The role of the holiday rep is changing. Nowhere is that more clear than at Thomson and First Choice where 1,300 reps are not only being given their own iPads but also being empowered to deal with customer complaints and even decide compensation levels.
Even their traditional welcome meetings will become available to view on YouTube.
If anything, the rep is set to become far more important by communicating to agents and customers before departure in a way that has never happened before on such a large scale.
Eight years ago the situation was somewhat different. Thomson reduced its overseas reps by a third, leaving 40% of clients without a traditional rep service.
But the aim has been consistent – to modernise the role of the overseas rep. Then, the company ploughed the savings from cutting its reps into a texting service Thomson Travel Buddy; now the technology is in the hands of the reps as well as agents and consumers.
Ian Chapman, Tui Travel UK’s director of holiday experience, aims to modernise the role of the rep.
What he doesn’t want is reps to be bogged down in paperwork. The introduction of iPads will largely spell the end of face-to-face staff meetings; instead, they will be held via FaceTime video apps – in some cases saving long drives to resort. And the completion of customer service forms and weekly and financial reports will now be done online.
“All the forms that took time to do before are now online and can be completed more quickly. Reps will spend less time on paperwork and more in resort,” he said.
In other words, the new rep will have an even more prominent customer-facing role in future, from tweeting customers pre-departure to emailing agents about clients’ requests and showing videos of rooms live to agents and holidaymakers.
So, what’s the aim? In short, Chapman wants Tui Travel to be a cutting-edge travel firm offering top customer service. And there is another goal: to reduce customer complaints.
“Our dream is to not to have any complaints come back from overseas to the UK,” said Chapman.
A trial of the technology this summer in Cyprus resulted in 85% of complaints being solved in resort, up from 39% last summer.
Empowering reps to resolve complaints in resort is not only cheaper but usually more effective as clients get an immediate response.
Dealing with clients’ queries pre-departure is also aimed at eliminating problems in advance.
During the trial in Cyprus, iPads were given to 75 reps, digital noticeboards were installed in hotel receptions, and free Wi-Fi was made available on coaches and in public areas in hotels.
The resort team received more than 5,000 emails direct from customers. The most common questions were about birthday cakes, anniversary treats, beach towels and the best tavernas.
Tui’s score on customer loyalty barometer Net Promoter increased by 34% year on year after the trial. And Tui’s customer satisfaction surveys showed a 47% increase in the number of holidaymakers who would recommend Tui to a friend.
By next summer, 80% of Tui’s differentiated properties will have Wi-Fi in the rooms and public areas. When clients arrive, they will receive a text telling them where their luggage and transfer coach is. They will be able to fill in hotel registration forms online in advance, merely having to pick up their key from the desk on arrival.
“People can go from the coach to the sunbed,” said Chapman.
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