AIR TRANSPORT: SURVIVING THE NEXT DECADE
Author: Dave Evans (@DaveEv) , Lithium VP, Social Strategy, Travel & Hospitality
Over the next ten years, a host of digital-first players along with online existing travel aggregators, travel service platforms, mobile apps and meta-search engines will significantly disrupt the industry. The ability to maintain control over passenger experience from consideration and booking to travel itself and the post-travel experience will seriously undermine your chances of locking in repeat customers. The pressure is on for airlines to compete and survive.
Survival depends on maintaining passenger loyalty in the face of this challenge. And loyalty is hard to come by, and even harder to retain – a Nielsen report shows that after one bad experience, 71 percent of British adults say they would switch to a different airline. 3
Travelers are pressed for time and, as a result, frustration and anxiety often run high. If an airline cannot provide fast, responsive, accurate answers the moment a traveler needs them, then they’ll upset an already unhappy customer and likely further damage the relationship. Looking at our own customer data across leading global brands, there is a clear evidence that quicker response times to social inquires results in a higher likelihood of positive sentiment conversation during the interaction. Conversely, this means that if anything goes wrong that results in agents being overwhelmed by incoming social posts you can expect a marked decrease in customer happiness. Ouch.
Add to that the fact that almost all of these complaints are taking place on public-facing channels: travelers are interacting in real time, with real problems, and the threat of going viral is never more than a Tweet away. One bad interaction can lead to an angry reaction that will have a significant ripple effect, damaging the brand for months and years to come. To sustain customer satisfaction and prevent against these social media crises, airlines are on the line to deliver satisfying — if not amazing — digital customer experiences via both social and digital channels. But, as we’ve seen time and again, this is proving to be incredibly difficult. Why?
Most social media management (SMM) products weren’t built with the scale and logistical complexity of an airline in mind – thousands of questions pouring in from different channels, from different countries and time zones, all of which need to be routed to the right person with the right answer. And quickly. In fact, most SMM products don’t even tie in to the airline’s larger customer databases, which would let the airline quickly see whether the person tweeting at them is a rewards member or has flown with the airline recently. Like many industries, airlines often have the various components of a good social/digital function – but siloes within the organization (between customer service, ground and in-flight operations, reservations sales, etc.) can lead to challenges in responding quickly and nimbly.
For example, in a crisis caused by delayed flights it can be incredibly helpful to have a community of customers you can call upon to assist in responding to basic questions, so that customer service agents can focus on resolving issues that involve a customer’s personally identifiable information. But without an integrated community and automated routing in your social customer service platform, it won’t happen and that’s a massive missed opportunity. Without an automatic way to scale and provide a seamless experience to the traveler, airlines will not be able to compete effectively against competitors born in the digital age.
One word of caution: if you think that bots are the answer to scaling customer service, think again. While a good social media management platform will have the APIs to incorporate bots, you take a huge risk if you try to replace humans with bots. During a customer’s crisis, they want and need a human to interact with. Bots may be able to automatically route interactions and address basic questions, but they cannot replace the value of an empathetic human being on the other end of the tweet.
Empowering your social customer care with a solution that is designed with customer experience in mind positions you to draw on every resource at your disposal (your customers, agents, experts, and community advocates) to provide fast, easy and accurate customer service.
With airline traffic continuing to double every 15 years 1 , the predominance of travelers booking via mobile (expected to be 80 percent by 2019 2 ), and the growing trend toward travel industry revenue growth happening online 5 , airlines who optimize their ability to create amazing digital customer experiences for customers now will be able to stay ahead (and stay alive) during the next decade.
This article was originally featured on Engage Customer on January 22nd, 2018.
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Successful social media is a marketing mandate for business today. It requires a campaign with a customer-first mindset that ignites conversations and amplifies reach. That includes compelling content strategies, traffic baselines, data analysis, a thorough knowledge of digital touchpoints, and relevant content that is in the moment. To be successful, the whole organization must be involved and engaged from top to bottom.
Successful media is nimble, scalable, holistic, and responsive. It maintains customer loyalty because it is never tone-deaf. It is fully engaged and prepared for the unexpected.
