Patti Alderman, AVP digital experience at Zone and Cognizant Digital Experience, says businesses that invest in their staff generate more positive results
There’s no denying that travel brands have had a turbulent pandemic.
At the end of 2021, the spread of Omicron prevented the aviation industry from bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels.
Although the unpredictability of COVID persists alongside inflation, which has hit many UK households hard, consumer travel confidence is on the rise and travel brands have reason to be more optimistic about the future.
As people re-evaluate the journeys they want to take, be it on holidays abroad or the busy morning commute into work, herein lies an opportunity for brands to build new relationships with changing customers.
Recent data from Travelzoo indicates that 35% of those surveyed said they'd likely take three or four domestic trips this year. When it comes to things like travel, customers instinctively return to the experiences they enjoy and spend with the brands they can trust.
EX starts at the top
Building this trust should come from the top of the business by having a strong brand purpose and investing in developing your employee experience (EX) to ultimately deliver your customer experience (CX).
Our study with Forrester found that the efficiencies created through enhanced EX, allows staff to focus their energies on better serving customers, with 64% realising or expecting better revenue.
Despite its importance, recent research we conducted found that just 8% of employers say they live the brand through each interaction with employees and customers.
Take Tui’s mission of putting ‘U’ in the middle, for example. There’s a real focus on the customer experience and clear intent on making travellers ‘the star of the journey'.
Senior business leaders need to be the ones driving this through the heart of everyday interactions and bringing this purpose to life within the business - to be truly customer-centric you must first be employee-centric.
If Tui’s goal is genuinely to provide customers ‘the most personal service’, employees first need to feel empowered to be able to deliver on this with the right tools, policies and business culture.
Compared to the height of the pandemic, which saw many staff away on furlough, today’s landscape is more chaotic for businesses.
Having a customer-centric waypoint like Tui is important, particularly in the challenging current climate, where customers now expect a better-than-ever experience.
The importance of employee empowerment
Having your employees living out their purpose at work every day is the ultimate goal for travel brands, as it suggests that your people feel personally connected with the business.
But how do you ensure both the backroom and front-line customer-facing staff are aligned?
Getting this right starts with dissecting where any potential disconnects lie. Often, tension points can stem from instances where senior leadership have a different perspective on EX to middle managers.
In our latest white paper ‘Shout Out to my EX’ we found that over 70% of middle managers felt that their organisation was at the beginning of their EX journey, while business owners leant towards the most positive end of the spectrum.
This reveals how those who set out the ideas have a more positive view of progress than those tasked with actioning it.
The only way to address the gaps is to truly understand the needs of employees to deliver the desired customer experience and interactions.
Too many companies implement out-of-the-box solutions and then align the experience to the technology. That leaves customers underwhelmed and employees often frustrated.
Spending the time and money upfront pays off in the dividends later, through better experiences and adoption of technology, because it is truly valuable.
Since customer demands from travel brands have risen, employees are being asked to do more for less, and pressure to outdo competitors is mounting on businesses.
In the short run, organisations need to make quick tactical and operational wins to demonstrate they’re serious about valuing employees - this can be through things like training and upskilling.
Aligning employees might mean agreeing on where the business is at in terms of EX maturity, and the direction it should be heading, but also it can mean identifying skills gaps and investing to remedy them.
Cutting costs is on every business' agenda, and senior leaders frequently look to new technology to streamline processes and increase efficiency.
A good example of this is in UK train stations - train tickets and railcards are largely digital now, with train staff carrying QR scanners during journeys and scanners being found in front of ticket barriers.
Yet, it wasn’t long ago that railway staff were trained to inspect purely paper tickets and therefore it was up to railway operators to ensure they invested in training to make the switch to e-tickets a smooth customer experience.
Similar to Tui’s mission, the Eurostar Group says it aims to be recognised for its “quality, exceeding customer expectations and seizing opportunities for growth”, and crucially mentions its desire to develop a world class organisation through “technology and its people”.
This recognition of developing technology and people is really important and is the backbone enabler of delivering a quality service.
Whether it’s staff working in train stations or behind the scenes in offices, investing in employees when new tech is adopted is essential in delivering optimal CX.
The business rewards
Our research proves that the businesses who invest in their employees generate positive business results.
In fact, a recent study from Forbes found that companies that invest in EX are four times more profitable than those that don’t, outlining the rewards for brands who have woken up to the benefits of EX and the opportunities for those who are at the start of their journey.
Ultimately, the first question after most trips when you arrive in a new place, be it from a taxi driver, a friend or a colleague, someone will inevitably ask: “How was the journey?”
We know that word of mouth is an invaluable reputation builder for brands and that experience is a fundamental aspect of travel.
Customers being able to spread a positive message about the experience is an opportunity that brands should be looking to grasp with both hands and this all starts with your employees.
While brands have navigated a tricky period of uncertainty and flux for the last two years, it’s more important than ever to build trust with consumers and employees.
Aligning employees behind brand purpose and the direction the business is taking with EX is key.
Investing in staff to keep up with technological change is pivotal to ensuring employees arrive at work empowered to deliver the best experience for customers.
Get this right and travel brands can reap the rewards of retaining customers as we see out the end of the pandemic and beyond.