Customer Service

As the year draws to a close, there are the usual round-up of reviews and lists in the media. One such list out of the UK caught our eye – a weekly consumer advice column reviewed the worst customer service stories from the past year. What stood out was the amount of travel or travel-related companies that made the list: there are two travel agencies, a cruise line, a car hire company and an airline. When we took a look across the Atlantic to see if there were similar issues in the USA, the answer came quickly. Yes, there very definitely are.

There are subtle differences. While the UK says that the travel industry sector is the worst for customer service, American companies seem to do better. In their annual list of the worst performing companies for customer service, a travel company doesn’t appear until 30th place, with Americans preferring to complain about banks and insurance companies, with the winners by a huge distance being telecoms companies and internet service providers. In fact, the view from outside the USA suggests that customer service is something that the USA does right, with 67% of respondents in a survey believing that America could show the UK how to do customer service right.

There are two main reasons why we travel – either we’re on vacation, or it’s a business trip. For people attempting the former, this might be something that they’ve been working towards all year, their one opportunity to be served by other people rather than the other way around. For the latter, having to travel to other countries for work is viewed by many as the opposite of fun, and anything that gets in the way of getting there, getting the job done and coming home again is a major problem. So when things go wrong, such as a flight being cancelled or delayed, an incorrect booking or even bad service from hotel staff, the level of anger and frustration is much higher than it might be at other times of the year. It’s surprising what a huge difference this can make. Two recent stories out of Africa, for example, illustrate this.

The first story comes out of Cape Town in South Africa this week is sure to please any boss or industry professional – nothing but good things to say about a people who have embraced the concept of customer service. Contrast this with a complaint from the State Minister for Tourism in Uganda, who claims poor customer service is one of the biggest reasons why their tourism industry is floundering. Another country that is seeing some results from adopting a strong attitude to customer service is China – to an extent. It seems that the one hold-out to providing a good service are the most expensive hotel chains.

AI and automation are the buzzwords of the tech industry, with many believing that robots will replace many jobs currently done by humans. The truth is that this is already happening, particularly in the customer service sector. They are already working at airlines and in airports, and providing room and other services in hotels. Is removing the human element the answer to the perfect holiday? It certainly seems to be getting results.

With the web now in our hands wherever we go, doing something about bad service is only a few clicks away. Online reviews can mean life or death for a business, depending on how well they treat their customers. Now that a new law has been passed protecting online reviews, we can now be fearless in our reviews, and bring businesses that provide a bad service into the light, forcing them to change their ways. At least, that’s the idea…