Want to learn essential tips for how to create successful social media campaigns? Lithium and Digital Marketing Depot presented a joint webcast on this topic and Digital Marketing Depot is presenting it in this whitepaper to help you take this info and make it actionable in your organization.
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Social customer care is a core requirement of business. For most, this means building up the capability to both listen for opportunities to serve customers on social channels as well as the ability to respond.
And while many brands do this, too many customer posts are still left unanswered. Researching this, Maritz and Evolve24 looked at 1,298 Twitter complaints and found that only 29 percent got responses, which people generally appreciate receiving.
To address this, social teams are increasingly turning to engagement platforms that allow measurable performance, providing the equivalent of call-center process tracking for social channels. (Disclosure: The firm I work for, Lithium, makes one such platform.)
The nearer social channel performance measurement gets to established best practices for both customer management and agent performance against timeliness and productivity standards, the more likely firms are to invest. Carry that forward, and the balance of customer care resolutions happening in community and social channels will continue to shift as self-service and asynchronous social support is selected by customers and supported by brands.
Issues challenging social teams and operational leadership include processes still based on ad hoc tools – the use of various native UIs, for example – when engaging on social channels, driving support and training costs while making actual performance measurement difficult. Switching to a more robust engagement management platform can help, and as noted many firms do this.
But as customers switch toward social channels – driven by their desire to self-serve, or to seek service on their own terms and schedules – the complexity and volume of inquiries arriving on social channels increases. Again, research shows that this increasing complexity reduces agent effectiveness in meeting customer’s needs.
This is where an alternate strategy may help: in particular, the use of your own internal subject matter experts to assist agents.
The subject matter experts inside your own organization may be an untapped source of assistance for agents. Almost incredibly, 70 percent of the typical workforce feels “disengaged” with the purpose, intent of the businesses they work for. Additionally, across the board, firms use less than 40 percent of the skills they employ.
How are these related? Given the complexity of customers’ questions and the difficulty that even the best agents can face adequately answering them, the untapped knowledge present in most firms is an opportunity waiting to blossom.
The question, of course, is “How”? Subject matter is distributed throughout the organization, and have skills that may not be immediately obvious. By comparison, the social customer care team is specifically trained, and addressable if not located in a defined unit.
Linking the two requires a process that allows agents to easily connect with these subject matter experts while also making it just as easy for your subject matter to self-identify.
To do this, many social teams rely on “cheat sheets,” those lists of email addresses grouped by help topics that agents can come to rely on. But to support scalable processes, you’ll have ensure that both agents and experts are able to connect without the use of such cheat sheets.
These sheets not only go out of date, they overload the experts by failing to distribute requests for assistance across your broader skill base. To resolve both of these, look for an engagement platform with tools that allow agents to easily request help without requesting a specific expert. The platform should also allow experts to both self- select and opt in to the specific help topics they are personally interested in and qualified to help with.
Think eHarmony for customer support, on steroids. These platforms exist; adopt one.
So to up your social support game, take a look around your organization and consider resources outside of the customer care team as you build your engagement and support capabilities. Make better of your total skill base and you’ll create better customer experiences in the process.
That’s how you win.
Dave Evans is vice president of social strategy at Lithium Technologies and will be in Australia in February hosting a “Social Technology Shift Summit” in Melbourne Tuesday February 21 and Sydney Thursday February 23. For more information visit the Summit website.
This post original appeared in the ADMA blog.
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Lithium recently started a new column where each of us will take on different subjects of expertise. In this article, I will focus on how customer expectations have changed both online and offline as businesses compete on CX to differentiate themselves.
Q: You write about customer care for ClickZ, and you’ve said that one of the big advantages of smaller businesses is that each person has a job to do, and each person is also responsible for doing everything else that isn’t getting done right now, which often leads to personalized customer service. How can big businesses aim to achieve this same goal within a much larger organization?
