2020 has seen mass disruption spread throughout businesses and sectors the world over, but few industries have felt that impact quite as hard and fast as travel and tourism. Despite the challenges that have come with Covid-19, some travel businesses have positive stories to share, one of those being Feefo client, Alternative Airlines, a global specialist flight search website.
In this week’s Feefo Spotlight episode, we chat to Sophie Georgalakis, Senior Partnerships and Marketing Communications Executive at Alternative Airlines, about how they’ve been using customer feedback to open up a second stream of communication with their customers, spot areas where they could improve, and boost morale within their team during the unrest of the global pandemic. You can listen to the podcast here, or keep reading to find out more!
Thank you for joining us today, Sophie! Would you like to start by telling us a bit about Alternative Airlines and what you do?
Of course, and thank you for having me on! Alternative Airlines is a flight search website and tech company. We offer an easy and convenient way to book flights to both remote and well-known destinations. So, a customer can search for and choose a flight or multiple flights from over 600 airlines including the smaller regional ones across the world, like in America for instance, or America and South East Asia. We pride ourselves in offering over 25 international payment methods to suit customers in different regions, and this includes options to buy flight tickets on finance. We offer over 160 currencies to pay with, so we work on a global basis. The business started in 2006, but it’s been in the last four years that we’ve seen a rapid growth as a tech company. We even won a place on the 2019 Sunday Times Tech Track 100 list as one of the fastest growing technology companies in the UK, so that was really exciting for us last year.
That’s quite an unusual proposition in comparison to other travel companies. Do you find that because you deal with smaller airlines, that it’s harder to get customers to engage and trust your services?
Yes and no! First off, we know that buying flight tickets is a thought-out purchase because of the variety of factors considered in the booking process. You’re looking at the most convenient flight, the most convenient times, which airport you want to fly to, how long the layovers are, especially if you’re doing long haul, and especially now, during the pandemic. We are aware that there’s an element of uncertainty, because like you said, people are so used to booking with a brand they know. We try to provide a lot more information within the flight search to reassure our customers. We even have an aircraft filter on the flight search results so that they’re aware of what plane to expect on their journey.
You’re pretty well known for your high level of customer service. Do you find the feedback that you get from your service is a useful tool in terms of reassuring people?
Definitely. But also, in terms of the pandemic, it’s even more useful. It’s even more rewarding to know that we’re getting great reviews because people are feeling anxious - they want responses to their requests a lot quicker. The travel industry was inundated with requests and queries, especially in the middle of lockdown, so for customers there was this expectation that we weren’t going to get back to them. We had to go through a process of prioritising the most urgent queries, and the customer feedback we got was so rewarding because they just weren’t expecting us to reply so quickly. It was a massive relief for our customers.
I imagine your customer service team has been under siege! Have you found any of that feedback helpful from their point of view, in terms of staying abreast of the main issues that were arising or spotting trends in the biggest concerns?
Yes, definitely. We’ve been using Feefo Insight Tags for this, even pre-Covid. The booking process is quite lengthy – you start with searching for your flight, to choosing it, to then getting to the passenger details page, then go through the ancillaries that you want to add to your ticket, and then payment. All these stages are online. We use the Insight Tags tool for the pre, post and during the booking process to see what worked for customers and what we could improve on.
"We use the Insight Tags tool for the pre, post and during the booking process to see what worked for customers and what we could improve on."
Travel has so many touchpoints and there are so many places where an experience can fall down. Unless you look at all those separate elements, you’ll never be able to pinpoint when those improvements need to be made. You need to focus and reward – you might have members of staff who are really excelling and continuously being mentioned. Keeping staff morale high must be a challenge…
But then having these reviews, as cliché as it might sound, has been a boost in morale for the teams. Even with the Insight Tags, if we suddenly see that someone’s unhappy with how the customer journey went, we’ll call them and ask them if there’s anything we can help them with, or something we can improve. The feedback we get, especially now, is great to shout about to the whole company.
You’ve been collecting reviews with us for a long time now. Have you found that the value of your feedback has really changed over the last six months?
We’ve been with Feefo for six years now, and we’ve won the Trusted Service Award three years in a row. Over the last six months, if you think about the mindset of the customer – you can break it down into two halves. You have the first half of lockdown for instance, where things were at a complete standstill. People were scared, they weren’t able to travel and they wanted answers. As I mentioned before, reviews were starting to become a form of communication. In the second half, as things started to move again, travelers wanted more answers because they were anxious about what was happening in other countries. Because of that, the value of the reviews has definitely changed. When they’re responded to by us quickly, they’re more pleasantly surprised and you can sense it in the feedback. They’re relieved that somebody’s listening. It makes us feel happy because we’ve been able to help them in a crisis. So, it works both ways – we get the benefit of helping someone else, and they feel relieved because someone’s helping them quickly. Our Feefo reviews have been a much more powerful tool than ever to continually improve the business, and using the feedback we get helps us to avoid any setbacks in the future.
"We get the benefit of helping someone else, and they feel relieved because someone’s helping them quickly. Our Feefo reviews have been a much more powerful tool than ever to continually improve the business, and using the feedback we get helps us to avoid any setbacks in the future."
