Kevin Thorogood, Director, Travel and Hospitality, Thunderhead
The truth is, most travel companies have no idea who their potential customers are, or what they might require.
In a perfect world, there would be no discernable seams in a customer’s journey from the first moment of wanderlust, through to making a purchase.
A traveller calling to find out more about a holiday they have spotted online would discover the travel operator already knows where they want to go, and can make helpful recommendations based on these insights. If they chose to make the final booking in person, details of previous discussions would be instantly accessible to their local travel agent, who would find their ideal trip in seconds. But – sadly – this scenario is not the norm.
A rise in the use of aggregators and third-party sellers means customers are often several steps removed from the travel brands they eventually book their adventures with.
And even when holidaymakers go direct, operators still do not know who they are or what they want because there is no link between their interactions across channels, such as call centres, websites, and high-street travel agents.
As a result, conversations between travel operator and customer can be disjointed and poorly targeted, which does nothing for consumer happiness or building life-long relationships.
So, how can travel brands move in a more positive direction? The answer is to develop their listening skills and enhance their customer insights.
By connecting the elements of individual journeys and actively listening to customers, travel brands can provide unified, relevant, and engaging conversations that boost satisfaction, and long-term loyalty.
Heritage brand Saga is one of many operators to recently embrace this new approach to conversations. When the brand realised it was failing to strike the right chord with customers, it knew it was time for a change and promptly embarked on a journey of its own, to the very centre of customer engagement.
Tuning in to the digital age
Since 1953, Saga has led the market with unusual trips and niche locations, providing new experiences for the over 50s. But as the impact of the digital revolution took effect, Saga found that its purchaser base was becoming increasingly tech-savvy, with many of its customers forming the 40% of 44-54 year olds who prefer to book holidays online.
Existing customers were using a mixture of digital and telephone research, however the travel operator wasn’t yet able to join up separate conversations and provide one unified voice – across channels – to help consumers on their journey.
As such, the operator needed to revise its strategy to better meet the complex, fast-paced needs of its customers.
The power of joined-up conversations
The digital shift has transformed customer behaviour. Regardless of age, over half of consumers expect brands to know who they are and understand their needs and interests, from the very start of the conversation.
For Saga, meeting this expectation was a matter of urgency to retain its customer-centric ethos. The operator needed to quickly implement a new technology that would provide greater understanding and efficiency, without draining time and resource.
By using a cloud-based solution that combined customer insight, context, and real-time journey behaviour in one centralised system, Saga was able to listen to customers as they interacted on the web, via mobile devices, and through the contact centre.
A stream of data rapidly poured in, allowing the operator to create a complete view of individuals, enhancing profiles for existing customers and developing new ones, thereby improving accuracy and engagement as well as delivering tailored conversations, fast.
Getting personal drives conversions
In a constantly evolving travel landscape, agility and a high level of service are essential for brands to stand out and Saga’s insight-driven, personalised approach to conversations has transformed the experience its customers receive.
Embracing the cloud-based system has allowed the company to streamline interactions across every channel, making conversations effortlessly tailored wherever and whenever, online and offline. For example, contact centre agents can now see when customers are repeatedly drawn to online hotel listings and make the first call, suggesting relevant offers that increase sales and satisfaction.
The ability to follow conversations in real time means Saga can identify both high impact areas and those where customers often drop off, enabling the company to act quickly and reengage customers before they are lost.
As a result, conversions are higher than ever, within six weeks of implementing the new approach incremental sales rose by 59%.
The ability to listen and listen well is at the centre of true customer engagement. To entice customers from the competition, travel brands must pay close attention to their behaviour and needs across each channel, and adapt conversations accordingly.
Only then can they produce experiences that customers will want to repeat – outshining aggregators and other travel operators — and create happy, loyal customers.