A: It’s the cliché, but true concept of silos and specialization. In a small business, every employee comes face-to-face with a customer at one point or another, so there’s this personal accountability that takes over—this is both a blessing and a curse. Compared with large organizations—where efficiency is achieved because everyone tends to be doing what they’re supposed to be doing—in small organizations, “wearing all hats” can be stressful. But it does ensure that customer issues are everyone’s issues.
Big business can achieve “small business” attention to customer service by building and using detailed customer profiles, and empowering the organization to take case ownership. This requires integration with CRM, maintenance of a robust customer history (for example, knowing that I talked to you last week about the same problem), and assigned cases rather than posts.
Q: What is the different between assigned cases and assigned posts in customer service?
A: It’s a detail worth consideration, and is fundamental to workflow and customer experience. In a post ownership model, an agent would say, ‘can I get this post turned around?’ because they don’t have visibility to the larger conversation or how other customers solved this problem. With case ownership, the focus is more holistic and can produce a superior experience.
Q: What kind of data should brands look to collect from their customers in order to avoid negative experiences for customers being passed from agent to agent?
A: It’s critical to ask a specific question once, and then make sure that each agent after that has access to that question. For example, a telephone company may pass you through several different agents who all ask for your phone number and what the problem is.
But on social channels, you can convey the information once, and in almost all cases, it will be accessible by the next agent that has more expertise to answer it—essentially knowing the details about your customers needed for personalized service.
Q: What kinds of qualities should brands look for when finding “real, everyday customers” who can speak on their behalf and not just the “high followers,” as you warned brands?
A: The key is relevant expertise, not popularity. Would you take medical advice from a Hollywood celebrity? I wouldn’t. Yet, that is exactly the way marketers approach the challenge of connecting people with their brands: “If (insert latest idol here) thinks it’s good, you should too.” Instead, look for advocates and experts in your support communities. A superfan is someone who has expertise and influence in the eyes of your customers, and because they love your brand, they are passionate about promoting you. This kind of trusted peer-expertise is why they are so valuable.
Q: What’s your tip for how marketers can convince their CFO or upper level management to invest in community forums and digital customer experience channels? Some ways to show hard numbers rather than just “engagement”?
A: Core to winning the wallets of senior decision makers are business objectives and ROI. By understanding your organizations’ business objectives and speaking in terms of ROI at a cross-team level you capture the attention and support of the decision makers you need.
Changing margin, grow and share, customer perception of brand. Lowering support cost by this amount by having spent this. One of the mistakes is that people see competing brands using something and getting press about it, and they want to start doing the same. But you have to make sure it fits your business objectives.
Q: How do brands know if their social media strategy is working beyond the number of likes, retweets? Are there specific factors that indicate ROI?
A: Likes and retweets are not really useful by themselves outside of traditional measures like reach. Instead, the challenge is to connect KPIs such as the number of “likes” or “retweets” to business objectives: do retweets, which increase message exposure, result in increased offer conversion? If so, connect the conversation results to ROI and use the RT KPI as an indicator.
Once you’ve done that, you can look at your local objectives: How many agents were required to do this same thing in the past? Have I achieved this kind of engagement? The nice thing about social is that everything we do can be captured, and we can measure at both the local level—likes, retweets—as well as the business level.
At the end of six months, look at how many interactions you’ve taken, and what the expenses are. In order to be successful, you set a goal of, for example, Twitter response within 30 minutes of the post. Then next year, you set it to 20 if your business objectives suggest that. Repeat.
Part 2: Community
Q: Analyst firm IDC says that by the end of 2018, 65% of support interactions will be digital and social/community support will not be called out as a separate function. How do you think brands should move forward to integrate call centers and social media, while investing more in social media year by year?
A: Get ready. Start building a platform, and connect marketing and operations. Be ready to scale. We’ve only been saying this for fifteen years. We’ve already gone through this transition from letter writing to telephones, but now it’s much more accelerated in our shift to social channels.
Your customers don’t have 30 minutes to block out for a call anymore. It’s easier to Tweet at a brand and you might wait a couple hours to get a response, but you’re able to carry on with your life during that time, so the impact on you is much less.
