For Customers, Better Service Is a Ticket To Paradise

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Consumer complaints about the travel industry recently increased in frequency and intensity. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, travelers' complaints rose a significant 25 percent in 1998. The issue made headlines in January when snowy weather in Detroit kept a loaded airplane on the runway for nine hours. Passengers were forced to remain on the plane the entire time without food or bathroom facilities.


It's hardly surprising, then, that Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have jointly proposed a travelers' Bill of Rights. The legislation, introduced in the Senate in February, would require airlines to admit in advance if a flight is overbooked, to admit when flights are canceled to save money and to give passengers who purchase non-refundable tickets a two-day grace period after purchase to get their money back.


What is surprising is that a number of consumer protection groups are opposed to the legislation because they fear it will raise prices.


Clearly travelers' frustration level is growing. To win the loyalty of those customers, travel and tourism companies should look at their total customer service and sales processes. There are several ways call centers can contribute to boosting customer satisfaction without diminishing corporate profits.


High 'Cs' Are Key To Smooth Sailing


Doing well in each of the following areas will help you to attract customers and build long-term relationships:


Convenience. Is your company available to prospects and customers at convenient times? Staffing a call center to cover all time zones and accommodate working customers goes a long way toward earning customer loyalty.


Do you offer multiple ways for customers to get in touch with you? Some customers prefer talking to a "live" person on the phone, while others want to read information and see pictures on a Web site before making a commitment. The addition of an interactive communication device to your Web site can allow online visitors with questions to talk to representatives.


Communication. How well do you communicate information to prospects and customers? Often, many people will have the same question. You can do a better job of consistently answering such questions and save money by creating an interactive voice response application that addresses frequently asked questions without using 'live' representatives.


Sometimes the most difficult information to get out is breaking news or offers with a short response time frame. In those cases, a broadcast fax and/or e-mail is a highly cost effective tool.


Caring. When customers communicate with call center representatives, either over the phone or via your Web site, do representatives have customer information at their fingertips? Knowing customer preferences and past purchasing history is key to building a long-term customer relationship.


Maintaining a database of customer information and making it instantly available to call center representatives enables representatives to respond to customers by name, to make suggestions based on preferences and past purchases and to avoid the time and tedium required to capture payment and shipping information.


Ideally this information should 'pop' up on representatives' screens when they get a call, regardless or whether it is an inbound or outbound call.


For inbound calls, this is possible by using an automatic call distributor that reads the caller's automatic number identification and matches the number being called to a database entry. For outbound calls, a predictive dialer can provide the same type of service by matching the called phone number to a database.


Core Business. A call center is a highly effective, economical tool for handling customer contacts. However, many companies find that while they excel at their core business, they don't have a natural ability to run a call center.


Running a call center requires not only customer service skills, but also technology, scheduling and people management skills. And establishing a call center is expensive. A typical 50 seat call center can require an investment of $2 million if it uses a high quality automatic call distributor and/or predictive dialer.


For many companies the best solution is to outsource either the management of their call center or the actual call center services themselves. Outsourcing can eliminate many 'rookie' mistakes that can cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
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