IT systems to improve the customer experience are lacking in travel, Abta Travel Convention delegates were told this week.
Speaking in a panel discussion on the opening day of the annual overseas event, Jeremy Ellis, Tui marketing and digital director said: “Travel has been very product centric. We don’t have systems to become customer-centric. Customer systems barely exist in our industry.”
Ellis said travel ought to be better rated in terms of customer service after the Institute of Customer Service revealed no travel firms are in its top 10.
Ellis said: “We should be higher up the list. We are a service sector. But the difference is we are a very fragmented industry.
“There are so many external factors that can have an effect. We have to make sure that the entire experience is as well serviced as possible on an individual basis.”
Asked about the better standing of brands in general retail, Ellis said: “I do think we have a harder product to work with than the likes of John Lewis – it’s a much more controlled environment.”
Gary Morrison, Expedia general manager of EMEA, said the approach the global OTA was taking was about “de-cluttering” the customer experience.
“We tend to look at it in terms of making the process easier to use – how do you make searches more relevant?” he said.
Expedia has developed a system called Scratchpad which saves the searches customers make so that when they return to the site and log in, even if on a different device, they don’t have to start again.
Ellis said helping people get to relevant search results more quickly by showing them what other people ended up booking who inputted the same original search query was addressing the pain points people have.
“What helps is understanding what other people have actually booked when doing the same search. Trust is built in the experience.
“We have 60 million unique visitors a month across all our sites, so our ability to see patterns is that much higher.”
Morrison added: “To the extent that you can personalise your experience or your offering will probably mean you will have more repeat purchases.”
Nathan Philpot, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines sales and marketing director, said offering a personalised service was not necessarily just about using technology.
“We are probably not so data driven. It’s much more about interacting with customers on ships.
“Getting information back face-to-face allows us to develop our brand. There are simpler ways of being more personal than just being data driven.”
He said good staff retention was key and, with a high level of repeat custom, so is knowing the individual preferences of clients.
“Relationships can translate into business performance. The relationship you have with the client is the only thing that’s unique. Product can be replicated, price can be replicated.”
Jo Causon, of the Institute of Customer Service, added: “Our expectations of the people serving us are much higher today.
“We expect emotional intelligence. Recruit people who have an inquiring mind. You need to recruit people who are interested in knowing more.
“It’s about the interpretation and the insight. I’m quite shocked about how being easy to do business with has become a major issue in the last 12 months. Have a meaningful dialogue, not a monologue.”