WTM 2016: Automation vs personalisation ‘give every customer the best treatment’

WTM 2016: Automation vs personalisation ‘give every customer the best treatment’

Travel agents should treat low-value customers with the same service as their big bookers as they could end up being worth more in the long run.

That was the view of Jackie Steadman, director of TravelTime World, speaking on an expert panel at World Travel Market discussing the topic of the fine line between automation vs personalisation.

She was joined by Deirdre Wells, chief executive of UK Inbound and Chris North, sales director at OTA Instant Holidays in a session moderated by Rob Barker, managing director of travel tech supplier Vertical Systems.

Steadman said she once helped an old lady who her staff had “made excuses or coffee” to avoid and ended up selling the lady, who turned out to be a housekeeper at a stately home, two business class tickets.

“I always say don’t judge a book by its cover,” said Steadman, who is also an over-55s specialist.

“You can quickly build a profile when you talk to people on a personal basis. Simple questions, like where their kids go to school, can tell you their income bracket and asking them where they’ve holidayed before shows you what they’re interested in.”

She added that  they make more overall from their lower-value clients by the numbers of holidays they sell.

“We sell a lot of coach tours, for £400 or £450,” she said. “We probably sell 20 or 30 of those for every £5,000 or £10,000 booking.

Yet automation is important too, especially from the online perspective.

Chris North said: “Data is everything.

“We build up a profile. We know how many children customers have got, if they have children, their address and other details. For us, it’s all about relevancy and targeting our offers appropriately.

“If they’re an elderly person, we won’t send them activity holidays. Many travel companies make that mistake.”

Yet others go online to avoid personalisation, North suggested. “Some of our best customers buy online and we’ve never even spoken to them. They might be time precious or have a clearer idea of what they want.

“But some people do want to talk to us. Some people may just want the reassurance that someone is on the other end of the phone or if they are making a big purchase they might have a lot of questions to make sure that it’s right.”

Rob Barker concluded that companies need to consistently access their customers’ journey from start to finish, something the online agents do more frequently than the high street.

He said companies should automate when they can but keep the process personal and find the balance that works for their customers.

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