We live in the age of the customer. Over the past decade, digital giants such as Amazon have redefined customer service and driven higher customer expectations across the board. Social media has connected customers as communities. This has meant that the opportunity to express individual views on a company’s products and customer service can quickly multiply with powerful effect, either positive or negative! But what does all this mean for governments’ visa services? People have no choice but to follow the immigration rules when travelling to a particular country, so should they actually be viewed as ‘customers’ and should the focus really be on improving their overall customer experience?
Should you be in any doubt, at TLScontact, we are convinced that the answer to both those questions is a resounding: Yes! As a proud member of the Teleperformance Group, the global leader in customer experience management, we are acutely sensitive to trends driving customer satisfaction and convinced that these apply across all sectors, including government visa, consular and citizen services. Customers who can today order goods online in one click, access customer service hotlines 24/7 and get almost instantaneous answers to their questions and complaints increasingly expect the same level of service from the public sector. While this sort of model can be difficult to replicate in a public administration such as a visa authority, where legacy systems, the lack of genuine digitisation and cultural issues can hinder reactivity, governments that don’t focus on changing customer expectations in the visa sector face significant challenges. Here are some reasons why:
1. These journeys are important
Although international travel has become ever more convenient and commonplace during the decades of commercial air travel, we must not lose sight of the individual traveller: their hopes, anxieties and what these journeys mean to them. It is a truism of the best customer service that, even in a digital age, it has a human touch and is underpinned by empathy.
2. Countries are increasingly competing for visitors
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, travel and tourism represented 10.3% of the world’s GDP in 2019. In many countries, they contribute significantly more than this to the overall economy. International travel enables families to reconnect and brings tourists, students and businesspeople to a country, all of whom will boost consumption and investment, supporting economic growth. This year’s Covid-19 related travel bans have inflicted particular economic pain on many countries, starved of vital revenue from leisure and business travel. When we move out of this crisis, we can expect increasing competition among countries seeking to rebuild their economies by attracting international travellers. The visa application process, while obviously not the only factor driving a person’s choice of destination, will play an important role in encouraging and facilitating travel. If it is so complex as to act as a potential blocker, people may well prefer to go elsewhere.
3. A satisfied customer is likely to make multiple visa applications
Increasingly, governments are realising that a visa application is not just a ‘one-shot’, but potentially the start of a years-long customer lifecycle. A young traveller might begin with a short-stay tourist visa to a particular country before deciding to study there and applying for a student visa. That person might then be offered employment in the country, might even meet a partner, decide to stay and perhaps ultimately apply for citizenship. Their interactions with the country’s immigration authorities could span many years, rather than the 3-4 weeks initially required for a tourist visa application. Retail and many other sectors know the value of repeat custom. Getting the initial visa experience right first time will help to ensure applicants become loyal customers. Getting it wrong could lead them to avoid a particular country altogether in future.
4. Customer satisfaction drives improvements and efficiencies elsewhere
Focusing on CX in the visa sector is not just a ‘nice-to-have’ that can encourage international visitors. It can also produce short-term, concrete benefits to government departments that are increasingly having to do ‘less with more’, managing an increasing number of visa applications while at the same time needing to reduce operating costs. Governments that invest in a simple, user-friendly visa process will reap the benefits elsewhere, through lower volumes of calls and complaints to contact centres, for example, or fewer errors or incomplete visa applications for their visa staff to deal with.
Governments are increasingly seeking the support of external service providers to help them manage visa processing and drive improvements. At TLScontact, we are able to bring a wealth of CX expertise from the wider Teleperformance Group to support our government clients and combine this with our own experience of supporting millions of customers through their international journeys each year. Building on Teleperformance’s experience in managing customer service for the world’s best-known brands, we can help governments to harness customer insights to develop more customer-centric processes, assist them with more meaningful customer segmentation and create the right services for specific customer types. All of these actions can help our client countries to attract visitors and become ever more effective in the global competition for international travellers and the economic benefits they bring.
Article written by Simon Peachey
Chief Sales Officer