Published: 26 March 2019
In a world with ever more choice and increasing competition, loyalty can be hard to come by. But the travel industry is responding with humanity and technology to retain a place in the hearts and minds of the consumer.
In the Skift Megatrends 2019 report, they identified travel loyalty programmes as ripe for disruption. They highlighted that customers care less about the accumulation of points for a regular business trip than how those points can be redeemed for unique experiences and value-add perks.
While the report focused on the evolution of airline and hotel loyalty programmes, a recent conference hosted by the Travel Technology Initiative in London took the idea a step further, exploring how customer experience can drive loyalty.
Sarah Robert from CX Partners opened the first keynote speech of the day with a picture of the many loyalty cards she carries for various coffee shops she passes throughout her day. While each one may think she’s a loyal customer, planning her route every day so she can gain another stamp and edge closer to the 10th free cup, in reality, she’s popping into whichever one is most convenient in the moment.
Travel customers act in much the same way.
While there will be some travellers who return year after year to the same resort or villa, they’re not in the majority. Google reported that 78% of leisure travels don’t know which airline to fly with and 82% don’t know which accommodation provider they’ll book with when they first start planning a trip.
All things being equal (ie. the product, service and price are of a similar standard), then speed, ease and convenience will win the sale.
So what can travel brands do about it?
Here are seven ways to tackling customer disloyalty in the travel industry.
1. It’s all about simplicity and convenience
Now more than ever, consumers are looking for ease of use and speed of interaction as they use websites and apps. If the interface is difficult or complex, you’ll lose customers.
They won’t put up with a search functionality that returns irrelevant results or a booking journey that is overly long or keeps flagging errors without providing a solution.
Brands that are winning in this space prioritise user experience and are ruthless in cutting out and redesigning user journeys that don’t convert well.
Skyscanner was held up as an example of a brand that relentlessly pursued improvements in their search capability and made that their competitive difference. At its core, search is a functional interaction, but it can quickly translate into negative emotions if it’s not working well.
Look at those jobs your customer has to do on your website or app. Identify the pain points and then iterate until you’ve solved them. And then go one step further and find ways to delight them. That’s where loyalty can start.
2. Develop a truly customer-centric model
User research and the importance of talking to customers was a strong theme of the day.
If you want to make progress in building loyalty among your customers, make user research an on-going part of your marketing activity as well as your product or service development process.
Sean Connell from Loco2 told us how he prioritised customer feedback from the beginnings of the company. Over the years he has created an advance testing group of nearly 1000 customers that now participate in focus groups and in beta testing of new features.
Yaroslav Kotyshov from Aviasales says that they regularly practice A/B testing to iterate on designs. Customer experience is so important to them that they pass on their learnings and best practices requirements to the airlines that use their platform and where customers are going to complete the sale to ensure that the experience remains positive. Sarah Roberts and Hannah Whiteley from CX Partners reminded us it’s not just the end user that has useful feedback. Talking to your customer support team about the trending topics and recurring problems that customers are phoning in with can help identify areas to improve and immediately impact conversions. You can use technology to see what people are doing, but you often need to speak with them to understand why they’re doing those things. The insight that you uncover should go back into improvements and new product/service development.
3. Never lose the human touch
All the presenters on the day had examples of how they are using advances in technology, like artificial intelligence, machine learning and voice interfaces to improve their customer experience.
Richard Baker from Inspiretec stressed how important it is to maintain a common-sense approach and a human check as we train technology to serve our needs. He said that when he wants to book a hotel, he looks at online reviews and filters by negative reviews to see the worst case.
But if the algorithm isn’t set up correctly, it may assume that what he wants to see more of are hotels with one-star reviews.
Guy Stephenson from Gatwick Airport shared several examples of how they use technology but for him, automation is about ensuring predictability so that customers know what to expect every time they interact with you.
They continually work to tie together the physical, digital and emotional journey customers make as they interact with the airport.
Brands that are able to balance technology with humanity, empathy and intuitiveness will be best placed to win loyalty from their customers.
4. Relinquish control to customers
Customer expectation on brands is incredibly high and will only continue to grow as brands in other industries push the boundaries of what technology can help us do. The message of the day was to provide self-serve, always-on solutions for your customers so the control rests in their hands
When a member of the audience asked whether the move toward self-service meant a loss in the perception of customer service, Guy Stephenson from Gatwick said they’d found the opposite was true.
By moving customer service from behind the desk to the floor, they moved the interaction from one-to-one to one-to-many. Customers who were able and confident to move through the check-in, bag drop and passport control process without assistance felt empowered. And those who needed or wanted the human interaction found it easier and faster to get attention and support than the previous model of queueing for counter service.
Look at ways you can give your customers control over their experience and move the resources that frees up to another area where they can have more impact.
5. Data, data, data
Bas Lemmens, one of the co-founders of Booking.com and now CEO of Meetings.com said, ‘I don’t believe in ideas. I believe in data.’
He was stressing the importance of data-led insights over a creative Mad Men-esque gut feeling. And in a way he’s right:
- It’s data that will power machine learning and artificial intelligence to help drive forward innovation
- It’s explicit and implicit data that will allow you to personalise a customer’s interaction on your website or app based on profile or previous behaviour
- It’s data that allows you to send highlight targeted offers, upgrades or value-added extras that will surprise and delight them
I’m still partial to the creative inspiration that interprets the data and draws together disparate lines of information to make something new. But you can’t rely solely on one or the other. They go hand in hand.
Invest in your data architecture and make sure you upskill your team with people who know how to analyse and interpret that data into actionable insight.
6. Loyalty has to be earned
Benno Iten from Nezasa said that loyalty is always offered in exchange for something else – price, status, value-added extras, bespoke experiences, etc. But it always has to be earned.
Brands need to do the hard work to find points of differentiation that set them apart in their customers’ minds.
Customers want and expect personalised experiences and activities, an end-to-end experience they control and the ability to customise a multi-faceted trip in one place rather than needing to manage five to ten to fifteen different bookings themselves for one trip.
He said that brands need to radically optimise around customer needs and expectations, use state-of-the-art technology to provide a cutting- edge customer experience and focus on scalability in all processes.
7. Don’t forget about aftersales
Paul Stephens, our CEO, presented on the need for brands to personalise across the entire customer journey. So many brands put their efforts and resources into the top of the funnel activity – helping with the awareness, research and consideration phases of the customer journey.
But there is a huge missed opportunity in the time between making the booking and the actual trip. Not to mention what happens once the customer is back home, fondly reminiscing about their time.
This is prime territory for brands to add value through upselling and cross-selling, providing support throughout the experience, requesting testimonials and rewarding referrals to family and friends.
By trading on what sets you apart in the marketplace and by giving customers what they want along the entire journey, you will be able to create magical moments that are memorable.
That’s where true loyalty lies.
If you would like to speak with us about the ideas above or other challenges you’re facing in your travel marketing, get in touch on 0208 070 7820 or email firstname.lastname@example.org