Rebecca Crook, chief growth officer at digital product agency Somo, says there’s plenty room for improvement in the sector
Guest Post: Travel firms have failed to use pandemic down time to improve
Rebecca Crook, chief growth officer at digital product agency Somo, now part of the CI&T family, says there’s plenty of room for improvement in the sector
Goodbye February or perhaps good riddance is what a lot of the major players in the industry are really saying.
It’s not been a great month for airlines, with two weekends of major outage disruptions from British Airways due to IT problems, and Thomas Cook cancelling their newly awaited TV campaign due to capacity constraints to meet customer demand.
Even a quick look across social media does not throw up many complimentary comments, with customers providing damming views on Tui (from incompetence to the worse customer experience ever) and Virgin Atlantic’s homepage is still highlighting call wait times are up to three hours.
As we slowly emerge from the pandemic one thing is certain – pent-up demand for leisure travel is soaring with confidence returning and consumers desperate to make up for lost holiday time.
But have travel brands taken the down time when travel was off the cards to invest, improve and innovate across their digital platforms and touchpoints for customers?
My opening examples would tend to sway into the camp of no, with little improvement in the customer experience. Wait times for call centres of hours, websites are down and perceptions of brands with customers citing they will never use them again does not bode well.
Tie this in with the global talent shortage across sectors which travel has been heavily impacted by.
Like many industries that were dramatically closed due to the pandemic, workers who were furloughed exploited new careers elsewhere and just haven’t returned. Just this week, United Airlines has offered a $10,000 signing bonus to new part time baggage handlers and belt/cargo loaders.
It would seem that the travel sector needs some serious help in figuring out how to treat customers well to maintain loyalty, how to leverage technology that works (even at a basic level) and how to create a seamless customer experience.
I always use the travel sector as one that has transformed beyond belief. My first holiday (and people reading this aged 40+ may recall this) was booked via teletext holidays, which was cutting edge at the time, sent a cheque (who remembers them?) and a stamped address envelope (no email and virtual bookings then) and waited for the holiday airline ticket and hotel voucher to arrive a few weeks later.
Move on to even the year 2017 and 9% of the UK population used a physical travel agent with the rest booking online. Now in 2022, and as we move on from COVID, we are even more reliant on digital platforms for both research and bookings.
My three top tips for travel companies to really focus on are:
Mobile plays a huge part across both travel research and actual bookings. A huge three quarters of travellers undertake research travel on their smartphone, so ensuring as a travel brand your experience is fully optimised for a mobile experience is critical.
Yet so many fail in this area. Broken text, slow page load times and content not curated for a mobile experience are just some of the key problems.
Data is king – yet so many travel brands are failing to leverage this and learn from the likes of Netflix and Amazon, who do it so well. Why send a customer a generic sales email about new family holidays if they’ve only ever booked couple holidays?
It’s basic rules around segmentation, understanding customer purchases and behaviours and then using it in a meaningful personalised manner.
This right now, seems to be something travel companies continually fail with, yet if they could get it right, they could be increasing their customer loyalty and revenue two-fold.
With the always-on society we live in, consumers are demanding evermore that they have the choice of when and how they interact with brands, and travel is no exception to this.
Waiting on a phone for hours to amend a booking is simply not acceptable to consumers nowadays, they will simply go elsewhere.
Digital and technology can play a huge role in fulfilling this void in creating intuitive seamless journeys to enable consumers to curate and change their bookings as they wish. It’s also an incredible opportunity to upsell other services and products to consumers when done well.
Optimising the experience post pandemic
So many brands are failing to even hit the basics across these three areas, which is incredibly short sighted and delivers a sub-par experience for consumers who will simply just select another company and spend there.
I know we were all forgiving of many companies at the start of the pandemic if their digital experience wasn’t optimum, but now we expect it to be fixed and offer so much more.
I certainly wait in anticipation of any travel brand offering me an amazing experience across these three areas.
I’m yet to find any doing all three well, there’s lots of room for improvement but also commercially lots of scope for lost revenue for brands who continue to fail across these areas.