I imagine the need to maintain communication with your customers has become more prevalent than ever…
Absolutely. We use in-house technology to streamline our customer service processes, and in the event that this kind of thing happens again, we’re now prepared to prioritise customers with the most urgent queries and requests so that reviews aren’t the only form of communication - which I didn’t necessarily think was a bad thing – it meant that we could help our customers and retain them for the future and maintain their trust.
It’s not about looking for an instant solution when our customers contact us, they just don’t want to be ignored. Reviews have helped with the customer service support, because we can continue to increase our communication and keep instilling trust. If there isn’t a system to prioritise those queries, it leads to a delayed response and a breakdown of trust, unfortunately.
"Reviews have helped with the customer service support, because we can continue to increase our communication and keep instilling trust. If there isn’t a system to prioritise those queries, it leads to a delayed response and a breakdown of trust."
Have you noticed a big shift in the type of customer that you’re getting, as I imagine a lot of your customers were flying with business?
Absolutely. Domestic travel has picked up and there’s been a decline in business travel with the increase working from home and video communication.
People are looking to do staycations where they can stay within their country - the Australian domestic market for example. People still want to travel! In the future, I think people will want to go on holiday even more – it will be seen as more of a ‘treat’ than it was pre-Covid. There will be more spontaneous trips as different countries come off the quarantine list, but I think people will be more cautious when searching for flights. I don’t think it will be about the best flight deals any more, it will be more about convenience and avoiding areas where you may have to quarantine.
Anything that you can do to reassure your customers is more valuable than ever, isn’t it? You need to reinstall that consumer confidence…
Yes, they want to be more informed. We pride ourselves on doing that, and within our flight search we provide a lot of in-flight and airline information as you go through the booking process. That’s where our customer feedback will help – it’s there to help us discover what we need to work on and also increases our communication with our customers.
A lot of the ways you use your feedback at the moment is around managing the customer journey and communication. How do you see yourself using that to plan and strategise for the coming months and into 2021?
Looking into the future, we do expect to see a lot of changes in the way that our customers are going to book their flights. We want to use our feedback even more than ever moving forward because of the uncertainty of travel. Customers are feeling anxious and they will have high expectations. It’s hard to predict what the customers will want, but the feedback will be a tool to continuously improve the business and help us overcome any setbacks.
"We want to use our feedback even more than ever moving forward because of the uncertainty of travel... It’s hard to predict what the customers will want, but the feedback will be a tool to continuously improve the business and help us overcome any setbacks."
When things do start picking back up, you may be able to use your positive pieces of feedback from this time to promote the business and advocate your service…
And that’s exactly what we do. We obviously love the positive reviews that come in, but because we specialise in providing over 25 payment methods, including buying flights on finance, the fact that the customers are shouting about this in our reviews is great for us to showcase.
Have you seen a change in the kind of responses you get? Do you think people are more engaged?
Yes, and I can probably speak for the travel industry with this one. People have changed their mindset about feedback. Existing customers just want a form of communication, and new customers who are unfamiliar with our business to begin with are going to look through the reviews and want to be reassured that we’re legit – that they’re going to get what they want. If they see positive reviews, and that we’ve responded to them quickly, that’s when our feedback is really beneficial.
What do you think the future’s got in store for travel?
I believe that the future is positive. People will want to travel – it’s not going to stop. I can’t predict how fast things will move for the better, but travel will have to pick up. I expect to see customers booking as part of a longer thought-out process, and we can adapt to that by continuing to provide all the relevant information. I think that will be for another year or two, depending on government advice, but I’m positive that travel will bounce back and people will want to get away. They miss jumping on a plane and going abroad!
Now it’s about gaining the customer’s trust more than ever, and providing that instead of just being able to offer the best price or the most convenient travel stops. It’s amazing how quickly that mindset has changed. It’s natural for us humans to adapt, and as much as we all had teething problems at the start of lockdown, things are still moving – and this goes for travellers and customers, they just adapt to what’s available to them.
"Now it’s about gaining the customer’s trust more than ever, and providing that instead of just being able to offer the best price or the most convenient travel stops. It’s amazing how quickly that mindset has changed."
So, one last thing. We ask this question to everybody that does the Spotlight series – what piece of advice would you give to another Feefo user?
We’ve used Feefo for a few years now, so I’ve got a few! Firstly, I’d say to definitely use Insight Tags. We find it really useful to work out if there’s anything to improve on at different points in the customer journey. Also, don’t overlook positive reviews! People tend to listen to the negatives to improve their service, but 4- to 5-star reviews are just as important, and you may see a common thread in the products that you offer – it’s always best to shout about them and showcase them. We’ve definitely seen that with the payment types that we offer on the site. The positive feedback that we’re getting from people that feel relieved, or they were amazed that they got such quick service in the time that we’re in has been so rewarding for us. Saying that, negative reviews are constructive criticism, and I think the benefits you get from making that customer happy can be just as rewarding. Essentially, we use Feefo to help us improve, showcase our products and boost morale in the team.
"Don’t overlook positive reviews! People tend to listen to the negatives to improve their service, but 4- to 5-star reviews are just as important, and you may see a common thread in the products that you offer – it’s always best to shout about them and showcase them."
Thank you so much for joining us today, Sophie. It’s so great to see how you’ve used your Feefo feedback to enhance your customer experience and reassure your customers over the last few months.
Make sure you check out Alternative Airlines here, and read more about how they use Insight Tags to increase their online conversions here! If you’d like to find out how Feefo can help you too, get in touch today.
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