By Anne Stagg, managing director, Indicia
Outside of our home and home improvements, holidays are often the most expensive purchases we make.
And besides the cost, there’s a hugely important emotional commitment. Our holidays are often the highlight of our year, creating memories that last a lifetime. But unlike a TV or a sofa, we can’t ‘return’ the holiday if it fails to meet the grade.
Given the increasing expectations of consumers in respect to service and customer experience, there is a general need for everyone to up their game, but the travel sector, with its intangibles, must be in the premier league in the way it communicates with its customers.
The key to this is understanding the motivations of us travellers on an individual level, and what we had in mind when we bought your holiday in the first place.
The path to purchase is complex and often non-linear, jumping backwards and forwards as we weigh up choices or discover new options.
Indeed, people who plan months ahead and those who book at the last minute could actually end up taking very similar physical journeys, as they travel: flying from the same airport, visiting the same country and even staying in the same hotel.
But their purchase journeys, how and why they bought what they bought, could be markedly different. So could their expectations and budget.
It is very important that companies who operate in this sector, avail themselves of the full power of data and aim as high as they can to personalise customer outcomes and provide the best experiences they can.
Know your travellers… but how much is enough?
One way the industry tries to better understand this, is through customer segmentation, especially looking at demographics (age, income, families vs couples, etc).
But that insight tends to use a broad brush. It may drive variations in offering around such things as holiday destination rather than on recognising and responding to differing needs and requirements.
There are many other factors that are influential and need to be considered, often overlapping or interdependent.
This creates a challenge for marketers as there is a clear need to go beyond traditional segmentation categories.
Those that want to steal a march on the competition, should be careful not to set the bar too low in respect to data.
Intelligent collection and interpretation will provide the insight needed. Putting the human back into marketing.
‘Attitudinal’ segmentation— creating customer groups based on a set of shared attitudes — gives a far better understanding of the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’.
Armed with this knowledge you will know whether to target your travellers to Ibiza with VIP passes for Amnesia or traditional Spanish cookery lessons.
Moreover, people are not static; past patterns do not always predict future behaviour, as our interests and priorities change.
The couple who went clubbing one year may have an infant with them the next, or travel with their own parents another. Segmentation needs to be revisited and revised regularly to ensure it is still relevant.
Read between the lines
The process of researching, choosing and booking a holiday is all part of the customer journey; in effect it’s actually the start of the holiday.
And there are key transactional moments along that journey where it’s vital to optimise and deliver the customer experience, but perhaps even more important is to recognise behaviours before and after the key transactions, so brands can understand what the customer might want in these gaps between the measurable moments.
• What information would help us better understand and respond to their personal needs?
• What will best ‘nudge’ different people from research and interest into decision; some will lean heavily on customer reviews, others on image galleries, others on limited time offers…
• What will improve the overall experience through building anticipation of the holiday after the booking has been made?
• How could we drive word of mouth, encouraging people to share their pre-holiday excitement?
Work in real time
Alongside the details of the travellers and their priorities, we need to consider the process itself. Delivering a seamless experience across multiple devices is virtually a hygiene factor now; which devices are used for different parts of the journey. How well do your booking forms display on a mobile?
And while many people do have some flexibility over their travel dates, it’s often within a reasonably tight window of perhaps a few weeks.
Marketers need to respond increasingly quickly to customer behaviours with a mix of automation and triggered communications. If you’re not paying attention, your potential customer may go elsewhere.
For common questions it’s possible that automation can play a significant role in making the process simpler.
KLM passengers can now ask for directions to the nearest restaurant, clothes store, ATM, taxi rank and more by sending an emoji to the airline on its Messenger chatbot.
But for such a personal and important purchase, many customers will also want real human interactions for their own personal needs: how will the hotel cater for my nut allergy? Can we get a ground-floor for my elderly parents?
Complex, but not complicated
Marketers now have access to more data than ever before to help them determine their customer’s attitudes and needs.
From online browsing to bookings and interacting with chatbots, the journey is complex and sometimes protracted. But it need not be complicated: indeed, it’s the job of marketers to help it feel simple and effortless.
Managing this and identifying the gold dust hidden within can seem like a very fiddly task, but don’t worry there are specialist companies to help.
The key is deciding what it is you’re trying to understand and inevitably that is where you can most improve and personalise your customer experience.
Your opportunity to upgrade
Those holiday brands that segment and then track their customers based on their path to purchase; from casual browsing to their physical arrival in Ibiza, will be able to better communicate in real-time, using messages that are personal, relevant and in context, combining operational agility with a real understanding of human behaviour, to deliver a better experience.
To do this you need to get close to the data and interrogate it with innovation and humanity. Like we do.