Inside View: Travelzoo


Illustration by Nicolas Vicent

There are few things in life that inspire as much passion as travel. It has the power to change perspectives and transform lives. That’s why travel can typically be found at the top of New Year’s resolutions and bucket lists.

Given the human tendency toward wanderlust, what is it that holds us back from pursuing our dreams of seeing the world? Americans of all ages have pegged cost as the top reason for not traveling more, according to a recent survey by AARP. Most people perceive travel to be expensive and only for the wealthy.

Enter Travelzoo. Launched in 1998, Travelzoo has grown into the largest online publisher of travel, entertainment and local deals with 28 million members in Asia Pacific, Europe and North America. Travelzoo’s high standards for the offers it publishes includes a rigorous research and vetting process that is carried out by a team of 250 Deal Experts. It is a practice that has earned the company a reputation for trust and quality. “That is our hallmark,” says Senior Vice President of Customer Service Lisa Oswald. “It is what makes us different from other sites. We help you find the best deals to the best places.”

Lisa Oswald, Senior Vice President, Customer Service

While Travelzoo’s brand may be known for the quality of the deals it offers, over the last seven years, the company also has been building a solid reputation for delivering world-class customer service. In late 2011, the company established its customer service operation following the launch of its direct-to-consumer business. Since then, it has racked up an impressive body of honors and awards, including, most recently, the 2018 Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service in four key categories: the Gold Stevie Award for Frontline Customer Service Team of the Year; Silver Stevie Award for Customer Service Management Team of the Year; Silver Stevie Award for Customer Service Department of the Year; and the coveted People’s Choice Award for Favorite Provider of Customer Service in the Leisure and Tourism category. More than 124,000 public votes were cast for the People’s Choice Award in 2018.

Empowerment Is a Process

What makes Travelzoo’s customer service so special? It starts with an uncompromising drive to deliver complete customer satisfaction. “Our goal is 100% happy members, 100% of the time. If we make a mistake, we promise we’ll make it right, no questions asked,” says Oswald.

For a business that operates in 11 countries, delivering a consistent, high-touch, personalized service experience 100% of the time requires flexibility, clear-cut procedures and a high degree of empowerment. After all, Oswald points out, how can you deliver consistency within a multisite operation when each individual may be putting his or her own interpretation on “do whatever it takes”?

“Empowerment is not a proclamation; it’s a process,” she says. Oswald and her management team have spent considerable time dissecting use cases in order to craft workflows that provide Travelzoo’s service associates with the structure and guidance to fully resolve issues and satisfy members. “That’s where Travelzoo excels,” she says, “We’ve developed a structure and process around delivering happiness. Everything we do to support our team—whether it’s communication, training, recognition programs or performance incentives—is finely attuned to what our members want and need.”

Delivering Trust and Care

The careful attention to designing the perfect member experience is paying off for Travelzoo. The company’s customer satisfaction rating is currently 94, with a Net Promoter Score of 83. Compare that to the travel and hospitality industry average NPS of 47 (from a CustomerGauge benchmark study of 236 companies reported in March 2018).

Travelzoo leadership team at Stevie Awards Gala in Las Vegas. (Pictured from left) Donna Marcou, Lisa Oswald and Kevin Kitchen

Oswald says her team’s strength lies in its human makeup—it is a group of like-minded individuals who care about members and fiercely protect the company’s reputation for quality and trust. While Travelzoo has a well-defined hiring profile for identifying customer service candidates who will perform well and are a good fit for its customer-centric culture, Oswald firmly believes it is what happens after a customer service associate is hired that is critical to their ability to deliver a quality customer experience. Training, coaching, communication, the right tools and systems, and management support on the floor are key to developing the team’s ability to build trust and to be consistent in the way that they deliver care.

“Every time a CSR speaks with a member, it’s an opportunity to engage, to establish a relationship, to build trust and deliver a quality experience,” she stresses. “That is what we’re famous for. Our members know that when they call they can trust us to give them the right answer, the first time.”

VoC Drives Processes, Services and Product

In addition to designing customer service processes and workflows that reflect the brand identity, Travelzoo’s customer service management team works together seamlessly to ensure that members’ wants and needs are incorporated into product and service improvements. Led by Oswald, the management team is an agile and motivated team of five who focus on service delivery, analytics, quality and training, process improvement and product operations.

Lisa Oswald with 2018 Gold Stevie Award for Front Line Customer Service Team of The Year

“We don’t have an unlimited budget or an army of people. What we do have is a relentless focus on incremental improvement,” says Oswald. “My team is constantly listening to our myriad sources of customer feedback, whether it comes through the call center, our ratings and review system, customer surveys or the measures continually running on our desktop and mobile sites. We review all of that feedback every day, and we continuously drive improvements that speak directly to what our members want and need.

“Every time we make a change, whether it’s on the front end or back end, we directly address a need our members have expressed, and we’re making it easier for them to do business with us,” she says. “Our Travelzoo customer service team has one goal, and only one goal—to make our members 100% happy.”

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