Nick Turner, consumer business digital lead, Deloitte
Empowered by access to more information, social networks and digital devices, consumers are taking more control over the way they purchase flights, hotel rooms and holidays.
They scan the internet to perfect their choice, using price comparison sites to get the best value and review sites to check feedback from other consumers.
Moreover, they have become both critics and creators as they actively share their views and influence others as a result.
This shift in the balance of power, in favour of consumers, has disrupted the traditional path to purchase. As a result, a gap is emerging between consumer expectations and businesses’ ability to meet them.
Knowledge is power
New research published in the latest Deloitte Consumer Review shows that 81% of people now read reviews and check ratings. More than one in three consumers contribute to online forums or comment on other people’s blogs.
However, just one in 10 is a genuine content creator, publishing a blog or managing their own website.
The value of trust
During the economic slowdown, consumers developed recessionary behaviours, such as being more selective, as a direct consequence of managing tighter budgets, which still persist.
As a result, they expect more and have become sceptical of businesses’ ability to deliver on their promises. Many consumers prefer to turn to independent sources to access information rather than go directly to the airline or hotel operator.
This presents a real risk for businesses as they have less control over the information being circulated and used by consumers to make decisions.
For the majority of consumers, family and friends (60%), consumer reviews (60%) and independent experts (43%) are the most trusted sources of information. Just 12% of consumers find service providers to be their most trusted source.
From ‘fast followers’ to innovators
Businesses in the travel and hospitality sector tend to be fast followers; few are actually lead innovators, creating a notion of businesses being a step behind.
In spite of this, hotels emerged as the third most purchased category online, behind books, DVDs, music and games and clothing and footwear.
Some 38% of UK consumers now buy hotel services online. In addition, nearly a third of consumers (30%) use review sites and 14% search for information of social media sites for package holidays.
While the mix of social media and unhappy consumers can be toxic, good stories are also told.
Another 425 will tell friends and family about a positive experience, but only a third will talk about their experience when they are dissatisfied.
One in ten satisfied consumers will post a comment on their social media page.
This is very different to other industries, such as insurance, where social media is often used as a tool to make a complaint and demonstrates how strong engagement and good service can lead to positive word of mouth.
Closing the expectations gaps
However, there are both challenges and opportunities for businesses here. On the one hand, how do they close the gap between consumer expectations and the business’ ability to meet them?
On the other, there’s the opportunity to engage with consumers in new and different ways.
Engaging with consumers needs to go beyond the marketing function, it requires better collaboration across different parts of the organisation in managing the four different touch points with consumers:
1. Firstly, technology and analytics can help integrate and track every individual consumer interaction across all touch points and channels. They can help with identifying failure points and guiding real-time, targeted responses. For example, you will see a number of businesses contacting you if you dropped out of their site whilst making a purchase.
2. Secondly, ensure staff at each level of the organisation understand the role they play in serving consumers, and empower them to make the right decision on the appropriate way to respond to dissatisfied consumers.
3. Additionally, reputational risks associated with social platforms need to be managed. Social command centres can be established to listen to conversations, engage with consumers and help to share positive stories beyond the immediate customer base to those who are just about to start to their search for a product or brand.
4. Finally, content creation and management strategies should be focussed on inspiring and informing consumers rather than just selling to them.
Arming consumers with the right information helps them move independently through the shopping journey. Improve their trust and you will increase their loyalty and ultimately their weight of purchase, but this is a sequential process that can’t be short circuited.