One of the side-effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic, affecting every industry, is the labor shortage. The travel sector is experiencing more of a challenge as it reopens.
Process automation and digital tools can empower employees, protect and even future proof operations. That can enable companies to continue to deliver high touch travel experiences and do more with less in an environment of much leaner teams.
Return and re-skill
"As we start to recover, travel companies are learning that employee behavior and expectations have changed," Jacqueline Nunley, senior industry advisor for travel and hospitality at Salesforce, explains.
"Looking at the labor issue through one of the many lenses shows that a number of people are not willing to return to certain jobs because they took advantage of the pandemic time to re-skill, so that they could be prepared to switch careers or switch industries once the pandemic was over. As a result, it's been tough for the travel industry to get talent that were already familiar with those particular roles.
"We have seen many tactics deployed to bring employees back to work; whether it's signup bonuses or higher wages, companies have been working on multiple strategies to revitalize their workforce. We're seeing travel companies taking action to make sure that they're ready for the future, but the gap is still there, and the question is what can they do right now?"
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently surveyed 800 HR leaders in the aviation industry, responsible for right-skilling existing workers and ensuring that new hires from outside aviation can quickly acquire the skills they need to rebuild the post-pandemic workforce.
According to IATA:
- 36% of the respondents have already moved their focus to distance/e-learning.
- 85% of the respondents said that online learning, including virtual classrooms, will play an essential role in the recovery.
Remote reskilling can help address some employment gaps and empowering employees with opportunities to develop their careers can help foster loyalty and retain them. Considerable workforce reductions in the travel industry have resulted in the de-specialization of employee roles.
This also offers travel companies an opportunity to rethink the automation of processes and digitization of tasks that results in delivered value and improved decision-making for their employees.
"It's a good opportunity to ramp up with the right technology solutions," Nunley explains. "Employees need to be reached wherever they are but more importantly, must be able to handle multiple nuances of roles that may have existed in the past with leaner teams tasked to deliver and/or exceed the standards that travelers now expect.
"Mobilizing employees across functional teams to reduce the friction that leads to inconsistent experiences across a brand can also enhance service so the workforce has the information that they need to perform their tasks and can deal with customers on the go.
"When we talk about optimizing the business, enriching data, and integrating it across platforms, use by employee teams and departments is the most significant barrier to achieving enterprise-class, data-driven success with travelers. For instance, for airlines, putting mobile phones in the hands of ground staff helped them address more issues on the go, than they typically would have with long lines at the gate"
Ramping-up to build employee loyalty
Loyal employees can be a travel brand's most vital asset, presenting a positive image to customers and ensuring efficient services. Equipping employees with the right tools allows them to feel empowered and builds employee loyalty.
"Employee loyalty comes from treating employees just like your customers," Nunley says. "You want to plan a career path effectively and retain your workforce; that requires a digital platform that can scale efficiently when it comes to predictive capabilities that can supercharge workforce development strategies. Role-specific apps will allow employees to execute on any of the requirements of that particular position.
"Reskilling journeys will help them grow into more valuable resources and build a path for career growth. Leveraging insights from your employees' digital interactions can help businesses understand their needs better as travel companies continue to grow and scale."
When you're competing in a tight marketplace for the best talent, it helps to have developed a culture that fosters loyalty and generates employee pride in the workplace—even if that workplace is remote.
"When it comes to sourcing new hires, it's about fostering the culture that presents your brand as a great place to work," Nunley says.
"At Salesforce, we pride ourselves on our culture, and that culture has to come through in person-to-person interactions as well as in remote interactions. As a lot of travel companies come back to business, their call centers have remained and will remain remote. When call center agents worked in a centralized call center, if there was a problem, they could typically tap their colleague right next to them and ask a question.
"With remote call centers, you lose that collaboration aspect. From what we're hearing from our customers, it's affecting the company culture. The question is, how do you move the physical experience into a digital experience to foster a culture that keeps employees engaged, keeps them happy? Providing tools that help foster collaboration with their fellow workers is a great start.
"The challenge still remains how to grow a digital culture that allows employees to feel like they are still part of a team and part of the brand, even when they work remotely. You also have to find ways to train and mentor employees digitally, encouraging them to develop and advance in their careers."
Low-effort, high rewards
Digitalization is more critical than ever because it will help the workplace scale beyond the brick-and-mortar limits. Digital tools enable organizations to become more flexible, adaptive, and responsive to customer needs. The key is to remove the friction points that lead to inconsistent experiences across a brand for new hires and experienced employees alike, to make the workplace as intuitive and effortless as possible, wherever that workplace might be.
"One example is that call centers used to use scripts and other similar criteria to answer questions. Call center scripts are becoming obsolete and outdated to deal with the information that consumers need, in real time to truly understand what to expect for travel. The consensus from customers is that scripts don't work anymore in dealing with the unexpected," Nunley says.
As the author, speaker, and advisor on sales, service, and customer experience, Matt Dixon notes in his book The Effortless Experience: "Companies need to attract and hire the best people, period. For call centers, allowing agents to use their judgment within the limits of what's legally acceptable, results in a lower level of effort to meet the expectations for today's customer. 'Most large companies struggle with the notion of ease and low-effort service while newer, start-up companies seem to provide customers with seamless, frictionless service interactions.'
"For agents to address issues using their experience, companies need to ensure employees have the information that they need, and the systems that they need, to be effective and to create that low effort experience for customers. Reducing customer effort is a reliable and robust loyalty builder."
In a study of 125,000 customers and 5,000 customer service reps at 100 companies, Dixon and his colleagues found that customers are more likely (94%) to repurchase a low-effort experience and increase their share of wallet spend (88%) with a low-effort brand.
"Starting with a small number of ways to reduce effort makes a shift to a low-effort organization more tangible. Reps know precisely what to do, and they develop a more refined sense for how effort reduction works. Plus, supervisors have a finite set of new behaviors to coach to," Dixon writes.
The most significant opportunity in experience engineering is reducing the effort both internally and externally, empowering employees to find the right solutions for customers, which leads to a lower perception of effort for the brand. Accomplishing that requires a combination of technology and training.
The right digital tools can help staff at all levels, in all functions, reduce effort, whether they are front-desk or above-property support, above or below the wing, customer-facing or operations.
"We are proud to provide our travel & hospitality customers with a connected platform that enables employee and customer success simultaneously," Scott Barghaan, Area Vice President for Travel, Transportation, and Hospitality, Salesforce, tells us.
"Being customer-first starts with being employee-first. This means simplifying processes whenever possible through automation, integrated systems, and the fewest clicks possible. It also means learning from all the data we collect to help employees do their best work and deliver personalized experiences at every turn."
Moving forward to help customers help themselves
Digitized solutions allow customers to help themselves using their own devices. Salesforce is investing in this future by partnering with cloud services for inventory management.
"We know that the future is travel and hospitality marketplaces," Nunley says. "For example, passengers can purchase something from duty-free, or order a sandwich for their flight, and have it waiting at the gate.
"We see a lot of these types of self-service capabilities becoming what's expected. Where we see it going, eventually, is to efficiencies that allow for those self-service capabilities to really scale."
Getting back to work, with less effort
The nature of work was already changing before the pandemic. Competing for employees after COVID-19 can be a fresh opportunity for companies to look inward for improvement, to make the most of their resources.
Successful travel companies will refine their processes to attract the best employees, re-skill existing employees, reduce the effort required by their operations, and build meaningful relationships with customers. A fresh approach to work can take companies beyond recovery to discovery, with loyalty built-in for the long haul.