Opinion: It's good to talk. So why is travel so cold to call centres?

Opinion: It's good to talk. So why is travel so cold to call centres?

Teletext Holidays managing director Victoria SandersWhether it’s a piece of garden furniture, a dress for a special event or a toy for my niece, whenever I buy something online there’s always a moment of panic when I see the “buy now” button.

What if I press “buy now” and buy the wrong size, the wrong colour, the wrong shape? It’s then that I start frantically looking around the John Lewis website for a phone number to call.

It’s good to talk

Good call centre staff are worth their weight in gold. Sometimes a reassuring chat with a real person is all you need to part with your cash. In the travel industry we’re often so busy talking about online trends, mobile apps or what’s going on with shops that we forget to talk about the thousands of staff who sell holidays over the phone.

We should not underestimate how powerful good call centre staff can be. If they are knowledgeable, friendly and skilled in selling then they have the power not only to make the basic sale but also to persuade customers to upgrade and add things on to their holiday.

But all too often it seems companies across all industries, not just travel, try everything possible to put customers off picking up the phone. I’ve often found I’ve had to search really hard on a firm’s website to find a phone number. And on some sites I have not been able to find one at all.

We hear regularly about call centres closing or being outsourced overseas; they often seem to be in the firing line when it comes to cost cutting. I am always in awe of good telesales people. It is a real skill and I think businesses should invest more than they do in training and developing call centre staff.

Assurance means sales

A recent Which? report claimed one in three people still seek reassurance before they book a holiday, whether that’s through an agent or speaking to someone over the phone. So the call part is a vital addition to clicks and bricks.

The trouble with the phone, though, is that it is still so anonymous. Will you get through to the same person if you call back? Will they ever call you back if you end the call? Probably not.

But I see great potential to improve the customer experience. Systems like Apple’s FaceTime and Skype can pop up an image on your screen of the person you’re talking to. So, with most new laptops including webcams, in the years to come I expect us all to see as well as chat to the person at the other end of the line.

And as you talk about your holiday needs, a real person is able to show you pictures or video instantly and tailor your holiday exactly as you need it. Talk, click and buy now: that would be my ultimate shopping experience.

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