Behavioral and emotional connections are at work, says Flywire Industry Director of Travel Colin Smyth
Connectivity has understandably brought us closer together with our friends and family, but also with the brands we engage with every day. It means a single customer can now impact a company’s reputation on social media, regardless of brand legacy. Brand equity is one of the hardest things to acquire and then retain as a business, one small misstep can ruin years of hard work.
In 2017, United Airlines lost $1.4 billion in brand value overnight when one customer’s bad experience went viral. Putting customer experience first is now more important than ever, every interaction needs to be optimised. It may seem like an odd concept at first, but when it comes to travel, the entire journey to build equity and trust with a traveler begins with payments.
Often overlooked by marketing departments, payments play an important part in building a powerful connection between travel brands and their customers. This is more than just a technical or engineering element in the customer journey. The teams involved in cross-border payments need to understand that there is a behavioral, and emotional, connection between what a brand does and the public perception of the service.
An emotional investment
Travel is an emotional investment and any touchpoint, be it operations, administration, customer services or digital can discourage a potential customer. For many, paying for travel is a significant financial decision which carries emotional weight. There are a whole host of things that could go wrong when making large sum cross-border payments to a foreign destination. Fluctuating exchange rates, hidden transaction fees and slow movement can add unnecessary stress to the process.
When a customer has a problem with payments it can taint the rest of the experience. Customers will always blame the vendor instead of the payment provider, tarnishing the company’s brand and making future business less likely. Choosing the right provider is vital. By simplifying the payment process, travel brands pave the way for their customers to remember journeys fondly, without an uncomfortable customer experience at the end of the holiday.
The key to maintaining brand equity comes in optimising the customer experience at every point of contact, the payment process is simply an obvious place to begin addressing this customer contact. However, there are some things to remember when learning how to optimise the payment experience within the travel industry.
Security vs. efficiency
When it comes to payments, security is crucial, in particular travel payments which may be large sum and require moving cross-border. Security protocols can easily become an arduous journey for a customer and irritate them, leading to significant numbers of “drop-off’s”. Having a customer back out of a travel purchase simply due to lengthy security processes really is falling at the last hurdle.
Important to remember, however, is the detrimental effect a security breach can have, most likely ruining any chance of repeat business from the customer affected. Recent research showed that 36% of the cost of a data breach comes from the loss of business stemming from loss of customer trust after a cyber-incident. Keeping the payment process secure is necessarily complex, so it’s about keeping that complexity hidden, only presenting the essentials to the customer and shortening the process where possible.
One solution is to choose a payment provider not only based on cost, but also on how efficiently payments are processed. Maintaining security must be a key concern, but don’t allow it to disrupt a customer’s payment experience.
We are creatures of habit, often subconsciously favoring the familiar and the same is true for payments. There are hundreds of different payment methods globally, each of us comfortable with our individual preferences. Forcing people out of their comfort zone can make a customer feel untrustworthy towards a brand, or even unwilling to participate. Change interferes with autonomy, making people feel like they’ve lost control.
If your travel company sells European excursions in China, then offering the options to pay with Alipay or WeChat Pay would make your customers feel comfortable at checkout and more willing to interact. However, offering the same options to European customers travelling to China could frustrate them and jeopardize the sale. European customers might prefer to pay by direct debit, or even an alternative local payment method such as iDEAL in the Netherlands, where it boasts a 57% market share.
You also want to be offering your customers choice, allowing them to pay in the way they feel most suits them. For example, most furniture stores offer interest free credit, which was only introduced around 20 years ago. The option to spread the cost of an expensive item over many months makes the sale more appealing to a customer. Perhaps with a more limited range of payment options, customers are less likely to pay for big-ticket items.
It’s about having the options to cater for myriad disparate payments methods globally. Ensure a continuous in-depth observation into your clientele, and always look to partner with payment companies that can cater for multiple currency payments seamlessly.
Making complexity invisible
Everything a brand does – the way it does its marketing, research, advertising– all play a role in shaping the customer’s experience. Focusing on customer experience in payments may be the single most important investment a brand can make in today’s competitive business climate.
Sensitivity of the emotional weight of travel payments will help tailor customer experience. Offer a range of familiar payment methods to make the customer feel comfortable and try to streamline the process whilst maintaining security.
Travel is all about providing an excellent experience for your customer, but the journey starts sooner than many consider. Having a quick seamless payment experience with transparent fees makes all the difference to brand equity. The complexity of cross-border payments needs to be invisible to a customer, allowing their focus to settle on the joy of travel alone.