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Designing Efficient and Resilient Contact Center Operations

An In-Depth Industry Report on the Travel and Hospitality Industry


COVID Changed The Contact Center

Perhaps encouraged by the progress of vaccinations or the easing COVID-induced restrictions, millions of cooped-up Americans are getting out of dodge–and fast. As a result, many brands in the travel and hospitality industry have seen their customer bookings soar. In fact, some 2.2 million travelers waded through U.S. airport security on Sunday June 18th — more than on any day since the pandemic started.

In many ways this pent up demand for a getaway might be better thought of as Revenge Travel: A willingness to do anything, anywhere, to make up a year of lost time due to COVID-19.

For travel and hospitality brands, the implications should be an encouraging sign for a financially healthy 2021. But, after massive bouts of layoffs and furloughs due to a precipitous drop in demand brought on by the pandemic, this return to travel is posing new challenges. Many organizations are struggling to keep up with demand, leading to travel cancelations and delays. At the same time, a new Covid variant looms overhead.

In a Next Caller commissioned study conducted by Beantown Media Ventures in June 2021 regarding summer travel trends amid the Covid-19 pandemic, 60% of consumers surveyed said they’d switch travel brands after just 1-2 poor customer service interactions1. This SnapShot Report will discuss the current state of play in the travel and hospitality industry, how we got here, and best practices for designing efficient and resilient contact center operations that can keep up with this ever-shifting landscape and withstand new surprises in the future.

1 Beantown Media Ventures, LLC, 2021, Revenge Travel

How Did We Get Here?

A Year in Review

High call volumes following the onset of the pandemic, due to many travel customers anxiously looking to cancel trips and return home caught many contact centers off guard, as they were ill-equipped to manage the influx with the same level of service that customers had come to expect.

The challenges were many:

¹Beantown Media Ventures, LLC, 2021, Revenge Travel
²Pindrop Security, Inc., 2021, Voice Intelligence & Security Report

The IVR can create self-service opportunities to reduce agent caseloads. But the increase in sensitive, stressful, or impactful issues either related to COVID concerns or the recent increase in delays and cancelations can result in more customers wanting to speak with agents directly. In fact, over 44% of consumers surveyed said that when they have an issue or question related to their travel they want to speak to an agent1. For contact centers that are already stretched thin, an increase in calls that require agents to be involved can result in longer call hold and handle times.
Maintaining service and operations standards were already challenged by the instant need to send agents home to quarantine. These challenges are only being exacerbated by the pressures of skyrocketing demand. As a result, service standards are taking a hit. Over 46% of consumers surveyed who had called a travel or hospitality brand in the last 3 months said their experience was “just OK”, with an additional 20% calling it “slow and frustrating.1” That is over 65% reporting something other than a good experience.
Almost overnight, agent stations in physical contact centers were required to be socially distanced, or else transitioned to remote work. While many contact center operations already supported at least some WFH agents pre-COVID, many had to scramble overnight to solve the logistical challenges associated with rapid change.
Agents, especially well-trained ones, can be hard to come by. In addition, stay-at-home orders began to impact the way that customers called businesses: With more flexible schedules, or perhaps now left without work, many individuals were free to make phone calls throughout the day. The unpredictable shifts in calling patterns challenged some staffing plans designed for “normal” circumstances.
Perhaps preoccupied with alleviating the friction for pandemic-weary customers, contact centers may have relaxed security in ways that benefited fraudsters. Allowing customers to access information or selfservice in the IVR is a great way to save time, money, and frustration. But fraudsters can use those same conveniences to advance their schemes, too. And it appears that they are trying: A recent Pindrop Report found that fraud calls at the agent level happen in 1 out of every 1,074 calls. But in the IVR, 1 in 40 calls were classified as risky1. This discrepancy suggests that criminals may prefer to avoid agents whenever possible, and the IVR could be just the ticket.
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A commissioned study conducted by Forrester on behalf of Pindrop in November 2020 study asked 259 global fraud detection and prevention decision-makers across security and risk, fraud, IT, contact center/customer support, finance, and business roles to share their thoughts on fraud during COVID¹:


stated that fraudsters are using the IVR for account mining or reconnaissance activities and many stated those numbers are still growing


are seeing new types of fraud in the contact center


say fraudsters are using the IVR for account mining or reconnaissance


say fraud attacks in the call center increased


say the impact of fraud on their bottom line has increased

Unfortunately, very few of the brands in the same study represented strongly agree that they have a good handle on their current fraud situation:



have a good understanding of how fraud is started and perpetrated throughout the CC²



discover and stop fraud in real-time with a high degree of confidence and accuracy²

Fraud in the IVR is a growing trend, and one that brands should be considering even if it is not familiar territory.

¹Forrester Opportunity Snapshot: A Custom Study Commissioned by Pindrop, November 2020

²Pindrop Security, Inc., 2021, Voice Intelligence & Security Report

Everything Contact Center's Should Know About STIR/SHAKEN

Plan and Prepare Your Contact Center for the Deployment of STIR/SHAKEN.


