There are lots of ways to communicate with a company,...

There are lots of ways to communicate with a company, and it pays to be conversant with them all. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/AntonioGuillem

During the pandemic, travelers enjoyed some of the best customer service in years. Hotels welcomed returning guests with rock-bottom room rates. Airlines eliminated customer-unfriendly fees. Rental cars were cleaner than ever. But now, amid labor shortages and high inflation, the industry is returning to its old ways.

So what can you do to get better customer service? Travelers and travel experts say you have to double down on proven strategies such as persistence, politeness and patience.

"Travelers should look for companies that offer round-the-clock assistance and a way to reach key information, even when human support agents might not be available," says Sourabh Gupta, co-founder and chief executive of Skit.ai, a developer of artificial-intelligence-driven voice technology. You can tell your travel company has this by looking for a "contact us" feature on its site that offers 24/7 phone, chat and email support.

"Carefully review the travel company's website to find contact information for the specific issue you need assistance with," says Lorena Kurtjian Hernandez, a senior director at Medallia, a developer of customer feedback management software. "You are much more likely to get help from the right person at the right department if you're very specific about the type of assistance you need."

There are lots of ways to communicate with a company, and it pays to be conversant with them all. When you're traveling, experts say, you have to think outside the complaint box.

This has been a long and stressful summer for travel, and your good manners will take you a long way when you're trying to get better customer service. "I recommend that both customers and service representatives be as friendly as possible," says Dan Skilken, president of TripInsurance.com.

Threatening emails that say, "I'll never do business with you again," or, "I'm going to sue you," are far likelier to be ignored. But friendly requests for help receive almost immediate attention.

Companies know that customer service is going to be a challenge as travel returns to pre-pandemic levels. How they meet that challenge may determine their success or failure.

Consider what furnished apartment rental company Blueground did to ramp up for summer. Blueground has always provided a fully digitized experience, communicating with guests through its app, which allows customers to quickly get in touch during their stays. But the company was cautious about over-automating, so now it makes sure a human, not a bot, answers every contact.

"We also empowered our support teams to make quick decisions," says Nessy Ismet, Blueground's director of client experience. "That enabled a human-to-human experience for every guest."

The situation isn't hopeless. Suzanne Hodes, a retired small-business owner from Weston, Florida, recently visited Rome with her husband. She says the city is still in "welcome back mode."

"Few restaurants are including service fees or gratuities," she says. "They are leaving it up to the guest to do the right thing." Her take-away? Maybe — just maybe — the hospitality industry sees its happy customers and wants them to stay that way.

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