By Jim Freeze

Your guests are changing, and at the heart of that change is the intersection of mobility, self-reliance and generational transformation. Travelers today live on their smart phones – a fully-functioning computer with ubiquitous high speed access and a plethora communication channels. These hyper-connected consumers increasingly prefer to buy products and services and resolve their issues without the assistance of a customer service agent. This is especially true with so-called Millennials, individuals who are 18 – 36. Any hospitality provider, like most other industries, must adapt to rapidly changing consumer expectations or be rendered increasingly less relevant.

Recent market data suggests a dissonance between what hospitality executives say and the investments they are making. More specifically, polling the business strategies and technology investments of several executives from various industries, a survey conducted by Aspect Software revealed that over 92 percent of travel and hospitality executives rate customer service as a top relationship builder. Yet, the hospitality was last among all industries relative to investments in technology that support this new omni-channel self-reliant consumer demand. In fact, half of the travel/hospitality executives surveyed expect no change in the role of their customer service department in the next two years – in essence they expect customer service to exist as it has for the last 10 years!

So why is investing in contemporary self-service solutions so timely? Over 70 percent of consumers surveyed want the ability to solve most customer service issues by themselves, but multiple channels of communications that truly enable this don’t exist in most hospitality companies today. Technology’s role in the customer experience is more important than ever in ensuring quick, quality service. Here are some reasons enabling self-service is a critical component in optimizing customer satisfaction:

1. Save your customers time

If there is an opportunity to allow customers to solve their problems on their terms and on their time, without the support of an agent, let them do it. That means scheduling their own reservations online, through texts or tweets, providing portals for customers to engage with peers and hear previous customers’ stories, and delivering highly customizable automated responses for do-it-yourself instruction.

According to data from Forrester Research, “service on the go” tops the list of self-service advantages, with 76 percent of respondents ranking this as the primary benefit. Forrester data also shows increased usage of other self-service channels: Online forum adoption jumped by 18 percent from 2012 to 2014, and virtual agent adoption also jumped by 15 percent in the same timeframe. Additionally, keeping in line with the limited time of the customer-on-the-move, respondents indicated using mobile self-service 42 percent of the time.

In the case that they do need live assistance, give customers the ability to reach an agent and pick up where they left off. Self-service, connected to the service command center is critical to delivering an exceptional experience.

2. Free up your agents’ time to focus on more complex customer service issues

Enabling your customers to self-serve will not only make them more satisfied, it will reduce your costs. Instead of forcing your customers to utilize your customer service agents as the “user interface” to the information they want, free up these expensive agents resources to work on more challenging issues. You win, but most importantly, your customers do as well.

3. Allow them to be social

The power of social media this day and age is evident. From a business perspective, consumers turn to social media to contact companies directly, crowdsource for help and publically vent. That being said, social media is also a convenient emerging channel for self-service. Let customers help each other in a facilitated community where your brand actively participates in and your customers will get more out of the relationship they have with your brand. Not only does adapting to your customers’ communication channel preferences allow hospitality providers to better listen to what customers have to say, but social media also allows for quicker response times and the development of a loyal following. Plus, 61 percent of customers say that they would share a good customer experience over social media if the company made it quick and easy to do so.

4. Make their lives easier by being connected in all the ways that matter

Today’s consumer is connected and constantly jumping from text messages to phone calls, from social media to email. The best customer contact centers are those that adapt to the consumer’s habits. That means providing customers with the option of moving across channels for quick and easily accessible assistance and supplying agents with the automated technology they need to pull customer information and history for quick and accurate assistance. Omni-channel solutions can enable accurate and quick access to customer information, seamlessly integrating all channels for one fluid experience.

To better serve your customers and drive contact center efficiencies, offer an omni-channel self-service solution. Providing personalized self-service across voice, text, web and social channels brings you in line with consumer preferences while lowering costs and elevating your agents to experts who can focus on more complex interactions.

For an industry that values the customer experience for customer retention, the next steps are clear. Listen to your guests, fliers, and passengers. If you let them interact, engage and transact with you in the means and manners they prefer you’ll not only retain existing customers but attract new ones as well.