Of all the sectors Covid-19 has affected, few have felt more of an impact than travel companies. Whether it has been handling cancellations, local lockdowns, or last-minute changes to regulations, it has been a turbulent time for everyone in the industry and businesses have had to frequently adapt to rapidly evolving circumstances.
At the same time, many of these companies – particularly airlines and international travel operators – have been faced with unparalleled financial challenges. Conversely, some domestic holiday businesses have seen record demand, as more people decided to ‘staycation’. Either way, the experience of the last 18 months has placed different pressures on organisations within the sector and it has seldom been more important to look at ways of communicating with customers and managing costs.
Outsourcing is one of the steps travel businesses can use to ease the pressure of Covid-19. While there are a range of operations that can be delivered by a third party, customer service is among the best starting points and can deliver significant benefits to travel companies of all types and sizes. Smaller firms can use our Bureau service – designed for SMEs – while we also have a broad range of experience working with large multinational companies.
FIVE BENEFITS OF OUTSOURCING CUSTOMER SERVICE
There are a broad range of benefits that outsourcing can deliver for travel companies. These include:
- Multi-lingual operations – The travel industry is international by nature – that means your customers will expect to be able to interact with your company in their own language. Our team speaks more than 30 languages and operates from around 110 sites across 21 countries, with nine multi-lingual hubs – a highly complex and costly operation to replicate for in-house teams.
- Flexibility – The ability to adapt customer service has been particularly important during the Covid-19 crisis. We have been able to quickly increase and decrease team sizes according to what our clients required. In one instance, we were able to hire 15 German and Dutch speakers within a week and, when required, reduced the number of advisers from 40 to five on a particular account within a couple of days.
- Trusted relationships – Part of the reason we are able to quickly hire and train advisers is the trusted relationships we have with external suppliers, such as recruiters. With their services, we can quickly enrol the right people for the task at hand and have them trained to be experts in your brand within weeks. We manage these relationships so that you do not have to.
- Access to technology – Through an outsourcer, you will have access to the best customer service technology available. Having this in-house would require significant investment, whereas using an outsourcer means you pay a fraction of the cost. In addition, when the pandemic hit, using digital tools meant our teams could transition to working from home quickly and efficiently, without any disruption to our service.
- Time to focus – Outsourcing customer service gave our clients the ability to focus on managing their business through a period of unprecedented challenges, rather than having to deal with a steady stream of enquiries. They could do this safe in the knowledge that their customers would receive the best possible service, while the fact that the function was outsourced was completely invisible to them.
PUTTING CUSTOMER SERVICE FRONT AND CENTRE
One of the travel companies we work with is Center Parcs. Although it has operations in both the UK and on the continent, these are owned by two different companies, with the latter covering Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, and France.
Center Parcs Europe outsources its customer service to Comdata. As part of this service we provide 100 customer service advisers in our London contact centre covering the three main languages required in its markets: French, German, and Dutch.
Comdata handles all communication with Center Parcs’ customers up to the point where they arrive on site, completing bookings and answering queries on everything from car parking to food options. Our interactive voice response (IVR) system ensures that customers are put in touch with the right adviser, making the experience as seamless as possible for them.
We handle a pre-agreed number of calls based on forecasts, which can be increased or decreased according to the client’s needs. We also operate to a range of KPIs including sales numbers, conversion rates, upselling and cross-selling, as well as a mix of quality targets to ensure advisers are delivering.
During the pandemic, our service has inevitably had to include a level of crisis management, including entire shutdowns and frequent local lockdowns in Germany. We have adapted our team to Center Parcs’ needs – increasing the number of advisers from 40 to 70 in just six weeks, at one point – and delivered technology solutions to communicate with customers as circumstances changed.
SUPPORTING TURKISH AIRLINES THROUGH TURBULENCE
When Comdata began working with Turkish Airlines in January 2020, we were supposed to ramp up to 500 agents working across three languages – Turkish, English, and German – with the possibility of adding others as the company’s needs evolved. However, circumstances soon changed as the Covid-19 pandemic began to affect international travel.
The Comdata team was quick to react and we focussed a smaller team on inbound calls to begin with, handling bookings, cancellations, and complaint management among a range of functions. Where necessary, we also delivered outbound communications for when flights had to be cancelled or other proactive details needed to be delivered to customers.
We currently deliver a service level of 80% of calls being answered within 20 seconds and an answer rate of 90%. In July 2021, we handled 170,000 calls on behalf of Turkish Airlines and expect that to at least double as international travel moves closer to normality. Comdata is also adding an online chat service managed by 10 advisers in late August 2020.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic and working from home, Turkish Airlines’ customer service was never interrupted. With the rules and regulations changing from country to country, our agents have been specifically trained to handle related enquiries and we set up a ‘knowledge base’ for the team to refer to, where any questions about travelling to a particular country during the pandemic can be answered.
Comdata’s multi-lingual hubs in London and Ringwood, Hampshire, work with companies across the UK and Europe on behalf of a broad range of clients, including some of the biggest names in travel and hospitality. If you want to hear more about how Comdata’s can support your customer service needs and our experience working with the travel industry, please get in touch.