In order to prepare for the upcoming travel and hospitality Blueprint, I decided I needed to do some “field research” (ahem) by taking a vacation of my own to sunny Puerto Rico to get the experience of an end consumer. This was fortuitous timing as RFI responses were trickling in, and I couldn’t help but relate my experiences to what I’m hearing from the service providers and buyers in this space. As analysts, we tend to travel a bit here and there, but often have the luxury of travel plans being made for us with group coordinators. Having planned this trip out myself with the help of some great references, I thought about travel in a more selfish way—one that made me think very much about all the things T&H service buyers and service providers could be doing better to think of ME, the traveler, at the core of their operations.
As a consumer, these themes resonated with me the most:
- Word of mouth matters more than ever: So many decisions to make; where to stay, eat and what to do. Review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are ubiquitous, and travelers really rely on these sites for decision making. The downside is information overload and credibility; I read scores of reviews with a skeptical mind, thinking this could have been written by someone with totally different vacation priorities or motivations. Now if a good friend recommends a tour, combined with a raving review on TripAdvisor, I’m sold! Service providers should be thinking about how to help hospitality clients maximize loyalty and advocacy among visiting customers. Those who represent the travel intermediaries and review sites should think about how to make the personas more “real” – think of the possibilities for gamification (i.e. giving people badges or discounts if their reviews are well liked or validated.) This could go a long way to make these review sites and intermediaries more valuable for customers. Intermediaries are also more important than ever for local tour companies whose websites are wildly out of date and impossible to navigate—so knowing the local businesses is more important than ever.
- Self-service is fantastic—but make sure you have the processes and training to bring it all together. It’s pretty cool that JetBlue has started a system of printing and applying your own tags to baggage. But, as someone who doesn’t normally check a bag, this caught me by surprise at Boston Logan as I was reluctantly checking my vacation + business attire luggage to accommodate all the shoes I needed for these two incongruous journeys. I was confused, but all that the woman at the kiosk could do was repeat in a saccharine cheerful voice, “You need to print out a tag at the kiosk.” Literally, that’s all she could say. I would have felt more comfortable with a robot. When there are process and technology changes, especially those that affect your loyal customers, make sure your employees are trained to be empathetic and helpful and that you use all the relevant communication channels to update customers. Plus, preemptive outreach can prevent incoming calls to customer service and confusion in the field.
- It all comes back to making it easier for the customer. This is true in every business model, but the hotel industry seems to be closer to cracking the code on seamless experiences despite juggling many balls in the air at the same time—dealing with disgruntled, tired travelers, unexpected issues like broken elevators, cancelled flights or storms closing the coveted beach, and handling countless travel intermediaries like Expedia and the like. This requires a lot of connection between front, middle and back office—as we describe in our OneOffice framework—it seems that hotels are getting closer to connecting these siloes to create omnichannel experiences, but what I’m hearing from buyers and service providers is that there’s a lot of disconnect behind the scenes and making up for it at the front end. Despite sometimes glossy front end experiences (think the swanky hotel lobby with fantastic, quick check-in service), there is still much opportunity to streamline processes behind the scenes. The notions of service experiences are also evolving, keeping T&H clients on their toes. Today you introduced mobile self-check-ins; do you need to integrate tours & activities scheduling into your app next?
The Bottom Line: competition has pushed the travel and hospitality industry to live and breathe the “customer-first” mentality, but the fast-paced nature of the industry and customer expectations will continue to create opportunity and challenge services buyers to think about “what’s next?”
Differentiation is the name of the game— and more than anything, services buyers in the travel and hospitality space need flexibility and innovation from their providers. Between M&A activity, regulatory and compliance changes, disruptors from the “sharing economy” and the volatile nature of travel itself, having the customer constantly at the center of the universe is no easy feat. Always being that step ahead, with automation and innovation, is where service providers can step in to support those memorable experiences.
Posted in : customer-experience-management