Q: How has your job impacted the way that you interact with brands as a customer on social media? Do you see a lot of the pitfalls that you warn people against?
A: I use social channels almost exclusively when interacting with brands. It’s so much simpler, and fits the natural flow of my life. I actively choose brands based on whether or not they offer social/web/online transactional and support processes.
Customers may understand that negative experiences do happen, but they still expect a response, and if they don’t get one, even long-time customers will seek other brands who will respond. It’s important to remember that customers form expectations based on the best experience they’ve had at any brand, in any industry. You have to compete with the best out there in customer experience, no matter who it is.
Q: Brands that are doing great jobs of social care?
A: USAA has taken their response time from hours to 1 hour, to 30 minutes, and now to less. United Airlines is cutting response time down to the minutes.
Q: What’s the latest trend in social care—bots, Facebook Messenger? And what trend do you predict happening in the next couple years?
A: The latest trend is acceleration and adoption, meaning if it’s the use of Facebook Messenger today (last year, actually), then it’s Snapchat now (already underway, actually). To me, it’s not really about a specific platform, but more about increasing the acceleration to whatever the customer needs and having a technology that supports it.
*This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.
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I saw the graphic below in a Facebook post the other day. Take a look at the image below and ask yourself, “Do I relate to this?”
To be sure, I “identified” with the upper photo. But then it hit me: I actually live more like the lower photo. As I thought more, I realized both photos are the same in the following ways:
Both are mental experiences: no one is actually looking at anyone in either photo.
Both are shared experiences: in both, the experience is connecting people.
Both are reflective of current technology: the bass is electric.
What is really more significant is the comment written across the combined photos: it implies a values judgement based on generational differences in what it means to be “connected.” It’s a mistake that I see a lot, and it matters from a business perspective.
To be sure, people of various demographic groupings do in fact use social technology in different ways, but equally, the use of social technology cuts across traditional demographics as well. It’s less important how people connect than that they do connect. And given the ubiquitous nature of social technology, people—all people—do connect. (Remember, the person who posted the above posted it on Facebook, so, so much for “doing this instead of doing that.”)
Connections between people are built around shared experiences. In other words, people don’t just connect to connect, they connect to share. Where interaction used to require physical proximity, such as playing music in a park, the equivalent interaction now requires (only) network connectivity and so enables customer experiences to be shared widely and quickly. This has purchase funnel implication at the mid-funnel consideration phase in ways that trump advertising (top of funnel) and that undermines point-of-sale and similar bottom-of-funnel tactics.
From a strategic marketing perspective, it’s important to understand that shared experiences, and in particular experiences shared across digital networks by contemporary, tech-savvy consumers, are as real as any shared physical experience. But too often marketers still approach the task of conversion from the perspective of a prior generation: that interruptive advertising (think “TV”) remains effective among a generation of cord-cutters, and increasingly cord-nevers. Reality? It isn’t.
Marketing based on shared experience—the new norm for information exchange—is much more accurately modeled by the “loyalty loop” rather than the purchase funnel. The loyalty loop, shown in the figure below, is a construct that considers the role of advocates and influencers connecting via social media as critical to the conversion process.
The purchase funnel is a linear concept based on an outdated understanding of consumers: drive awareness, capture share of mind, and convert. Want more conversions? Drive more awareness, right?
Wrong. In the more modern view, the loyalty loop makes clear that advocacy—customers willing to actively recommend your product – are critical to business success. Advocacy is built on customer experience, not advertising. Consumers have redefined their media streams, limited their interruption (aka, “ad blocking”), and now routinely share experiences with each other. Developing advocates depends on providing a superior customer experience.
Assuming you have the loyalty loop working—think of this as your advocacy engine—the marketing question is “how do you attract prospects into the loop?” Again, social technology. First, by creating a place where people and ask questions and get answers you can gain a significant SEO advantage and thereby attract new prospects. And with literally billions of people using social networks there are nearly always conversations happening that are relevant to your business.
So whether it’s guitars in a park or smartphones in a backseat, the result is the same: when advocates talk about you, and when your own customers share their experiences with others, you win.
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