Designing Contact Centers For The Future

Americans are taking advantage of travel opportunities in record numbers, partly driven by the availability of vaccines. In fact, 54% of consumers in a Next Caller commissioned survey conducted by Beantown Media Ventures in June 2021 say that their desire to travel has motivated them to get a Covid-19 vaccine¹. Further, an additional nearly 41% of consumers surveyed say that they hadn’t traveled in the past six months and over 51% say they are very excited to do so¹. It’s reasonable to conclude that while Revenge Travel is in full swing, it’s likely to continue for some time. At the same time, the next major world development (pandemic-related or otherwise) might bring new disruptive changes.

Of course, the experience gained through our collective response to this particular pandemic has given us valuable experience going forward. But, contact center operations should not just be responsive. Our focus should now shift to how we can best anticipate and prepare for any unpredictability or unanticipated changes, even on a moment’s notice. 

Key Takeaways


Some brands manage higher call traffic by opting for automation in the IVR during authentication. This is an effective way to: 

  • Help save time for customers by encouraging self-service. 
  • Help reduce the bandwidth required of agents when call volume surged. 
  • Help avoid frustration for callers and agents by reducing the reliance on tools like knowledge-based questions (which fraudsters can routinely answer correctly), and one-time passcodes that add active steps to make customers feel like criminals.


Automation meant to benefit customers can also create opportunities for criminals. For example, removing or reducing authentication requirements when call volumes are elevated can make it harder to spot well-prepared fraudsters using:

  • Call spoofing to trick the IVR into thinking a customer’s phone number is calling. This opens the door to confirm account information before speaking with an agent, or worse, authenticating an identity. 
  • Social engineering to obtain sensitive information from individuals or agents, then using that information to complete the fraud event. 
  • Data from security breaches to provide answers to Knowledge-Based questions

Discover How Banks & FI's Are Using AI to Improve Security and CX.

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Prioritizing The Balance Between CX and Security

When consumers surveyed were asked to identify why they choose certain businesses for their travel needs, the top three responses were:
  1. “It’s usually a great experience
  2. “When issues come up it is fast and easy to deal with customer service and
  3. “My experience is consistent every time”.1 And while a good, fast and easy customer experience ranked in front of things like personalization, loyalty points and security, for contact centers, the latter is something that should be at the top of their priority list as they plan for ahead.
Americans have already lost millions to fraud, including a rise in the rate of identity theft. With the contact center historically being a preferred target for fraudsters, teams must ensure that they are balancing customer experience and security to help keep their customers and organization safe. However, for any potential vulnerabilities, it may create, automation during authentication is a vital part of delivering the experience that customers might expect. A 2020 survey commissioned by Next Caller underscores this point:


of consumers surveyed believed brands are equally responsible for providing flexible and accommodating customer service and protecting personal information and accounts from fraud³.

And when you consider the fact that over 50% of Americans believe that they have been targeted by fraud since the onset of the pandemic4, including 15% of travel customers1, this balancing act becomes easier said than done. However, prioritizing the following suggestion can help teams help keep customers safe and build brand loyalty in the process:
  • Make Authentication Passive. This means removing active steps for callers to confirm their identity. Automating also helps to avoid the friction created by knowledge-based questions and one-time passcode while saving time in the process.
  • Use ANI Validation to Fortify Security. ANI Validation confirms that an incoming call is coming from the device that actually owns the telephone number. In other words, the call is not being spoofed. This is important to maximize customers who experience a more seamless experience, without rolling the red carpet out to impersonators.
  • ANI Match. Once you can trust that the number showing on the caller ID is real, automatically connect that number with a customer’s account whenever possible. This allows you to personalize the experience, increase the options for self-service to make customers happy and reduce agent caseload, and reduce the cost per call by saving handle time. It will also make life easier for agents who have to ask fewer questions before getting down to business.
  • Design Authentication on a Spectrum. Not all transactions are created equal. For low-risk calls like checking on the status of an application or a service ticket, a lightweight authentication process is ideal. For higher-risk transactions more prone to fraud like transferring funds or opening accounts, a multi-factor authentication process will be necessary. Outline every action that would be eligible for self-service, and allow those transactions in the IVR when callers pass ANI validation and ANI match.

2Beantown Media Ventures, LLC, 2021, Revenge Travel

3Next Caller, Inc. 2020, 2020 Holiday Fraud Forecast: COVID-19 Primes Holiday Shopping Season For Massive Fraud

4Next Caller, Inc. 2020, COVID, Fraud, and CX Report (Weeks 11-26)

Additional Resources

Anatomy of an IVR Fraud Attack & Lessons Learned

Fraudsters are using the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to steal identities and takeover accounts.

A Mystery Shopper’s Guide to Contact Center Authentication

Aite set out on a mystery shopping journey to figure out how call centers are authenticating callers. They placed several mystery calls into financial institutions’ call centers and tested multiple use cases. They made observations about how each call center responded to their queries, how they felt after each call and whether or not their goals were accomplished.


One-Time Passwords (OTPs) were created to help enhance security, as they can protect you from an identity theft attack. OTPs can take the form of automatically generated numbers that are sent to your cell phone or specific text/word strings that the user needs to recite in order to capture their voice sample.

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