Travelers now reengaging with the world
The travel and tourism industry has been a hotbed of customer-focused innovation since the entry of brands with disruptive propositions, such as Booking.com, TripAdvisor, and Airbnb.
As customers of what was traditionally a people- and service-centric industry, we found ourselves facing new digital interactions with our hotels, hire-car companies, and airlines. Travel brands began to curate customer experiences and services that felt more relevant and meaningful.
This all ground to a halt in 2020 when we were confined to our homes, staying safe and hiding away from the global COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Customer experience’ is not a new concept, but getting it right is more critical to organizations than ever, especially in the travel industry. There is a huge pressure for revenue growth to recoup losses, whether by acquiring new customers or via additional new revenue streams; heavy competition for the loyalty and retention of returning customers; as well as pressure to improve efficiencies and cost to serve.
Airlines, hotels, and car rental companies have enjoyed a rapid return of demand over the last year. Still, there have been significant challenges to ramping up supply to meet this sudden, exponential increase in demand for flights, hotel rooms, and for-hire vehicles. The result has been painful customer experiences for the traveling public.
As customers sought to reengage with the world, their experience expectations simultaneously continued to rise. They were driven by the convenience provided by sectors such as retail that were less impacted by COVID-19 and by the rapid digitalization made necessary by the virtual lives the pandemic enforced on us. The retail industry acclimatized customers to contactless digital interfaces that were more seamless than before, giving them the option to select the engagement channel or touch point of choice and delivering experiences that were more convenient and expedient than we’d known up until then.
Also, experiences are now more personalized and anticipatory across the entire customer journey given the huge amount of personal data now available.
Travel companies, however, are facing challenges not only from disrupted workforces, inflexible legacy systems, and unpredictable growth in demand but also from the customer experience bar that has moved higher.
Customers still don't get the travel experience they expect despite neat innovations like Delta’s PARALLEL REALITY™ now live at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, where displays allow up to 100 customers to each see their very own flight information on a single digital screen all at the same time. So, for example, they still look for:
Limited benefits to customers
Travel companies have invested in capabilities to enhance customer experience.
But there doesn’t seem to be any real improvement for the customer or the business as it does not derive much benefit from the investments because of a host of factors:
Longstanding players in the travel industry have been hampered by structural challenges that restrict their ability to enhance customer experience beyond incremental tweaks or removal of isolated pain points. These structural challenges are a barrier to the improvement of the experience for customers. These include:
Building delightful experiences
Travel companies must take multiple actions to get ahead of the curve in delivering world-class experiences that customers now need and expect.
They have to not only fix the basics but also curate delightful experiences. It can be difficult for customers to be receptive to new, shiny features when the basic levels of service and experience are not functioning properly. Travel companies should, therefore, focus on:
How to improve the traveler experience
Whether it’s growing revenues from new customers or improving retention, a clear line of sight to outcome is fundamental to any digital or technology investment.
If investments are made to implement a particular solution rather than designed with customer outcomes in mind, then customer experiences are unlikely to improve fundamentally.