Top challenges facing online travel customer service agents in Africa

By Josephine Wawira

It’s Customer Service Week and this year, the international celebration of the people who on a daily basis serve and support customers, takes place from 3rd to 7th October 2016. Companies across the world are conducting activities to appreciate their customers; even in the smallest acts of kindness such as shoe shining or providing discounted rates/prices for products and services.

Globally, customer service is vital to the success of any business, a factor that all companies fully invest in; to remain competitive in their respective fields. While we focus on the importance of the customer, it is also crucial to understand some of the major challenges that the customer service agents go through on a day to day basis. Jumia Travel highlights some of the hiccups experienced by online travel customer service agents, in this case referred to as Travel Advisors across Africa.

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Jumia Travel Advisors Mark and Maya

The ‘automated machines’

For some reason, customer service agents, especially those operating online are thought to be some sort of automated machines who are fed with answers about every other question a customer may have. Yet, it is important to understand that these are humans too, who have unique knowledge about their respective industries; in order to facilitate the customers whenever they have queries or need any kind of assistance. Therefore, it is acceptable for your Travel Advisor not to have immediate answers to your burning questions.

Whenever faced with a situation where they can’t immediately respond to a question/query, some Travel Advisors are tempted to take the easy way out and simply say ‘I don’t know’. However, this could have negative impacts on the business as the customer expects to receive assistance whenever he/she makes contact. Therefore, the best way to handle the situation would be to let the customer know that you are finding out information about their inquiry and will immediately or later get back to them with a solution.

The unwarrantable favors

In most cases, customers are quite sincere and reasonable about their requests when they contact online travel customer agents. From requesting for clear information to inquiring on available discounts or packages, all these are reasons enough for the Travel Advisors to take a step further to inform the customers. In fact, they are not favors, they are duties. But then again, there are some stubborn customers who will make contact be it via a call, email, social media platforms or live chats to demand a favor, which no matter how much willing the agent might be, he/she cannot grant it.

A candid example would be when a customer makes an online booking to a hotel, suppose a standard room. Later, his taste of style is elevated to the superior room next door, but is unwilling to pay for the extra cost that comes with the upgrade. Sometimes when faced with such an awkward scenario, it becomes a challenge for customer service agents to say ‘No’ while remaining as empathetic and honest as possible. It is advisable for the Travel Advisors to provide the customer with a viable solution; for instance by recommending a different hotel whose standards and/or amenities march those of the upgraded superior room he wants, but at the same price.

Dealing with an angry customer

An unsatisfied customer makes an angry customer. For instance, if a customer is not well informed and ends up making considerably wrong travel choices, a series of consequences are bound to happen; from missed flights, lost directions, awful hotel stays, late business meetings to completely spoiled holidays. In such cases, the customer is likely to leave a bad review or even consider getting in contact with any senior management to lodge a complaint. Dealing with an angry customer, some of whom are inconsolable, is one of the biggest challenges that Travel Advisors have to face every now and then.

A customer is likely to forgive a bad experience, but that always depends on how the situation is handled by both the hotel in question and the online travel agent; whether the customer’s anger is justified or not. Here, the Travel Advisor plays a key role, including offering a sincere apology and accepting responsibility, even when it is not their fault at all. Apologizing should not really be the end, but rather providing a quick solution to the problem. This could be the only way to appease an angry customer; and when the damage is already done, assure them that an action will be taken immediately to better the service on their next visit/booking.

Customer is always right

Last but not least, whatever the situation, the customer is always the boss and therefore always right. A difficult fact to comply with sometimes, as the customer is in some cases wrong. Yet, the Travel Advisors have to give a friendly nod from the other end even in the most demanding and unfriendly situations.

Stanislas de Dinechin, Head of Customer Service at Jumia Travel, Africa’s leading online hotel booking portal, says that “Our Customers are our best asset and we want each of them to become a loyal and enthusiastic ambassador. Our Travel Advisors are dedicated and trained to support our Customers in any situation, especially in an African context. But more than any training or any skill, the Travel Advisors’ empathy towards our customers is everything and we make sure at any point, they put themselves in the shoes of the Customer. This is our best guarantee to amazing Customer Experience.”

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