For the most part, successful travel is often dependant on good customer service but in the future, that may not be what we experience.
Forget about COVID and the social distancing experiences that we are facing as we head into the second year of this pandemic. Even prior to the arrival of COVID-19, businesses around the country were shifting their models of operation. Part of that shift was the elimination of customer service.
It is not surprising, most companies receive more complaints about on the CS side of things than they do in any other area of their operations. This isn’t just a travel industry problem. While many will complain about the experiences, conditions of rooms, most complaints have to deal with how guests are treated.
Grocery stores, pre-pandemic began shifting to curb-side pickup as have many retail outlets. The pandemic only served to enhance this process and make it more common.
In the travel industry, we have seen that shift for years. Booking travel online is far easier and more popular than talking to someone on the phone. Theme parks, cruise lines, airlines, and hotels all have online booking and reservation services and many of those have pre-check-in options that take you away from the front desk on arrival. You can literally book some hotels online, check in online, and arrive in your room and even check out without ever having a personal interaction with a hotel employee.
This is a trend that we have seen in all aspects of travel. In some areas, it is impossible to avoid the guests. Cruise lines need to have that guest interaction for tips so it will not be going away but as more and more people opt to be left alone, the shift in guest contact is becoming less frequent.
How should we as travelers feel about that? In the past, customer service was one of the most important parts of a vacation or trip. We wanted to be pampered in some way, shape, or form. We wanted to be treated like we were important. After the quarantines and mask-wearing, many have realized that they are easily able to spend a vacation handling things themselves when possible. It’s almost a “leave me alone I want to relax” now attitude.
Guest services will always be a big part of satisfying guests but slowly, the interactions between guests and guest services will continue to be more infrequent or done over another mode of communication.
If we look at the fast-food industry, brick-and-mortar establishments are also starting to change. Many McDonalds and the likes may not reopen their dining areas. Why should they? With the increase in the minimum wage to $10 to $15.00, service companies like this can cut their staff in half or more.
No longer will these chains pay for the cleaning of the dining rooms or the bathrooms but instead, food prep employees can pass the bags out through the drive-thru or deliver the curbside pick-up orders instead. It makes a lot of sense. We have seen this same type of shift with some cell phone carriers who use stripped-down locations where guests may have no interaction or very little with actual employees.
Eventually, this will be the normal operating method in travel businesses as well.