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Customer service in the modern travel agency

May 16, 2019

Good old-fashioned customer service is the foundation of thousands of successful travel businesses. However, foundations are meant to be built on. So what exactly does enhanced customer service look like in 2019? Well, while it can be tempting to think of the human and technological as opposites when it comes to service, there’s a growing body of research to suggest that great customer service is really about a blend of the two – and that’s a real opportunity for travel agencies.


Human or tech: What do travelers want?

In the common narrative right now, customer service + technology = chatbots and intelligent assistants. It’s understandable. Artificial intelligence (AI) is still very much a hot topic, and many businesses are still betting big on these technologies. Recent research from Salesforce predicted a 180% growth rate in the use of ‘AI chatbots’ in the 18 months from March 2019 (an ambiguous term, but a compelling data point nonetheless)1.

But it seems that there is still a way to go before travelers trust an AI in the same way that they trust a human service agent. Recent eMarketer research found that 45% of internet users worldwide would prefer human-only interactions when making a high-consideration purchase, while that figure was just 8% for AI-only interactions2. So where does the intersection of human and tech lie?


Empowered advisors with digital tools

While there’s undoubtedly a use case for chatbots, it’s not the same proposition as a human agent with connected tools. After all, the role of a travel advisor is a complex one, combining consultative sales skills with expert knowledge on products and destinations, as well as reactive customer service. The crucial role that technology plays is still in providing the tools that enhance those value-creating activities.

For travel advisors, for example, that means a hotel booking tool with an intuitive user experience and powerful search, sort and filter functionality. When finding a range of suitable rates and availabilities is a moment’s work, the advisor is free to focus on understanding exactly what the traveler needs and giving it to them. Ever-improving tech can mean ever-improving customer service.

So, as in many industries, the real power of technology is not in replacing human skills, but in supplementing them. When it comes to the heavy lifting of creating bespoke travel experiences in an agency setting, this means freeing advisors up from administrative tasks and allowing them to maximize their expertise.


Making advisors more efficient

It’s simple. Less time finding exactly the right product means more time to spend dispensing invaluable advice and personal recommendations. This is still an area where brands that have a real-world interaction with the traveler can have the upper hand – whether face-to-face or over the phone (it’s worth remembering that phone sales are still the lifeblood of many travel businesses3. But they can only maximize it if advisors aren’t bogged down in outdated tech and tasks that should be easy. When finding the right accommodations is a given, it allows advisors to focus on the important task of getting to understand the traveler and exactly what ‘the right accommodation’ looks like for them.

An intuitive booking tool with powerful search, sort and filter functionality is a vital part of the travel advisor’s role. And that’s not just in securing bookings – it’s also key to growth. That’s the bottom line with providing a connected travel advisory service: less time on closing each sale means more time for better service and more sales.

At EPS it’s our mission to help travel companies grow their business by combining the best of human customer service with intuitive online booking tools. Find out more about our tools for travel agents.