Guest Post: Take travel to new heights by supporting agents to Get Modern
This isn’t going to be another one of those articles that starts with pointing out that the internet changed everything, and not just because it started by claiming not to be one of those articles. We’re all past that. Innovation, change in habits, etc.
But since – yes – the internet changed everything, it would be shocking if it had somehow missed retailing. Some changes are tectonic and obvious – for example, Amazon exists while Woolworths [in the UK] no longer does.
But beyond the evolution of e-commerce, the fact is that retailing innovation has caused consumer expectations to similarly evolve and retailers who want to thrive must understand what modern consumers need of them.
Retailers must understand modern in order to be able to become modern. That dual meaning is behind my company’s message to travel retailers: it’s time to Get Modern.
There are retailers out there that everyone can learn something from, no matter what industry you’re in. But let’s focus on travel, which has, arguably, had good reason to be slower to innovate because of its complexity.
As much as people love to travel, our industry isn’t frequently praised for its retailing experience.
From the drawn-out research process, to winnowing down booking choices, to difficultly assembling a single itinerary across multiple purchase points, to the burdensome exchange/refund process, getting modern, and thereby meeting customer expectations, is crucial.
The key thing customers want of modern retailing is simplicity, and the main reasons they want it is to save time and gain transparency.
In April, Travelport will be releasing the results of consumer research we did in order to better understand exactly what customers want of modern retailers. In the meanwhile, I offer you some preliminary thoughts on getting modern.
When thinking about where you should book your next trip, travel agencies are best placed to offer a modern retailing experience for customers because they have the have all the available choices under their umbrella – transit, lodging, packages, and more.
Having the ability to compare is an important aspect of what customers want. Choice is a key value for consumers, and the ability to easily filter from an overwhelming amount of options down to the ones that best meet their needs is the difference between a good experience and a frustrating one.
Retailers who have built their processes around modern expectations can tailor the entire customer journey from end to end – transportation, accommodation, destination activities.
As modern retailers, agencies can compare products from various suppliers and reassure the customer that they are getting the best value while finding the right offer for them.
And it’s important to note that the right offer isn’t the cheapest offer; it’s the cheapest offer that meets their needs and wants.
Taking learnings from modern retailing disruptors such as Amazon and Alibaba will allow the travel industry to modernise and simplify the way we sell to our customers.
Internet retailing experiences, however, can sometimes feel soulless, and the customer can feel like they’re wandering alone in a well-stocked store where there’s no one to help them.
Despite their acceptance of technology and e-commerce, consumers crave support. Even – and here I’m previewing one of the most interesting findings from our upcoming research – younger digital natives want both tools and people to support their purchases.
So, travel agents can add meaningful value when you consider the servicing element they bring to the table. They can help mitigate the real risk of making a solitary choice that doesn’t actually meet expectations.
A modern digital experience doesn’t punish you by taking away the store or the contact center – it rewards the consumer by offering them the choice to self-serve for some tasks and making that process easy, while still providing confidence-building help for those who seek it.
Let’s consider for a moment, how companies like Amazon and Alibaba have differentiated themselves.
A single marketplace for suppliers of all sizes, locations and offerings. Consumers who have had good experiences come back for all their shopping behaviours, from browsing for inspiration to dropping in for a quick purchase they’ve already identified.
Travel agencies are uniquely positioned to be this sort of one-stop-research-through-purchase-then-service shop for travellers.
The trick is that there is a lot of competition in the space, so a modern travel retailer needs to think about how to craft a user experience that makes them the landing spot for purchase after what could be many hours of researching. Empower agents even more through retailing and merchandising technology can help that happen.
Consumers want, but don’t expect, personalisation. They want it because it will save them time. They don’t expect it because no retailer, not just in travel, has done a very good job of providing it.
So, curation isn’t up there with their expectations, but it is way up there with their wants. In the meantime, they want powerful search and filtering tools because they do believe that is possible in the here and now.
Modern retailing is set to revolutionise travel and meet those needs by making the process of searching and booking trip options efficient and reliable, and the decision-making then becomes so much easier.
Content provided to agents can be normalised, enriched with brand logos, and delivered via data that is then used by artificial intelligent (AI) algorithms to ensure shoppers see just what they need on the shelf.
By making travel content more ‘retail ready’, we ensure agency shelves are displaying the right fares, personalised offers, and ancillaries across air, hotel, car and rail.
Is there such a thing as too much choice? Decision paralysis is becoming an increasingly big problem in everything we do.
When there might be hundreds, if not thousands, of routes from Point A to Point B, smart technology is crucial to ensure we’re not bogging down the customer or agent with irrelevant options.
Luckily, modern retailing sets the right customer expectations from the outset, making it super clear what the offer (or product) entails and detailing its relevance to the traveler’s unique needs.
Better retailing also sells more – because the right product for one specific customer is usually something more than the cheapest product. In the long-term, this also builds loyalty and earns the ultimate compliment – repeat business.
Getting modern is a mindset and a process. The modern retailing journey can be a long and challenging one for agencies without proper technical support and know how.
Here at Travelport, we started the journey of modern retailing with many of our partners and our strong, hands-on, technical background, combined with our cutting-edge platform, have enabled us to work seamlessly and smoothly with our agency partners.
We make it easier for agents (but again, we like to refer to them as ‘travel retailers’) and shoppers to find, understand, and compare products from suppliers. We also make sure the after-sales service is excellent, whether self-service or through an agent.
It has also been encouraging to see that travel industry suppliers have continued to invest in and improve their direct channels.
They’ve done a fantastic job at broadening their offers and providing more choice, with updated routes and transportation schedules. We’re now even seeing those options evolve further with more choice in seat sizes, extra legroom, pre-ordered meals and more.
So, just like the Amazon and Alibaba suppliers, it’s up to us in distribution and travel retailing to put our technology to use, to add the most relevant offers to individual shelves and make shopping easier for our corporate and consumer customers, and to provide the transparency consumers expect so that they aren’t surprised at the airport that their fare doesn’t include something they expected.
Apart from enabling suppliers to sell more of their own products, they can now provide more choices for agents to choose from in the system when servicing customers.
When travel agencies Get Modern, suppliers also benefit. Travel retailers that deliver a better experience, make things easier for consumers and deliver superior customer support will ultimately generate more bookings.
In a nutshell, modern travel retailing elevates the travel industry to new heights and requires a new way of thinking.
Suppliers, you’re doing a great job at servicing travellers and giving them more choice, but now it’s time to support and elevate the travel agencies, the true modern retailers, to help us all deliver a great experience for our customers.