By Ian Jindal, Editor in Chief of Internet Retailing
The lesson that the customer is king in an omni-channel world has been well-studied by the travel industry.
Agents and operators alike are fast becoming fluent in the need to enable shoppers to buy wherever, whenever and however they want.
From Tui Travel and Thomas Cook, to easyJet and P&O Ferries, all recognise that an easy and convenient service that places the customer firmly at its heart pays off at the bottom-line.
Small wonder that the travel industry is following the retail example in omni-channel.
Chris Cook, chief information officer of P&O Ferries, told Internet Retailing Conference (IRC) 2014 that it had learned from retail best practice as it sought to differentiate itself from competitors that include airlines and the Eurostar train service.
“We looked at what retailers were doing, and learned from their strategic best practice to build a seamless crosschannel customer experience,” said Cook.
How can other travel companies join P&O Ferries in learning from retailers as they put the customer at the heart of their omni-channel experience?
Bring digital into the store
It’s a perfect match: marrying the personal service available in the store with the breadth of information available online breeds well-informed shoppers who feel confident about making a significant purchase.
Tui Travel-owned Thomson has introduced next-generation digital stores that put the wealth of information and rich imagery available online next to the personal knowledge and advice that instore staff can best offer.
Meanwhile, Thomas Cook’s Dreamcatcher service means holiday ideas discussed in store can be emailed home for family discussion before a final booking is made, either online or in store.
The retailer is also using Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets to give customers an idea of what to expect on their holidays.
John Straw, former chairman of Thomas Cook’s digital advisory board, speaking ahead of his presentation at IRC 2014 in October, said virtual reality gave people understanding of what their holiday experience would really be like in an industry where “you can’t try before you buy.”
He added: “We’re going to take the leap of faith out of the equation.”
Put solutions at customers’ fingertips
When travel customers are on the move, the companies they’re travelling with can harness the power of mobile to make their journey easier and more convenient.
EasyJet has developed mobile applications to meet travellers’ needs as they go on their way. Beacons guide them through the airport via notifications sent to their smartphone, while the airline has added passport-scanning technology, developed by Jumio, to its mobile app.
EasyJet’s head of digital James Millet summed up the advantages of passport scanning when the technology was launched. “Combined with our mobile boarding passes,” he said, “customers can now check in on their mobiles up to two hours before flights in 110 of the airports easyJet fly to across Europe.”
Improve the customer experience by connecting channels
Retailers and travel operators alike can give customers better service when they recognise them across all brand touchpoints.
P&O Ferries launched its new website alongside a new mobile site, giving customers choice in how they access its services. Online bookings can also be seen from the contact centre so staff can offer help where needed.
Previously, customers had to re-input their details every time they started a booking, but the ability to save and view them through a ‘my account’ feature now makes shopping easier.
“There are intangible benefits that you can’t even put a value on such as… improving the customer experience,” said P&O’s Cook, speaking at IRC 2014.
Start conversations on social media
Holiday companies are among the retailers who have used social media to powerful effect. Thomas Cook used Twitter to short cut the task of looking up special offers on its website.
The process is simple. People looking for holiday deals tweet @TCOffers with the name of a country. In response, they receive an automated link to relevant offers on the website.
The service, the company said when this service was launched in 2014, helps customers get the information they need “wherever and whenever; sitting on the bus, in the local café or together as a family at home.”
This use of social media is a nifty approach that helps make the sometimes onerous task of holiday research more easy and convenient.
IRX 2015, is to be held at The National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, on March 25 and 26, where retailers can learn about the latest trends and technology in omnichannel and e-commerce selling.
IRUK500, Internet Retailing’s guide to the UK’s leading retailers, is now available.
Find out more at internetretailingexpo.com