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I am very aware of the damage that can be done so quickly on social media to my company’s reputation by disgruntled customers. Bearing in mind that I am a small tour operator with a limited number of staff, are there any tools we can use to keep an eye on what is being said about us, how best to deal with online criticism and, also, is there any help ABTA can give us? Anon
Normally customer complaints centre on unsatisfactory service or problems encountered on holiday, But the pandemic created an extremely difficult and largely uncharted range of problems for ABTA Members. Having to deal with customer repatriation, cancellations and refunds and promoting holiday bookings, while working against a background of lockdowns and changes to travel advice, has been incredibly challenging.
Lockdown has also left customers with much more time on their hands, and many have turned to social media to connect with other unhappy customers or complain, so it would be a mistake to not respond to your customers and develop a relationship with them. Having a social media response strategy is therefore a good step forward, so here are my suggestions.
There are many social media listening tools which are freely available or cost a relatively small sum. They will give you an insight into what people think of you and how your brand is viewed. If you are getting a lot of negative attention, it would be worthwhile investing in a social media monitoring platform or brand listening tool so you can analyse some of the key things being said about your business. This will help you make decisions on how you should respond to individuals and whether you should publish more detailed information elsewhere on your website, for example, as you can’t always explain things fully on social, this will also give you a steer on your more generic content you should be publishing.
We used Brand Mentions for a few months, before we invested in Hootsuite which helps us to better monitor all of our social channels and allows other departments to respond directly. For example, our customer support team can jump on and answer questions from customers. This has really helped us to work together better across the ABTA departments while we’ve been working from home.
Listening to customers on social media can also help you take an improved, customer first approach within your organisation. For example, if you see the words ‘delayed refund’ you can work on improving your processes, so they become more efficient in repaying customers. Or if you see negative keywords such as ‘never booking again’ you could offer some incentives to your customers and schedule social media posts advertising the promotions. Customers may also want reassurance about the support you can offer them. ABTA has a marketing toolkit with suggested social media content you can use to promote your company as an ABTA member and how customers can book with confidence. Find the resources here: abta.com/marketingtoolkit
It is a good idea to respond to negative customer feedback on social media in an apologetic way, so it shows you are human and understand your customer’s frustration. After all, they may be genuinely going through financial difficulty. One suggestion is to consider how you would like to be politely spoken to and use that language in your response. It’s also important to make your language consistent across all your customer communication channels, so they do not have another angle to complain about. Get organised and plan an FAQ word document so you can effectively and efficiently respond to customers. That way you’re not having to deal with each and every complaint in a new or different way.
Lastly, if I see that one of our members is getting a particularly hard time online, which they don’t seem to be responding to, I will often let them know in case they are not aware of what is being said about them.
Lizzie Andrews, Senior Digital Marketing Executive
Each issue we speak to a different ABTA employee about their work. This time: Hugh Felton, senior sustainable tourism executive
I joined ABTA in 2011, since then I have been busy supporting members’ sustainability approaches.
I have been working in the travel industry since 2000 after completing an MSc in tourism, conservation and sustainable development. You could say my roles have been varied, but every day I use my studies, my overseas roles and the commercial experience I gained selling holidays to support our members on their sustainability ambitions alongside the commercial realities.
My travel career started when I set up a gap year company for the American Institute for Foreign Study and I also volunteered for Raleigh International as a programme manager, leading young people on treks through Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I then lived and worked in Madagascar where I was the country coordinator for Frontier, a conservation expedition organisation.
Before joining ABTA, I gained valuable experience working in TUI Group’s education division. Most of the tours we organised went to Europe, but I remember selling one school trip that went to the Galápagos Islands, which, for those students, must have been a trip of a lifetime.
I am part of the sustainable tourism team at ABTA and work closely with Clare Jenkinson, head of sustainability. My role as senior sustainability executive is primarily to support our members with their sustainability ambitions. This means answering questions from members on issues such as how to manage carbon emissions, animal welfare queries and human rights. I draft guidance and develop other resources, as well as representing ABTA at conferences and events. I helped review the ABTA animal welfare guidelines in 2019 and, more recently, worked with members to develop amazing case studies for the ABTA Tourism for Good report, published in 2020.
I help to organise the sustainable tourism committee and the animal welfare working group. I also coordinate our internal sustainability work at ABTA in order to ‘walk the walk’, as they say, and to demonstrate to our staff that ABTA is a leading employer in sustainability. For example, we have an active local volunteering scheme for staff and we host fun and engaging charity activities to support causes that link to travel industry, the local community or destination communities.
Over the years, I have gained perspective and have a first-hand account of how sustainability has risen from a topic that was often seen as something abstract, or on the periphery, to a key pillar of corporate strategies. I enjoy the challenges the role brings and keeping abreast of the latest scientific findings which determine policy and trends further down the line. There are some big issues to contend with – for example, understanding the impacts of climate change and equipping ABTA and our members on how best to deal with these changes. Although I have been working in the industry for the best part of 20 years, its protean and dynamic nature never ceases to impress me.
My other role is in crisis management, where I am part of a team that supports members and their customers through these trickier times. Despite all the flooding and earthquakes, nothing has been quite like the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. This role gives me a different perspective and allows me to work with a brilliant team and helps me feel close to members during difficult and challenging times.
The Covid-19 crisis has presented challenges for everyone and I continue to work remotely to support members to equip them with the tools to take on the brave new world when travel takes off again. It is incredibly difficult time for everybody in the industry and members are understandably concerned about what the future will look like for their businesses. Despite the uncertainty, many of the members I speak to tell me how sustainability is essential for the survival of their businesses.