Call centers are an important part of today’s business landscape, but they have always struggled with a reputation issue. Legacy issues like cheesy muzak while on hold, insincere messages about the importance of the call, automated menu options that lead nowhere, hard-selling techniques, offshoring, and phone numbers premium have contributed to a negative perception that is out of sync with reality. of what today’s call centers are capable of offering.
The travel industry was one of the first industries to adopt call centers as a sales channel, not unlike how travel was one of the first to start selling tickets over the Internet. And while we tend to embrace and enjoy our pioneering role as one of the most forward-thinking and dynamic sectors of e-commerce, we are more circumspect about call centers. This is despite the fact that many travel companies are introducing work practices, and technological innovations, in their call centers, which other verticals are more than willing to learn from. At the same time, we are redoubling efforts to improve travel-specific processes and functionality.
According to the latest research, the enterprise-grade call center technology market will be worth a mere $80 billion by 2029, up from $27 billion in 2021. There is a lot of investor interest in providing the tools for companies to make your calls. call centers more efficiently, and this interest is growing in response to demand: During COVID, call centers were under a lot of pressure, reinforcing their importance as a channel for customer service and sales.
The pressure on travel call centers during the pandemic reflected how much pressure the industry was under, and as the dust settles on those difficult years, some home truths are emerging. The call centers managed just fine, but in many cases they could have done better. And the first step to performing better is knowing more about your performance in the first place.
It is a big surprise to me that many large travel and hospitality companies are satisfied with basic call center analytics: number of calls, average duration, response times. These headline numbers may offer insight, but they don’t provide the depth of data needed to make substantial changes to how efficiently a call center can operate.
Technical advances in speech analytics and transcription to text, combined with ever-improving machine learning capabilities, mean that companies running call centers must know exactly what customers are asking and what operators are answering. This can be done automatically, without the need for manual interaction.
Nowadays, it is relatively easy to record each incoming call and transcribe the conversation. More difficult is to analyze the interaction, extract the relevant data and then implement actions based on the knowledge. However, the latter part of the process is well within the wheelhouse of the call center technology specialists.
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The reason is clear: unless there is a way to record and analyze these calls, with the results presented in a simple and easy to understand format, any actionable information is lost.
And when it comes to insights, three degrees of customer interaction can be identified. Some calling reasons are not that complex and can be successfully and automatically resolved by voice recognition, such as queries about COVID restrictions that can be answered by extracting Q&A data from the website. Passengers wanting to change the details of an existing reservation, just to mention one example, are a bit more complicated, but can be handled effectively using artificial intelligence to access transactional systems.
But it’s for very complex queries that the hybrid approach comes into its own, allowing call center technology to flex its muscles and work in sync with an experienced human agent to deliver the best possible service to customers. Real-time speech recognition can proactively display information to the agent four times faster than if they had to enter queries in response to what the customer said.
Travel companies will have their own parameters for what can be handled automatically and what needs the input of an expert agent. Call center technology can be configured to address the specific use cases of a specific business.
One such example is happening right now, illustrating the business and travel benefits of next-generation call center technology. Flight cancellations are common in the current climate, and this has a direct impact on cruise lines, both for fly-cruise packages and for passengers who book their flight independently. Call center managers with access to a dashboard that provides AI-based analysis of call transcripts can identify common themes in customer calls and train agents to respond accordingly.
For example, if analysis shows that Airline A is announcing flight cancellations that are impacting departures, agents can be prepared for upcoming calls by having access to Airline B as an alternative. This helps the solution rate for the call center and the customer review rating.
This degree of insight is only possible if all calls are automatically transcribed and analyzed, with the data clearly presented.
Early proponents of speech recognition and data analysis have already stopped analyzing transcripts. With the help of continual improvement in the way different technologies can now communicate with each other, significant improvements are possible. Giving a cruise agent access to real-time inventory, which automatically appears in response to what the caller says, and which the agent can book on the spot, is a recent and significant improvement in the way they call centers have traditionally operated.
The travel industry is home to some of the world’s most successful and innovative e-commerce companies, helping tens of millions of people around the world book and manage their travel online. A hybrid model, where data forms a bridge between the expert agent and cutting-edge technology, means that the same scale of business can be, and potentially will be, transacted through call centers.
So it’s time for the cruise industry, and the travel industry in general, to address the possibilities—improving the customer experience, empowering staff, increasing margins—that today’s AI-powered tools can offer.