By David Maisey, CEO MultiPay Global Solutions
Seasoned cruise passengers are rushing back to the industry, keen to enjoy trips once again. Being the backbone of the cruise industry, it’s reassuring to see committed customers returning. Nonetheless, if cruise lines are to return to the levels of profit and growth they previously enjoyed, attracting new customers is the top priority and business-critical issue. Unfortunately, after 18 months of false dawns and confusing international travel restrictions, those who are new to cruising are rightly concerned about last-minute changes and cancellations. To win over new customers, the industry needs to look at how it can reassure them.
While the use of sales and promotions are a great way to entice experienced cruise passengers back for their next trip, they unfortunately fail to connect with new customers in the same way. Instead, cruise operators need to focus on speaking to new customers’ biggest concern; their ability to get a refund if their trip changes or is cancelled. Consequently, it’s time to look at refund processes and how they can be updated to support sales with new customers. By providing reassurances to new customers that if a trip is changed or cancelled that they can still get a refund will remove a significant barrier for them deciding to go on a trip. As it can feel quite overwhelming to update the refund processes it is worth breaking it down into several smaller steps.
Step 1) Pre-purchase – Simple, clear, and concise
The refund process often feels like part of the after-purchase customer experience, as it only comes into play when a product needs returning. Research, though, suggests that for nearly half of consumers this is not the case, with refund processes being reviewed by them before they even complete a purchase. Having refund policies and processes that are easy to find, simple to read, and clear on what they cover will give new customers the reassurances they need to complete a purchase.
Beyond the policies themselves, it is equally important to consider how a refund is claimed. Providing in-person phone and online options allows a cruise line operator to show the compassion and concern customers expect. For those new to cruising, having the reassurance of a human customer service member to speak with reinforces the first-class, personal experience they can expect from their trip, and shows why cruise trips are unlike any other.
Step 2) Refund activated
Of course, in the unlikely event that a refund is requested, speed is of the essence. Customer service teams need to move quickly and carefully in supporting and investigating claims. Any delay or unnecessary complication with a refund can instantly undermine the investment that a brand has made in building up its reputation and trust with a customer. Ensuring that your business has an easy to follow, streamlined process with clear internal ownership can prevent cases from taking longer than they should to resolve. By supporting human customer service with automated systems, it will ease the pressure on them and provide extra bandwidth for displays of understanding and compassion.
Yet, while speed is important, it cannot be at the expense of the investigation and due diligence. Unfortunately, as with any crisis, criminals have been quick to react and capitalise on the pandemic situation. During 2020, and the start of the pandemic, Finance UK data showed that impersonation fraud, including that for refunds, grew by 97%! Consequently, this growth in fraud increases the risk to businesses of financial loss and reputational damage. To protect cruise lines without damaging the customer experience through slow resolution times, businesses need to ensure they are investing in new technologies to help, such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and the latest payment systems that accept all payments, regardless of currency, acquiring bank or payment method through a single integration.
Switching to the latest payment systems that offer a single payment gateway instantly removes siloes in backend payment systems that can hold up and delay fraud checks and searches by RPA systems. In doing so, the whole refund process is sped up leading to an improved customer experience. What’s more, by having a single payment gateway as soon as a refund is approved it can be paid quickly thanks to the removal of issues with navigating currencies or acquiring banks. Having a simplified payment system in place, cruise lines can ensure they continue to deliver the first-class, consistent experience they are renowned for.
Step 3) Post-refund
Once refund checks are completed, and payment has been made, the final phase of the refund process can begin – follow-up. Following up with a customer post-refund can be easy to overlook as the issue at hand have been dealt with. However, checking in after the event is a great way to show customers how important they are to the business. Furthermore, it also provides an opportunity to identify areas of improvement too. By speaking to people who have been through the refund process, cruise lines can create a feedback loop to ensure the process is always improving and matching customer expectations.
Without doubt, the last 18 months have been one of the toughest periods in the cruise industries history. The good news is that the tide is beginning to turn. Earlier this month, for instance, Royal Caribbean announced a new nine-month cruise highlighting the optimism that is returning to the industry. However, while seasoned cruise passengers can be relied upon to return in droves, cruise lines now need to focus on gaining new customers. Following a year and a half of disruption, refunds have now become a key customer experience metric. For businesses looking to return to sustained growth ensuring refund processes, systems and technologies are in place has never been more important.