TBiz President Yannis Karmis On Service As A Science

Travelocity Business president Yannis Karmis submitted his thoughts on blending technology and people to appropriately service business travelers.

Travel is personal ... and business travel is no exception.

We all leave family and friends behind when we travel for business. While the magic of smartphones, Facetime and Skype keep us connected, we still leave a piece of ourselves behind. Business travel is personal and travelers today deserve personalized service.

Nevertheless, we often hear "service" described in an abstract, narrow way. We talk about "competing on technology or service" and coin terms like "high-touch customers" or "touchless transactions." While helpful in describing what we do, we need to consider a more disciplined framework to think about service as a science.

I'm not talking about a philosophical theory of customer service. I'm talking about how technology and people drive a model of service delivery that is precise, engineered, measureable and continuously evolving__just like any traditional science.

Great customer service is not about answering the phone with a cheerful attitude or throwing a bunch of people at a problem. In today's technology-centric world, excellent customer service is about deploying technology and people in a methodical, scientific way. While the balance between technology and people might vary based on the situation at hand, any successful service must include both.

Take a look at Esurance's ad from a few years ago: "People when you want them, technology when you don't." It's a reminder that while consumers demand personal service, they want it regardless of how they choose to interact with you. They want it offline and online, and with consistency between the two.

Other industries have expanded their offerings. Remember when we picked a bank based on location? Today, traditional banks are competing with online banking, mobile apps and the ability to access account info or complete transactions on the go.

This evolution of service is based on an evolving understanding of customers and a methodical plan to deliver services based on their changing needs. To continue to meet the expectations of our customers, we must think of service as continually (and rapidly) evolving. Why? Because that is what travelers demand.

As technology advances, the travel industry has been an early adopter. We were the first to develop efficient shopping tools that allow us to instantly shop and compare countless travel options. As the Internet came of age, we deployed corporate booking tools to empower the average traveler to make their own reservations. More recently, we've introduced mobile solutions giving consumers access to multiple parts of the travel experience from a smartphone.

This doesn't mean simply focusing on deploying new technology, but enhancing intelligent solutions already in place. Take the online booking experience, for instance. Booking tool providers have developed an incredibly sophisticated set of tools that allow companies to deploy an amazing array of complex solutions directly to travelers. They are valuable platforms offering tremendous configurability and expandability.

Yet, we've been slow to evolve as an industry in bringing "service" online. The questions in many corporate RFPs today related to online capabilities are limited to the booking tool and booking process. That's like choosing your bank simply based on their bill pay capabilities. It's certainly an important factor, but what about everything else you need that completes the service experience?

By thinking about the online experience more holistically, we could use technology to deploy a wider suite of services to travelers and companies. Customer care requests, historical itineraries, fee statements, managerial reporting, ticket tracking and policy analysis all have a place in the online experience.

Service as a science also requires that we understand the complex variables we have to balance in a travel program. There is no right or wrong equation. The answer to the service equation varies from company to company and from situation to situation. As a service provider, we must deploy systems that can adapt dynamically to each situation.

Business travel is personal. We must approach service with thoughtful precision and insight. We must provide the right balance of technology and people needed to deliver on the service companies expect from us. It's one part technology and two parts people. Those who find ways to solve the equation in balanced, integrated ways will be the service winners of the future.