As a species, how we communicate has changed dramatically in recent years. Nobody faxes any more, letters are a thing of the past and email is being superseded by swathes of messaging platforms offering instantaneous interactions. In a world where customers are busy, self-reliant and wary of any correspondence that begins with the word 'Dear', travel agencies need to be smarter in the search for engagement...
2016 is the year that the travel industry needs to embrace instant messaging platforms as a viable form of communication with customers. Figures show that within the rising tide of social media, messaging is the fastest growing online behaviour. In short, people are messaging constantly, and the door is open to connect with each person on an individual basis. Alternatively, several industry players are already experimenting with messaging platforms such as WeChat. Services like this allow online communities of travellers to develop with the express purpose of helping one another, and feel markedly more personal than tweeting at a brand or commenting on an Instagram photo. Across platforms messaging groups are springing up and focusing on specific areas or topics; people are still seeking advice.
Airlines and hotels are starting to get involved. Hyatt is on Asian service WeChat; Shangri-La uses the same platform for content marketing purposes. Airline KLM has tested WhatsApp for Dutch customers with positive feedback, and is considering further moves into instant messaging.
The figures in the table above show that, within social media, messaging has been the fastest-growing behaviour over the past five years. WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger each have more monthly users around the world than Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest combined. It's time for the travel industry to take notice.
Increasing customer loyalty in an evermore competitive industry has travel agents around the world scratching their heads; messaging seems an ideal solution. Instant messaging apps should eventually become a conduit through which customers seek assistance from agencies. If there's one thing you can guarantee it's that travellers on the move will use messaging to keep in touch and stay connected with family and friends, so why not take the customer service to them?
Instantaneous customer service combined with thoughtful, accurate insight, is one of the easiest ways for travel service providers to stay relevant. Customers can search for everything online these days, but they arguably only do so because they have to. If information was available as quickly as a response from a friend via a messaging service, plenty more would seek advice from travel agents.
Businesses across all industries are putting more money and manpower into social media responses, dealing with customer enquiries on platforms such as Twitter as soon as they come in. While often quick and effective, this is probably inaccessible to the majority of customers who either a.) don't want to voice their issue in public or b.) don't engage with social media platforms.
Via instant messaging, customer service in 2016 could have all the tactfulness of a phone call with the speed and response times of a social media query.