Chris Sheldon, head of growth at digital product agency Somo, explains why travel brands still have some distance to go to match travellers’ digital expectations
Guest Post: Respond to rising customer demand and expectations by investing in your app
Despite the odd hiccup due to COVID-related absences making headline news, it’s safe to say that confidence is returning to the airline industry.
The recent Easter break getaway demonstrated that fears over failed PCR tests are abating and a general loosening of restrictions is bringing the leisure traveller back to the skies.
However, despite this return to quasi-normality, traveller behaviour has changed.
There is naturally a feeling of heightened anticipation, expectations raised of a superlative experience following two years of pent-up demand.
But expectations have also been raised as consumers witness the realm of the possible across other sectors.
The pandemic demonstrated just what could be achieved in a digital-only, mobile-first world.
From finance to retail, entertainment to education, the bar was raised on consumers’ ability to connect and manage their lives seamlessly online.
While there may be a heightened desire to get back to activities, there is far less tolerance for ‘old ways’ of thinking, such as holiday extras available only after checkout, a baffling array of flight or hotel options and repopulating form after form just to find the combination that suits.
Sadly, this is still all too common. In our latest research which is detailed in our new report: Search to sale: Bringing airlines’ digital experience up to speed, over half of the 2,000 British consumers we surveyed had booked a staycation because the stress involved in booking a flight was too great.
But, in a sector whose margins are being squeezed wafer thin by energy costs, post-pandemic losses and a cost-of-living crisis, there are some quick wins to be had.
Our research also discovered that more than three-quarters would pay at least a small premium (41% of those suggested they’d pay around £10) for a streamlined online booking experience.
Not only this, but younger travellers would be most likely to abandon a cheaper hotel or flight for a more expensive one, if they found the former’s booking experience frustrating.
But travel brands shouldn’t rest on their laurels, assuming a poor experience could drive customers to their own more expensive version.
It is still more likely the traveller will jump ship altogether for a competitor. They know what good and bad looks like, moreover they know they have options.
It’s largely a buyers’ market in travel today, so there is not only a theoretical argument for investing in an overall premium digital experience, there is a financial one too.
The most natural environment for this investment is in apps. Not only is today’s consumer increasingly app-driven, using them comfortably for everything from a weekly grocery shop to ordering a cab to reviewing their mortgage, but apps create loyalty.
Loyalists use apps and first timers use the web – but to create that loyalty, the app experience must be great. Something our report noted was distinctly lacking across the board in the airline industry.
According to a US study, airline apps scored the lowest of all travel apps, and travel apps scored lower than credit card apps for overall satisfaction.
The only one to have made significant progress was JetBlue’s app, featuring boarding passes, seat selection upgrade options, an ancillaries shop and service portal.
Airlines’ poor performance in this area is not going under the radar. Our research showed that more than half of travellers (58%) had an airline app on their mobile and, of those, 66% used them to check in online, search for (62%) or book (56%) a flight.
But even if airlines can refine what is effectively basic travel management, we must acknowledge that the customer already wants so much more.
Live travel updates, personalised to their own, specific journeys are vital, particularly during these times of short notice cancellations and rescheduling.
Travellers also want to be able to ‘put all their eggs in one basket’.
By using the app to book taxi rides, hotel rooms, in-flight extras such as headphones or a hot meal and even add third-party excursions to their itinerary, their experience is improved exponentially, increasing satisfaction and, naturally, loyalty.
Now is the time for savvy airlines and their partners to make the most of an almost unquenchable thirst for a return to travel.
Driving app improvements may well be the low hanging fruit they need to drive up consideration and customer numbers at the expense of less responsive competitors.