Online Travel: Customer Service is KeyJanette Toral
When Internet and e-commerce first became popular, one of the sectors immediately seen to benefit from it is the travel industry. However, it is easier said than done.
A lot has improved since my last article in 2001. Flight schedules posted in travel websites are now accurate and the rates are competitive.
There are new needs that airlines must have flexibility to accommodate. I got invited last March to speak at a women’s conference in Bangkok. Knowing that disbursement takes time, I requested instead for our tickets to be sent to us or purchased ahead of time as my cards were maxed out then.
When the organizer tried booking me at the Philippine Airlines website, she realized that the system does not allow her to purchase a ticket for me. If online shopping sites have already accommodated the fact that the buyer is different from the recipient, online travel websites should work-around existing policies to accommodate these new needs.
Frequent flyer programs
I believe that one of the best feature I’ve seen online lately is that you can use the airline’s website to book your flight online using your travel credits. I’ve done this with Cathay Pacific, Northwest Airlines, and Lufthansa. Even better, I was able to use the rewards booking feature to get an airline ticket for my writer to go to Malaysia and cover an event.
I’m not sure if this is a feature that I did not see possible yet with Philippine Airlines or Cebu Pacific. If it is, I have not received any communication informing frequent flyer members about it.
However, one disappointing experience that happened to me lately is the lost of nearly 30,000 travel miles in my frequent flyer program in Cathay Pacific. Actually, I really like their website a lot, especially their online check-in feature, as it provides so much convenience. However, when my 30,000 miles was due for expiration, I did not see any attempt from the airline to contact me about it and provide options for use.
I called Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong office finding out what my options are, but unfortunately most of their great gadget, hotels, spa offers are limited in being availed of in Hong Kong. It was absolutely disappointing. Despite the good service that they offer today, the airline is no longer my primary preference for traveling. The lack of customer caring especially for its frequent flyer members who have racked up credits is not acceptable.
Perhaps the reason why I expected more is I am expecting such service as Cebu Pacific has rendered to me two years ago. I remembered receiving a call from them a year ago informing me of my expiring miles and even offered options as to how I can use it. I end up getting a round-trip ticket (or was it one-way) to Cebu for free. If not for that call, my miles would have been left unused or cancelled.
I must admit though that both Cebu Pacific and PAL had been very poor in communicating with Frequent Flyer members as you hardly receive communication from them.
Customer Service is the Key
E-Commerce is not always about buying products online. An online travel site should not measure website sales generated as a barometer of its effectiveness. Most of them will still remain offline. However, the website can be used as a powerful marketing tool in letting people know that you exist, what do you have to offer, how can you be reached.
Having a website is not enough to generate success to the company. At the end of the day, customer service matters the most. In my case, it will take time for me to buy tickets online especially if I already have a favorite airline or travel agent. However, once my favorite travel agent or airline messed up, I immediately look at alternatives who I may want to give another shot or go online to look for other options.
Online travel is definitely improving and provides a greater competitive ground for businesses operating in this business. I know that some are worried about their survival as the competitors are now on a global scale. This is where only those who can think big, beyond their horizon, shall be capable to survive.