Customer service - a dying breed?
High-street banks are closing their branches across Europe. At the end of 2015, Société Générale announced it was closing 400 of its branch network, while in 2016 Deutsche Bank announced plans to shut 188 of its German branches and Norway’s DNB shuttered 59 branches. The culprit? Technology.
Some argue that this represents a loss of customer service but people are increasingly using online services that better fit their lifestyles. People are not just voting with their feet but, in reality, also with their hearts.
Something similar is happening in corporate travel with the rise of online booking. People are increasingly booking from their mobiles or laptops because it fits their working lives better. At the same time, they are enjoying personalised services that has been enabled, rather than destroyed by technology.
Personalisation enabled by technology
“Business travel is becoming more about the experience,” says Andrew Clarke, Egencia’s Senior Director of Global Customer Operations, “and that experience is being driven by better and more personalised technology.”
One example of this is the customer ID technology, used by Egencia consultants taking offline phone bookings. This system means the consultant knows immediately who the caller is, even before they have picked up the phone.
“Little things like that, enable agents to become more efficient and give a more personalised service. It immediately gives a feeling of connection between the booker and agent,” says Clarke.
Measuring customer experience
Corporates often focus on service level agreements (SLAs) - things like the percentage of calls answered within five rings - to gauge how well a travel management company is servicing its travellers. But it may be time to think again about how these stats are used.
“We measure our ability to give the traveller the feeling that they are a valued client on every occasion,” says Clarke.
To do this, Egencia analyses Net Promoter Scores, a measure which shows how likely customers are to recommend a product or service to others. This regular feedback also enables the company to take what Clarke calls the “pulse and temperature” of the relationship.
“It means we can get actual live quality feedback, rather than a measure of how many calls you are answering within a certain number of rings, for example. You might be answering 82% of calls, say, but that does not mean the relationship is great.
“An SLA should almost be a given,” believes Clarke. “What’s really important is satisfaction in the experience. That leads to bookers telling other bookers.”
Designed for better customer service
Egencia’s technology set-up is designed with customer service in mind. It uses a common platform for bookers, travellers and agents, which is unique among travel management companies. This means that everyone is always looking at the same information on the same platform. It also simplifies reporting as everything is consolidated in one place.
“We also give dual ownership of profiles to our clients, which is a huge change from the traditional way of working - where the profiles are stuck in the GDS and owned by the TMC,” says Clarke.
Egencia also has a unique way of training that combines the best of technology and customer service. Agents receive training in the best use of technology and how to be efficient but also on ensuring that they are making a connection with the client. That customer experience is built on four pillars: the speed of answer, giving clients the answer they want, first contact resolution (getting the right answer the first time) and making the client feel valued.
So, can you have both?
Technology has helped drive down transaction fees but travel managers are increasingly realising that price is not everything. That value is as, if not more important, particularly in a world where duty of care and traveller centricity are becoming higher priority.
“People are realising that you can only drive costs so low,” says Clarke. “As we move away from this focus on best cost, it enables us to have those conversations around how to futureproof travel for your next generation of travellers.”
So rather than technology being detrimental to the customer experience, it can and should be the opposite. In the right hands, technology is driving efficiency but also a uniquely personalised experience that makes the customer feel both empowered and valued. Technology and customer service were previously believed mutually incompatible; now they are inextricably linked.