Opinion: Customer satisfaction in travel is on the rise but beware complacency

Opinion: Customer satisfaction in travel is on the rise but beware complacency

Understand changing consumer priorities to drive higher productivity, growth and profit, says Jo Causon, chief executive of The Institute of Customer Service

A number of prominent organisations across the UK’s travel sector have announced new leadership appointments since the start of the year and with new leadership comes new opportunity for a sector that has been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons in recent months.

However, not all the news has been negative.  It was certainly encouraging to discover that a record 12.7 million visits were made by foreign tourists to UK regions outside London in the first nine months of 2017.

The figure represented a growth of 4% on the previous year and whilst some of this will undoubtedly be due to the exchange rate such numbers can also be attributed to customers’ experience, their repeat visits and recommendations.

Against this background, The Institute of Customer Service has just published its latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI).

Overall it shows a stable picture of satisfaction across the UK and, in an environment in which customer expectations are set to become more challenging, the suggestion for UK boardrooms is that we have reached the point where concentrating on the hygiene factors of customer experience, crucial as they are, is not enough.

The travel sector has clearly recognised this point.  With a UKCSI score of 80.7 (out of 100), it is the third highest-scoring out of 13 that The Institute measures.

Collectively it scores 2.6 points higher than the UK all-sector average of 78.1 which is an indication that customers consider travel-focused organisations, on average, to be delivering a relatively high level of service, compared to what they experience elsewhere in the economy.

Customer satisfaction has also risen 0.5 points between January 2017 and January 2018, compared to a 0.3 point rise in the UKCSI all-sector average.

Our evidence suggests that factors behind the increase are the way employees in the sector resolve complaints with speed and are easy to contact by phone.

This is good to see but it is now more important than ever for organisations to focus on the whole customer experience design.  They need to get better at fixing issues at source, rather than simply reacting as problems occur.

Being easy to do business with an organisation – as these factors demonstrate – is critical to long-term sustainable success.

Indeed, as 2018 develops there is growing recognition that improving productivity is fundamental to the UK’s economic performance and social well-being.

In my view it will require a sustained and co-ordinated investment in skills development and appropriate infrastructure so that transactional activities are easy to execute and the focus is on the experience.

It also suggests the need for a fresh approach to employee engagement and a new kind of informal contract between organisations and employees.

At the same time, the need to interpret insight and respond quickly to changing market conditions has intensified.

As a result, some organisations have reverted to short, transaction-based surveys.

These may have the advantage of quickly pinpointing customer experience issues and employee engagement, but I believe they risk missing deeper changes in customer needs and behaviour.

The sector is performing well at the moment, but complacency must not be allowed to set in.

It is only when boardrooms fully understand the changing priorities of their customers that they will be able to deliver a consistently positive experience and drive sustainable business performance resulting in higher levels of productivity, growth and profitability.

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