There is an increasing recognition within the public sector of the importance of managing and improving customer experience (CX). As we explained in our previous article, applying CX principles to the visa sector benefits not only travellers but also the governments seeking to attract them. But what areas should visa agencies focus on if they want to improve customer satisfaction? What factors can make a genuine difference to customer experience for applicants?
In many respects, it is possible to improve CX in the visa sector simply by adopting tried and tested methods from other industries, where greater competition forces companies to innovate, seek differentiation and offer ever higher standards of customer care. However, the visa experience is also quite unique due to the regulatory and security aspects at the heart of the process, and the importance of a visa decision to an individual applicant. So what could improved CX in the visa sector actually look like?
1. More intimate knowledge of customers, for a segmented approach
Improving customer experience starts with insight, that in turn becomes empathy. In simple terms, this means more detailed knowledge of who customers actually are and what they want. Visa authorities can find it challenging to obtain the relevant insights that will help them to understand the people who use their services. This knowledge is essential, because it allows segmentation and therefore more personalisation, widely used in other sectors to drive customer satisfaction and boost results.
Segmentation can seem like a rather alien concept within the public sector, where ‘one-size-fits-all’ tends to be the norm, in the interests of equality of treatment. However, segmentation does not mean discrimination. On the contrary, it allows for a more tailored approach, taking into account specific needs, and ultimately leads to a better service.
It is easy to make a case for segmentation within the visa sector, based on factors such as geography, demographics or customer behaviour.
- Geographic segmentation: There are clear regional differences in terms of access to high-speed internet and associated digital services, but also in the way that people prefer to travel: with or without the assistance of specialist agencies. These different factors will influence the level of personalised assistance that travellers from particular regions might require with their visa application.
- Demographic segmentation: Generation Z travellers are likely to be far more comfortable with a fully online application process and, as digital natives, often expect this. On the other hand, their parents or grandparents might be less comfortable with digital services and therefore prefer more face-to-face interaction.
- Behavioural segmentation: A busy business traveller who makes frequent international trips will approach the visa application process differently and will have different needs to a teenager preparing to make their first ever trip abroad to study at a foreign university.
While visa authorities are unlikely to be able to expand their visa offer to fit the precise needs of every different group, they can certainly tailor their communications and engagement activities with this in mind. Certain customer segments might, for example, be unaware of specific visa types that could better suit their needs. It is also possible to imagine a range of services that can be developed around the visa process to meet very specific needs and enhance the overall visa experience. This is something that we have been working on for a number of years at TLScontact, with our range of Added Value Services.
2. A more seamless application process
People applying for a visa will not be doing so in isolation: their application will be linked to other, parallel application processes and purchases. This might be a job application, an application for a university place, a travel booking or purchase of travel insurance. Governments that want to attract travellers to their country will increasingly need to bear these parallel customer journeys in mind and work with other organisations to streamline the overall experience. This could mean airline passengers being able to apply for their visa via the airline website, or university admissions offices working more closely with visa authorities to coordinate visa applications for all foreign students. These kinds of partnerships can help to pull these different journeys into one, seamless process, where travellers can make all the necessary applications and bookings in one place.
3. Genuine assurance to visa applicants
Applying for a visa can be a stressful process. A successful visa application can be genuinely life-changing, giving people the opportunity to study or work abroad, join family – or not, if their application is refused for any reason. Whatever the decision, it is vitally important to ensure transparency around the process and an approximate timeline to help manage expectations and generate trust.
While government agencies tend to focus on reducing processing times for key services, research by the international management consulting firm McKinsey indicates that this is in fact less important to customers than governments might assume. What customers want above all is simplicity, reliability and a clear idea of how long the process will take. The same can be said of visa applications. If people know how long they will need to wait for their visa decision, they can plan their travel accordingly. Having to wait much longer than they initially expected can create huge frustration and worry, particularly if during this time customers have little or no visibility of the stage their application is at.
One factor that is common to all of the points made above is the need for reliable data, to understand who visa customers are, their expectations and the pain points that they experience in the current process. Understanding this is key to making the right changes, instead of potentially wasting time and resources on adjustments that won’t have a positive effect. Data-driven decisions, not intuition, will help to improve customer satisfaction and this is clearly an area where external service providers such as TLScontact can help, harnessing additional expertise, resources and analytical tools such as those developed within the wider Teleperformance Group to obtain meaningful customer insights and translate these into concrete actions. Obviously, when it comes to collecting customer data, there is a strict regulatory framework to be respected. However, customers are far more likely to willingly share a limited amount of their personal data if it means that they will receive a more personalised, better quality service.
Article written by Simon Peachey
Chief Sales Officer