How Connected Employees Can Enhance Customer Experiences in Real Time

In order to meaningfully engage employees and customers, it’s increasingly important for travel companies to empower their employees with communication tools that allow them to connect and collaborate so that they can solve problems in real time.

In fact, 78 percent of travel industry leaders say that empowering their firstline (or frontline) employees is critical to their long-term strategy, according to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) report commissioned by Microsoft. However, only 23 percent of firstline workers feel that they have the right technology to do their job, according to a Forrester study, also commissioned by Microsoft. The Forrester research additionally reveals that 46 percent of employees ranked the ability to collaborate with their colleagues as one of the top five capabilities they need to fulfill their responsibilities.

“Today’s airline and hospitality customers are looking for swift problem resolution, real-time support, personalized service, and consistent experiences across all touchpoints,” said Julie Shainock, managing director for travel, transportation, and hospitality at Microsoft. “Therefore, travel brands must extend the application of advanced technologies to all levels of the organization to unlock productivity, efficiency, and ensure that the firstline workers have the tools they need to capitalize on the moments that matter most to customers.”

Breaking down information and communication silos

According to Shainock, “each department in airlines and hospitality often uses disparate tools that are specific to their tasks. While these tools work successfully within each department, they cause communication silos that hinder a brand’s ability to provide consistent customer experiences across functions and locations.”

For example, coordinating a flight departure requires the pilots, maintenance staff, flight attendants, caterers, ground crew, and many other teams to work together in real time. It’s a complex process and requires clearances from different teams before the flight even starts boarding. The maintenance team may need to inform the ground and in-flight crews about seat malfunctions so that seat changes are made prior to boarding. The in-flight crew must keep the ground crew apprised about the amount of overhead baggage space available so that the staff can offer baggage check-in at the gate.

Microsoft Teams, a workplace communication and collaboration platform, provides a secure way for employees across departments to converse using chat, audio calling, and video conferencing. It also allows employees to share files with ease. “Enabling employees to connect with each other and access information from wherever they are, on any device, is key to meeting customer needs and enhancing guest experiences,” said Shainock. “A group chat, for example, where all stakeholders are given updates simultaneously is more efficient than when individuals have to use different tools and communicate one-on-one. That can cause unnecessary roadblocks and stifles employees’ ability to go outside their departmental capabilities to find a solution. For example, ground staff may need to check with the in-flight crew about available food and beverage options before offering a free meal to a disgruntled customer. If they’re not able to communicate with the in-flight crew easily, their options to find a solution are limited.”

The Teams platform secures employee communications with the help of built in compliance features that protect customer data against theft and improper usage. It has information protection layers to prevent loss of data and to make sure that the right information is being made visible to employees with appropriate permissions only. For additional security, access is controlled by multi-factor authentication.

Driving efficiency at scale

Red Lion Hotels (RLH) Corporation, an American hospitality brand, increased the number of hotels they were managing and operating from 120 to 1,100 across the U.S. between 2014 to 2015. The challenge for leadership during this transition was to scale operations while staying true to the brand’s image, feel, and promise.

By deploying Teams, RLH created a centralized hub for all communication and a dynamic repository of resources that allows every member of the RLH staff to share best practices, collaborate, learn from each other, experience the company culture, and feel a sense of belonging to this large organization, irrespective of their location.

“The persistence of communication is what distinguishes the Teams solution,” said John Edwards, chief information officer of RLH Corporation. “The style is somewhere in between IM and email. It’s much more of a conversation; it’s much more efficient. We don’t have people saying ‘where’s this’ or ‘where’s that’ because they haven’t lost it in the noise of email.”

Travel brands often need to be able to collaborate with third-party vendors with ease. “When an event is taking place at a hotel, the hotel has to facilitate easy collaboration between their onsite teams, suppliers, third-party vendors like audio-visual equipment providers, and the client. The onsite team can easily ensure that everybody is on the same page by hosting meetings using audio, video, or web conferencing features of Teams and sharing the recording with any other team that has to be onboarded,” said Shainock .

Improving employee engagement

Apart from the commercial benefits of providing better customer experiences, a communication and collaboration tool also helps travel brands reduce attrition and improve employee engagement. That’s a major positive because the travel industry has been grappling with high employee turnover in recent years. In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated a yearly employee turnover rate of 73.8 percent in the U.S. hotel industry. According to an American Airlines employee survey, less than half of the airline’s employees believe that they have the flexibility to meet the needs of their customers.

Teams helps counter those challenges. The software not only creates a sense of belonging amongst employees by increasing opportunities to collaborate but also makes employees feel included by opening up direct lines of communication between the leadership teams and the firstline staff.

“Travel and hospitality companies have a tremendous opportunity to better engage their firstline employees, gain insights from their interactions with the customers, and empower staff members to better serve customers, ” said Emma Williams, corporate vice president of Modern Workplace Verticals at Microsoft.

“Engaged employees are better equipped to represent their company and meet customer needs. We recently added a feature called Praise to Teams to make it easy for employers to celebrate employee successes, communicate appreciation, and foster greater camaraderie,” added Williams.

Microsoft also recently added a Shifts feature to its Teams platform, which enables managers to create and share schedules with their teams and lets employees easily request schedule changes.

Prioritizing firstline workers has a number of benefits for employers and employees. According to Forrester Total Economic Impact Study, commissioned with Microsoft, after empowering firstline workers with digital tools, 91 percent of business leaders saw an increase in performance and productivity, and 64 percent saw decreases in employee turnover. Additionally, 87 percent of organizations reported higher levels of customer satisfaction, and 81 percent of executives agreed that firstline worker autonomy makes organizations more competitive.

These quantifiable benefits show how important it is for travel brands to extend their digital transformation efforts to empower their firstline employees with the right tools. “We see an opportunity for technology to truly empower firstline workers,” said Williams, “to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively, ultimately improving employee satisfaction, enhancing customer experience, and improving business outcomes.”

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