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Thinking Outside of the Trip: Enhancing the Customer Journey from Start to Finish

July 26th, 2017 | Posted by APT in Hospitality & Travel

Customer experience is critical – so critical, in fact, that customers who had the best past customer experiences spend 140% more compared to those who had the poorest past experiences. In the travel industry, customer experience has traditionally focused on only the stay or trip itself; but today, leading organizations are thinking beyond just the in-person touchpoints, to all touchpoints throughout the traveler journey.

Airlines, hotels and cruise lines must think across the four stages of their customer journey: customer awareness, customer acquisition, customer experience, and loyalty and retention. To remain competitive and drive profits, organizations in the travel industry must enhance the traveler experience across each of these dimensions. But how?

Organizations make strategic decisions every day that contribute to the overall customer experience – but what they may not realize is that with every touchpoint comes an opportunity to improve the traveler journey for their customers. Looking at each phase of this journey as a starting point for innovation will help travel organizations differentiate their offerings and develop a competitive advantage.

However, each cutting-edge idea or new program is an investment. As organizations seek to refine their experiential offerings across the different stages of the traveler journey, it will be critical that they first understand how each new program will affect their business overall. As illustrated below, applying business experiments to test new initiatives on a smaller scale and determine program impact before rollout will help position hotels, airlines and other travel and hospitality companies to win in the customer experience arena.

Personalization

Small details and personal touches can make all the difference in building a better traveler experience. Hilton’s DoubleTree brand, for example, provides guests with warm chocolate chip cookies at check-in. Other hotel chains and cruise lines offer tokens such as flowers or cupcakes for special occasions, or even toy lending services, so travelers don’t need to use precious suitcase space packing their children’s toys.

Another common approach to personalizing the customer experience from start to finish is sending guests a customized pre-arrival or post-departure message (or both). For example, some hotels personalize reservation confirmation emails to learn more about guests’ preferences, and inform personalization efforts during their stay. If this is a guest’s first stay at a brand, it is also the company’s first chance to make a first impression – meaning that the message of this initial touchpoint is key.

Delta Airlines is taking customer feedback to new heights by using heart rate monitors to track volunteer customers’ heart rates at the most stressful points of the airport experience, such as going through security and boarding the plane. Based on data from during these critical, high-stress moments, the airline proactively identifies ways to improve the customer journey from start to finish, through upgraded airport areas, Wi-Fi, and line management tactics.

With any new initiatives, such as pre-arrival campaigns or airport experience upgrades, there are many levers organizations can pull. For example, pre-arrival campaigns can have different messaging, offers, and delivery methods and timing. For airport experience upgrades, different approaches will also have varying effectiveness with different travelers. For instance, business travelers or younger demographics may be excited about Wi-Fi hotspots, while families traveling with children might appreciate more organized line management. Using experimentation to test different variations of such initiatives enables hotel and travel companies to pinpoint the right offerings for the right customer segments, trips, and locations, ultimately driving maximum traveler satisfaction and value.

Localization

Whether customers are traveling for business or pleasure, their journey provides them with the opportunity to experience a new place. Travel companies can capitalize on this experiential element through localization, weaving the local culture into décor, food, shopping options, and more. Hyatt, for example, commissions local artists to paint walls with images representing the city, while Marriott offers regional wine and beer tastings to provide a sense of local flavor. Even some airlines, such as Hawaiian Airlines, include localized touches, such as “Island-inspired” menus and cocktails.

Of course, these types of programs require an upfront investment, which in many cases will be significant. But in addition to the cost, there are other considerations executives must consider before committing to widespread rollout. For example, some of the approaches above, such as regional beer tastings, will likely be more popular with some guests than others. While offering a beer tasting may pay off for mid-tier hotel brands, for example, luxury travelers may be less enticed by complimentary beverages. Hotel chains must think critically about with which specific brands of their chain it will be most profitable to roll out new initiatives.

By first testing such programs in some locations or on some flights and not others, executives can achieve a full-picture view of the initiative’s overall financial impact, and better understand which programs will engage which customer segments.

Customer Service

Another central component of the traveler journey is customer service. Whether staying in a hotel or traveling by cruise or flight, the face-to-face interactions customers have with employees plays a large role in defining their overall experience.

To enhance this component of the guest experience, Starwood Hotels, for example, leverages a “social customer service” approach, leveraging guest data to both inform the experiences they create for their guests and ensure they connect with them on the social media platforms they already use. This includes handling customer service inquiries across such platforms, and interacting with guests on those same platforms as another touchpoint in the traveler journey.

Overall, while the travel industry has long been focused on segmenting marketing messaging and promotions by customer, organizations are now moving beyond this approach to segment their product offerings for a wider range of preferences – such as accommodating interactions via the platforms customers prefer to use, whether it be Twitter or a mobile app. As traveler expectations for unique and personalized experiences steadily rise, it will be increasingly important for travel and hospitality companies to balance face-to-face interactions with this technology, and refine their approach for different customer segments.

Operational costs are just one component of enhancing the customer experience across the traveler journey. Beyond understanding which new programs will be ROI-positive, and with which guests they will be most effective, it is critical that organizations develop the analytic capabilities necessary to accurately measure their long-term impact.

For example, a guest may be satisfied by a new customer experience program at a hotel, then, due to this positive experience, plan future stays at other brand locations. In this scenario, analysis can show how the program is affecting traveler behavior over time – not just how it impacts booking for that particular property. Overall, the hotels, airlines, and cruise lines that leverage a robust analytical approach to understand the impact of new programs in different locations and over time will have a significant competitive edge.

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