One year after Travelocity soft-launched its Customer 1st Guarantee, the company said last week that its social media response times to customers are the fastest among the major U.S. full-service OTAs.

The initiative, begun last February, was designed to respond to customers quickly 24/7 via social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter (@travelocity and @travelocityhelp), said Naaz Nichols, senior director of customer contact.

"As part of Travelocity's mission statement, which is to inspire people to travel and be their champion throughout the travel journey, we really wanted to set out in the latter part of 2015 to really refine what that meant in terms of what we offered our customers," Nichols said. "So we embarked on a number of qualitative as well as quantitative studies, and what we found was that service was as important to consumers as anything else that a travel company could offer."

Travelocity found that the most important thing to clients, especially those currently on a trip, was a single point of contact and a fast response time, she said. Considering Travelocity's existing presence on Facebook and Twitter, expanding customer service to those channels made sense.

"Along with Facebook and Twitter being the most pervasive social media channels, they are both also channels where Travelocity already has a significant following with our customers, which makes it an optimal place to connect for customer service, as well," Nichols said.

To measure how the company is performing on social media with regard to customer service, Travelocity recently commissioned a study by the social media analytics firm Socialbakers, which completed a manual analysis of 10,000 user posts and responses on both Facebook and Twitter accounts of major U.S. OTA brands from July 1 to Sept. 30, 2016.

It found that Travelocity responded the fastest in both cases, with an average response time of 23 minutes on Facebook and 15 minutes on Twitter.

Nichols said Travelocity considers that response time "best in class."

She attributed the difference between the response times on Facebook and Twitter to customers' tendency to contact Travelocity on Facebook as well as to the fact that Twitter messages tend to be more direct, while Facebook messages can come from a variety of places, such as the company's wall, messages or even comments on posts.

Since the program's launch, Travelocity said it fields "thousands of inquiries per month" via social channels. Inquiries the OTA receives on social channels mirror the inquiries the company receives through its call center, with the top reasons being hotel cancellations or modifications or airline cancellations or modifications. In both cases, most are initiated by consumers, Nichols said.

A flexible number of people staff the team that responds to social media inquiries. Nichols said "roughly about 10 at any given time" staff the team, but more agents are working during peak service hours as well as during events like winter storms when travel disruptions are expected.

"When we look at [satisfaction] scores from customers who are being serviced through this channel by this team relative to all other customers, we actually see much higher satisfaction scores," Nichols said.

"So that tells us two things: We're doing a great job and living the promise of our mission statement through this particular channel and this group of agents; [and] we're turning what could be a potentially negative experience or a bad taste in a customer's [or] a potential traveler's mouth into a positive," she said.

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