The travel, tourism, leisure, and hospitality (TTLH) industry has long been the poster child of great customer service (CS). But with its agile and strategic response to the disruption and innovation caused by digital transformation, it is also setting the benchmark for customer experience (CX) Explore how hospitality marketing has embraced the digital customer journey and what digital marketers committed to delivering the best CX – virtual or otherwise – across industries can learn from it.
From the days of dependence on Travel Agents to the DIY era we live in today, from awful hotels that charged the earth to finding a bed anywhere on earth with the likes of AirBnB, the TTLH industry has been at the forefront of change. Most of its agile responses have been realized or executed digitally. There are serious lessons for digital marketers everywhere – in any industry – about how the TTLH industry has taken CX above and beyond.
Here are 5 CX lessons for digital marketers to learn from the TTLH industry
Personalization at scale – in the virtual and real world
The Travel and Hospitality industry has taken serious efforts to deliver personalization both offline and online.
Take the case of Delta’s ‘Guest Service Tool’ that gave flight attendants passenger information to ‘bring humanity back to flying’ while maintaining privacy. The tool enables personalized service to customers and special attention to those who might need it.
Or LateRooms’ tailored gifts campaign in 2015, where they surprised guests who stayed with them with a personalized gift after their trip. The online thanks (read Tweets and FB posts) they received was well worth it.
Virgin Hotels has a similar program ‘The Know’ that customizes stays from the welcome drinks and check-in experience to allergen-free snack bar items and the wifi plan.
Takeaway for marketers: All too often, marketers are happy with one or two truly personalized touchpoints, while the rest of the CX is ordinary or even disappointing. While providing an awesome virtual CX is great, marketers should ensure the same experience all possible touch points including empowering last-mile brand reps and partners (with the data and the tech) to deliver personalization on the ground.
Data-driven marketing is all about leveraging the power of big data to connect the dots between diverse data points in real time for better business and customer outcomes. The travel industry has taken the lead in leveraging big data to better understand the buying process and make recommendations more likely to succeed (predictive analytics). Travel, flight and hotel recommendations based on browsing history is a well-known example of this. Similarly, using data to customize the CX- where earlier, the CRM system would determine a pre-set treatment for a loyal guest, data today can power ‘contextualized’ treatment to the same guest on a business trip and on a family holiday. Everything from airline, hotel room, payment options, pricing plans and car rental choices will change dramatically based on the context.
Takeaway for marketers: Customers are not one-dimensional, and their behavior, choices and responses change based on the context. Marketing cannot be one-dimensional either. While getting the message on multiple channels is important, personalizing the message at each touchpoint based on the current situation/ context needs some kind of a customer data management engine.
Providing a service ecosystem
All the players of the TTHL industry have come together to offer customers a full-service solution. This has taken many forms – either the travel aggregator sites, the review sites, the loyalty program solutions – all of them offer customers a single-window from which they can complete their research and transactions – from the flight ticket to the hotel room, car rental and whatever one may require for business or leisure travel – and even earn points or miles on it to keep them coming back for more! Technology has played a major role in making such alliances and networks possible, and the industry has embraced the opportunity optimally.
Takeaway for marketers: All other industries could be inspired from this approach to providing a stable and complete solution ecosystem. The real lesson is to acknowledge that the customer is looking for a complete solution when they travel- not just a hotel or a car but everything from the moment they leave their home until long after they have returned. It is about helping people buy conveniently. App stores (iTunes, Salesforce Appexchange etc.) are reasonably good examples of how an ecosystem of solutions can be built around a core solution to offer greater choice, convenience, and services to customers. But there is opportunity for a lot more.
4. Social media and content marketing: the hospitality industry has learnt to use not just marketing content but also user-generated content to effectively serve the customer and drive business. Travel reviews have changed the way people choose and buy travel solutions – but instead of shying away from the ‘democratization’ of travel reviews, the industry has taken the opportunity to engage with prospects and customers who leave reviews – good or bad- to offer a better CX.
Takeaway for marketers: what could have been a threat has been addressed innovatively and authentically. The fact is people – buyers – are on social media and all industries are being forced to adapt and find innovative ways to turn this avalanche into an opportunity for better CX and revenue. Leveraging unstructured data generated on social media and using technology to turn ‘the noise’ into ‘the voice’ of the customer can lead to real competitive advantage.
- Innovation: VR, AR, AI, IoT and next-gen CX
Not sure about your destination choice? Worried about the quality of the hotels? Want to check out that potential destination wedding venue without having to go there?
Using AR and VR to help prospects visualize where they want to go is soon going to be table stakes in the travel industry. Thomas Cook reported a 190% increase in bookings for New York excursions after prospects tried the VR version of the trip
From AI-powered recommendation engines, proactively designing customized offers based on browsing behavior and other data, chatbots to keep the prospect engaged and served, robot concierges, bots on messenger apps that are available on call, and of course, for processing all the millions of repetitive queries and transactions quickly and tirelessly, AI has changed the economics and dynamics of the travel industry. IoT is enabling hotels and travel companies generate exponential data about usage by customers to further enhance service offerings and personalize guest experiences.
Takeaway for marketers: As customer expectations increase, the TTLH industry is leveraging new technologies to meet expectations more engagingly, efficiently and effectively. The adoption cycle for new technologies is getting shorter and the race to test and try new technologies to enable better CX is heating up. However, marketers in different industries need to find ways to use these interactive technologies in relevant ways, with a genuine enhancement in not just the CX but efficiency and productivity (saving time or cost, improving outcomes etc.) to really drive ROI in the investments (and avoid the shiny new object syndrome).
Brands from any industry can take a lesson or two from how flexible, responsively and strategically the TTLH industry has responded to the challenge posed by seamless CX in a multi-touchpoint digital world. Marketers should study how the TTLH industry has embraced technology across multiple fronts and functions – from search and selling to loyalty and convenience – instead of isolated instances of superlative CX coming from teams in silos.
The next time you check into the hotel and write a review, remember there is a lesson in there for your brand too!