service as the reason they would switch to a new bank, an increase of eight percentage points from 2016!” This is pretty indicative of the fact that an industry, said to have streamlined its services through technology, still obviously relies on service of a different kind to attract customers.

This is echoed by another finance based industry player Deloitte, who’s ‘Deloitte Digital’ Principle Ashley Reichheld said “We don’t wake up as customers or employees. We begin and end each day as humans. And yet our technologies and artificial intelligence are making us feel a bit less human during our interactions with brands.”

Recent Forrester Research studies around the ‘Customer Experience Interest’ states that “making customers feel valued and respected is the number one factor leading to customer loyalty. In the digital world, a customer feeling valued means you remember their names, preferences and purchase history …” People should never feel they are just a number, no matter how efficient the system may be.

How do we continue to be people based in this digital decade?

So, how can we continue to humanize the customer experience in a world that seems to be overwhelmed by artificial intelligence and digital systems?

Well, in essence, we need to not fight digital technology, but partner with it. One commentator on this subject gave an excellent example with this example: A visitor with a platinum status to a hotel is not greeted with the message “Thank you for being a platinum customer, which newspaper would you like?” Rather they are greeted with the message: “Your gym towel is in your room, the Wi-Fi code has been enabled for your devices, your favorite Pinot Noir will be brought up to the room, and we have an opening for a massage between 8pm and 9pm. Shall I book you in?”

Well I think you get the gist. Digital technology is here to stay and to try to ignore it, or conversely to leave it to run the ship, would both be a dreadful mistake. To Travel professionals and all those who we serve everywhere, I say let’s go forward positively into this new decade, marrying the technical and customer care skills that we have been blessed with and make them work together to build a streamlined, but more human travel industry.

LIDIA FOLLI

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

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