The Wall Street Journal predicts this Thanksgiving will be among the busiest travel days in decades, with 55 million travelers anticipated to be moving through US airports and other transportation hubs and highways. In fact, “2022 is expected to be the third-busiest year for Thanksgiving travel since AAA started tracking it in 2000,” and numbers are coming back up to 2019 levels.
US passengers are panicking about whether airports will be chaotic. They are grasping for tips to survive travel stress. That makes now the prime time for operations that care about travel experience to refresh their hospitality mindset and approaches.
Why is Thanksgiving Travel So Popular?
Passengers who travel around the Thanksgiving holiday largely share the same motivation. They want to connect. Holiday travelers possess an empathetic drive to come together, to break bread, and to practice gratitude with loved ones. They are willing to spend money, wait in lines, and deal with multiple stresses and inconveniences.
But that does not mean Thanksgiving travelers deserve to encounter their worst-case scenario customer experience. Airlines, highway systems, railways, rental car companies: think about what kind of customer you encounter on the busiest holiday travel weekend. Likely, your customer is traveling with family members of multiple ages and levels of comfort around travel. As anyone who has vacationed with family knows, this is the most stressful way to travel.
So, what are our opportunities as travel customer experience providers? How can we meet our passengers where they are, in a state of anxiety? How can we create easy, seamless, guided experiences that resonate with the mother in the family who otherwise travels for business? Or the grandfather who has mobility challenges and health safety concerns?
Embrace a Hospitality Mindset for Your Passengers
To provide diverse passenger personas with personalized, seamless customer experiences during the busiest travel time of the year, bake hospitality into every customer experience touchpoint along the journey.
This includes extending hospitality to, and modeling hospitality for, your employees. We understand that tight budgets in the post-Covid travel environment, and other mitigating factors, can make it difficult to embark on large-scale hospitality training. But the good news is, there are five straightforward steps you can take, NOW, to improve the travel experience on the ground and in the air for your customers and employees this holiday season.
Manage Passenger Information Boards
You want angry travelers? Present them with inaccurate, or late information. Your information boards need to be the gold standard of clear communication with travelers. Make sure there are key individuals responsible for updating and maintaining flight status, train departure location, and other vital travel information pieces on your boards.
Understand that the unexpected will happen. And use this dynamic communication tool to take control of the unexpected before it causes customer confusion, missed flights, and ruined family reunions. Put someone on the ground to look at what the boards are telling your customers. And to confirm that the information is accurate, clear, and timely.
You need to have a clear plan of action that kicks into place immediately for issues resolution. This requires synchronicity across technology vendors, tech teams, communications staff, and frontline employees who can bridge the technology information gap in the moment by giving customers clear, helpful guidance when they need it most.
Educate Supervisors on Empathy and Patience
We know you are stressed! And just like we always say, “culture starts at the top,” stress starts at the top, too. Make sure every individual in a leadership role of any kind is armed with accurate information, a hospitality mindset, and the autonomy to act on behalf of your customers when they need extra help. This armor reduces stress and empowers your supervisors to act the way you need them to act when the pressure mounts.
Remind and reinforce to your supervisors the importance of empathy and patience along a traveler’s journey. Help them understand that on high volume holiday travel days, you are encountering a broad spectrum of customer personas. From the daily traveler to the once-a-year traveler. Offer skills building sessions, send tips emails, get on the phone. Do what it takes to build up your supervisors in confidence, empathy, and patience, so they can pass on that air of hospitality and guidance to the employees they oversee and the customers they serve.
Treat Your Employees to a Thanksgiving Celebration
Empathy, like good customer experience, starts from the inside out. Acknowledge that this time of year increases the demands and stress your employees experience. Express gratitude for the extra work they are doing. And use the holiday to demonstrate your gratitude for the individuals who help you deliver on the promises you make to your customers.
We build strong relationships in the trenches. No one understands better than your employee and leadership teams how challenging this time of year is – and how high the stakes are for your operation. Use this shared perspective to build connection across departments and roles. Schedule a simple Thanksgiving celebration at an appropriate time after the holiday is over and your travelers have returned home safely (after a positive travel experience!).
At your celebration, share your “war stories.” Have some laughs, and learn some lessons from each other to make the next busy travel day run even more smoothly. Most of all, take this opportunity to express your authentic gratitude for the sacrifices your employees make on behalf of your customers.
Run a Low-Cost Holiday Employee Contest
A little competition is good for employee camaraderie. And it is an engine for new, creative ideas that improve customer experience. Announce your contest ahead of the holiday rush. Tell employees that the winner will be the individual who delivers the best, or most innovative “Above and Beyond Customer Experience Moment” to a holiday traveler.
The objective is not to distribute an expensive prize. Rather, the objective is to inject your organization’s cultural identity and values into the interactions employees have with customers in a high-stakes, high-stress environment. We want employees to default to culture-drive, customer-centric behaviors, even in the most seemingly out-of-control circumstances. A simple way to do this is to recognize and reward those behaviors in action.
That means your prize should be part of your cultural ethos. It could be a certificate, a ribbon, or a mug that is branded with your cultural stamp. Artifacts like this are powerful motivation drivers and connectors. Certainly, you can also add a gift card or another token of appreciation, but remember, the most powerful rewards are those that reaffirm your employees’ sense of belonging and value to your organization.
Set Up Passenger Activities and Gifts for Kids
We’re not new here. We all know there will be delays this time of year. And those delays are a fast track to dissatisfied customers, and more stress for your employees. Your IROP (irregular operations) customer experience and communications strategies are in place and ready to deploy. This is a minimum standard in the transportation and travel industry. But what more can you do? How can you extend empathy and create a Wow Moment – or at least a moment’s peace for weary adult travelers – out of a delay?
Again, we look to a low budget, high impact experience solution. Get holiday themed coloring sheets and inexpensive crayons (think about what restaurants have on hand to accompany children’s menus). Make these available at airport gates, train station waiting areas, and even highway rest stops. This gives kids the chance to occupy themselves without running around and potentially causing more confusion, stress, and damage. It also anchors your travelers to why they are traveling.
Children can color the pages and bring them on the plane to share with the families they are going to see. Or, they can hand them back to gate agents who can use the artwork to decorate the space. All of this is an easy, fun way to reroute the energy of delayed travelers into something positive, productive, and empathetic. It replaces a shared experience of frustration with a shared experience of joy.
It is Not too Late
Even with the holidays around the corner, you still have time to implement these five simple steps to refresh your hospitality to prepare for the crowds.
Get more guidance on how to implement these and other straightforward solutions to create seamless customer travel journeys with The Petrova Experience. Schedule a complimentary call with The Petrova Experience experts!