With the Huffington Post earlier this year declaring customer services to be “one of the last frontiers of sustainable competitive advantage”, and behavioural research company TARP revealing the true potential of poor service – a dissatisfied customer on average tells 12 people who then tell six more people each – the importance of customer service has never been greater to travel firms.

Yet, it is an area where there is room for improvement. According to the Institute of Customer Service some travelers will go as far as selecting their airport based on its reputation for providing a positive experience.

Here are five of the key trends which will be shaping customer service in the travel sector throughout 2015. Each offers a fresh opportunity for companies to reinvent the service they offer customers and in so doing gain significant competitive advantage.

1) The arrival of Generation Y

Generation Y – those born between 1980 and 2000 – will in 2015 account for almost US$200 billion in spending per year worldwide. In the workplace, Gen Y already accounts for 80% of the total number of employees in some contact centres. This is a significant generational shift which will gather momentum in 2015.

Excellent multi-taskers. Generation Y grew up surrounded by computers, mobile devices and video games consoles. This generation is confident with technology but it also has a shorter attention span. The Internet puts everything at Gen Y’s fingertips, and this affects not only how they expect customer service to be delivered but the level of service they expect.

Travel companies that recognise this shift, and re-engineer their customer service provision accordingly – even going as far as seeking out contact centre partners with a high proportion of Gen Y employees – will find themselves more in tune with the customer service demands of 2015.

2) Focus on multilingual campaigns

The world is globalising at a remarkable rate. To give just one indication of this shift, in 2011 32% of UK GDP came from export, up from 26% in 2002 and 24% in 1992 - that 6-8% uplift represents billions of extra pounds in revenue coming from overseas markets.

For travel firms looking at customers beyond the UK this without doubt a positive, but it also presents a significant challenge: how to communicate with consumers who speak different languages, who operate in different time zones, and who have radically different cultures?

Anyone who doubts the importance of this issue for 21st Century business should consider this fact:
a 2011 study from the European Commission found that 42% of consumers never purchase products and services in other languages. Multilingual customer service is fast becoming a major issue for UK businesses, and we can expect to see this reflected in the customer service offering from travel companies.

3) Selling emotions

As we already mentioned, the globalization of the industry in terms of affinity to multichannel and multilingual services, now shaping the industry, demands flexibility in regards to business model and services offered. But, what is even more significant is the increasing importance of culture as a factor giving competitive advantage in the travel sector. This means that companies now need to sell not only products and services, but emotions. More and more travel companies will turn to Business process outsourcing (BPO) providers of customer care services for innovative approaches to enhance the customer experience by selling emotions, reduce costs, and gain flexibility and scalability.

4) Increased focus on culture of customer service

Culture matters both in terms of local culture of the people as well as the corporate culture of your customer service team. Crucially there needs to be a strong cultural fit between the two. To truly act as an extension of your business and brand, it’s key that customer service agents understand and embrace the culture and values of your organisation as well as the people they are serving.

In most cases it will be impractical to site your customer service function in your home territory; you will need to look overseas to find sufficient language skills. Think carefully about the region and country you choose. Is it politically stable? What is the education system like? Is there a historical affinity between your country and the one in question? Do its people move freely overseas and so gain the sort of experiences which will help them to adapt to the culture of your customers?

5) New nearshore locations

For many years now, corporates have been torn between the high costs of outsourcing customer service to European countries, and the low service levels often prevalent in offshore locations. Yet this is changing rapidly, with many travel companies recognising South Eastern Europe as a viable location for customer service.

Indeed, the 2014 AT Kearney Global Services Location Index ranked Bulgaria 1st in Europe and amongst Top 10 worldwide most attractive outsourcing destinations for customer support. With its combination of multilingual skills, a highly educated and motivated workforce, and competitive pricing, we can expect to see Bulgaria and other South Eastern European countries like Romania become an increasingly attractive choice for travel companies looking to outsource their customer service.

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