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  • How Not to Leave Customers Stranded on the Busiest Travel Day of the Year

    Meet Diane. She is traveling with her 2 year old and 5 year old to her in-laws’ house for Thanksgiving. This is the one annual trip she has to take. And she dreads it for most of November. Diane knows long lines at check-in, delayed flights, and scarce rent-a car choices await her. She feels anxious. And trapped.

    This is the average traveler’s mindset on the busiest travel day of the year. In 2018 AAA reported an estimated  51M Thanksgiving travelers. The largest growth was driven by air travel that carried 3.95M passengers. This scenario sets customer experience up for failure.

    So, how do you improve it?

    Every industry has its busiest day of the year. For some, it is Thanksgiving. For others, it is Christmas, a big show, or a winter/summer season.

    What measures are you taking to create opportunities from those days that reinforce your connections and loyalty with your customers?

    Employees Matter

    Who are you hiring to fill in the overflow in your schedules? Seasonal workers? Temps?

    One of my earliest jobs in America was as a seasonal worker in Atlantic City. I still remember the challenge I had as a foreigner to learn the names of all the products I had to sell. The store was on the boardwalk and sold salt water taffy. I had never tasted – or heard of – salt water taffy before I showed up for my first day of work. What level of customer service do you think I offered to our customers that summer?

    I understand the value of seasonal labor. But remember, if you opt to use seasonal labor, make sure you train your people well according to your hospitality standards. To help ensure success, build incentives into the contract that drive hospitality across the operation.

    In one of my previous lives, we hired temps for our big show day. One of those temps wore sunglasses on the job (indoors!). When I, the Experience Executive, asked him to please remove his sunglasses, he said he was having trouble seeing due to the glare from the windows. I won’t explain why wearing sunglasses, slumping on a chair, and nearly sleeping is bad customer experience. I simply caution you to apply the proper weight of impact this can have on customers’ experiences on the busiest day of your operation. Temp agencies have a place in the business ecosystem, but the SLAs need to be tight.

    Technology Matters

    Busy days test technology capacity. So build technology for your busiest day! Do not build it for the average day. If you do, all hell will break lose on your busiest day.

    Make sure self service channels work as designed so you can have manageable volume of calls into contact centers. But how do you do that? You do that by ensuring that your website can handle millions of visitors per hour. In another instance, if you use self-service kiosks, make sure they are working optimally. All. Of. Them.

    Verify that employee tools like iPads and other key software are in order. Regardless of the particular technology you use, think through the scenarios that will arise on your busiest day. Then do what you need to do to ensure the technology to support these scenarios is functioning well.

    For greater chances of success during the busiest day of the year, schedule a refresher training session in your contact centers so agents understand how to work with chat bots, knowledge sharing systems, and core management systems. Remember to train for the many exceptions that they will have to process when things get busy.

    Customer Recovery Matters

    You can’t prevent the volume, nor can you prevent every bad customer experience. What you can do, on the other hand, is design and bullet proof your customer experience engine to deliver amazing customer recovery!

    Studies show that customers who experience a problem with a brand have higher loyalty after the brand fixes that problem than customers who never had a problem in the first place. Capture this opportunity!

    Invest in customer recovery and enable your employees to do the right thing when things go wrong. In JetBlue we had the Blue Hero Program. Create a program that inspires your employees to do more for your customers. For the busiest days, remove lengthy approval process flows. Give your customer experience crew the power to make discretionary decisions and save a customer. Ritz Carlton gave people $2000 per incident to spend to make the customer happy, without manager approval. You do not have to go that far. The point is, you have to invest something. Customer recovery is not free. But it is a good business case and it has strong, proven ROI.

    So, how do we make Diane’s travel experience better this year? By caring. Have hospitality trained employees in the lobby to welcome her. If the flight is indeed delayed (which is often beyond an airline’s control) bring out snacks and toys for the kids. If you have free wifi, remind her and help her access it, so she can turn on mobile entertainment for the children.

    Equip your people to answer her questions. And make sure they have the bandwidth to show care for her. And last but not least, if Diane does call with a problem, offer her an empathetic, personalized experience so she feels heard and understood.

    Who knows? Maybe if all the brands she interacts with on that day, she will not be so anxious to travel on the busiest day of the year next year.

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    A customer-centric methodology is key to the successful outcome of my interaction with Hello Spud. It is the reason this story appears here, and not among the CX Big Fails! The company did not send an automated response. It did not deliver a message stating “sorry we couldn’t help you, would you like something else.” Instead, the company co-founder reached out to me personally across multiple channels (a handwritten note, followed by personal emails).

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    By and large, people perceive culture as an HR discipline. The most common perception is that culture covers the soft side of performance. Culture is about how you do things, not so much about what you do. This approach to culture could not be more wrong. In fact, organizational culture is about so much more than a few words in a performance review sheet.  It is about leaders expressing values, and the action guidance their cultural behaviors provide.

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