By Geri Tuneva, Head of Marketing, EMEA, Qubit
For most people, gone are the days when you popped into your local travel agent on the high street to book a romantic honeymoon to Venice or a family holiday to Spain.
While the friendly smiles, tailored advice, relevant brochures and inspirational beach posters may have disappeared, the emotion involved in these purchases hasn’t. Booking a holiday is one of the most considered and emotional buys of the year, but many brands appear to have forgotten that.
Customers don’t just visit a website, check out their latest offers, and buy a holiday. Bookings happen at the end of a long, complex and unique journey that sees customers visit an average of 38 different travel sites over 45 days, according to a number of studies.
In today’s competitive landscape, travel brands have opted to go ‘all in’ on the acquisition of customers, the industry’s pay-per-click (PPC) arms race is ample evidence of that. With abandonment rates for travel brands much higher (81%) than for other retailers (61%), according to SaleCycle, this is no longer a sustainable plan.
As we approach the industry’s January sales peak, it’s the smart brands who will be looking to develop emotional connections with their customers through deeply personal experiences, rather than bringing them to the digital storefront and then forgetting about them. Here are a few things to think about when preparing for this new year peak.
Understand behaviour, not demographics
Stereotyping customers according to characteristics such as age and gender will get you nowhere. It makes it impossible to treat customers as the individuals they are.
The travel sector is in the lucky position of having customers willingly provide information about who they are and what they want from the moment they visit their website, typically through searches.
This will give a basic picture of what they’re looking for. Combine this with on site behavioural signals, historical customer data and real time feedback to identify more detailed nuances about who the customer is and what is driving them during their booking journey.
Are they visiting your site for the first time? Did they speak to a customer service agent on the phone two weeks ago? All this information needs to be consolidated and analysed across your channels as it happens in order to really understand who is engaging with you and what it is they are looking for.
New machine-learning technologies can help spot more nuanced patterns in this data that a human might not have otherwise noticed or would have taken too long find, uncovering potentially hidden customer groups.
Perhaps people who shop for city breaks for two at midnight tend to spend more than customers during the rest of the day. Machine learning won’t tell you why this is happening, but it will flag that it exists. You can use your own intuition to work out these may be people who’ve forgotten an anniversary or their partner’s birthday, and deploy tailored urgency messaging for those customers.
Seeing irrelevant recommendations and content is one of the biggest bugbears for customers, so instead use this real time, complete picture of who they are to tailor their experiences.
For example, if a booker is searching for a family holiday, tailor the results for upcoming school holiday dates, or surface merchandise content relating to child-friendly resorts to increase the likelihood of booking.
Or you might be surprised to see that group bookers are more likely to purchase online and prefer a pre-packaged offer, whereas families are more likely to use the call centre and prefer to buy bundled ancillaries after they’ve purchased the flights.
Use a deep, contextual understanding of the customer to slice and dice your inventory and deals.
Nudge them in the right way
Given this new understanding of customer behaviour, you can also provide helpful ‘nudges’ throughout the booking journey. You need to use the right carrots for the right customers though.
Those customers who are visiting your website for the first time and who are showing signs of being in the ‘research phase’ of their booking, for example, could be directed to your latest rich media blog full of editorial content tailored to their initial search or a bundle of offers which fit their criteria.
Countdown timers during sales, on the other hand, are an incredibly effective tool for converting customers who are on the verge of making a booking or who are clearly very motivated by price.
In fact our data shows that low stock pointers alone can increase conversions by 3.2%. Those on the cusp of making an expensive booking, meanwhile, may feel more confident if they are directed to speak to someone in a dedicated call centre about their holiday.
While we have come a long way since the early 1990’s when the likes of Travelweb.com and Expedia led the way, there are still huge opportunites for travel brands to create more personalised, digital experiences for their customers.
Before deploying new technology for new technology’s sake, though, brands should first think about what it is that will help them better understand and then engage with their customers and work back from there.
A personalised, relevant customer experience helped travel agents thrive on our high streets for many years, let’s take the best of what they did and bring it back online.