The customer journey and the associated touchpoints are established parts of the travel industry vernacular. But change is always on the horizon, presenting a challenge to those businesses who are unprepared.
Part of preparing for the future is to remember the past. When it comes to touchpoints, one of the most relevant texts was written some thirty years ago by Jan Carlzon, CEO of SAS Airlines at the time. Despite being formulated in a pre-digital age, his “Moments of Truth” concept is worth considering when rethinking today’s touchpoints.
Carlzon’s view focused on making everyone in the organisation aware of the importance of the moments where a customer was “touching” the company. He noted that those moments were precious, short in duration compared with the total amount of time that a customer would spend traveling. The airline, he argued, should focus on providing excellence during those moments.
The number of touchpoints has increased substantially since the concept was formed. In today’s era of digital transformation, there are even more moments of truth for travel companies to concentrate on, each with its own distinct characteristics.
Are you taking advantage of the new touchpoints?
Participants in the travel industry traditionally had well defined roles around providing a service. An airline’s main focus was on transporting its passengers safely from A to B. Hotels were there to provide a good night’s sleep. Destinations and cities were passive hosts.
However the word “experience” started to replace “service” and some early adopters understood that rethinking “service” in terms of “experience” – becoming an active part of the travelers’ entire journey – was the future. The experience trend was established, as travel businesses started thinking about inspirational tools and services. But do these solutions really meet the needs of the traveler, most of whom are inquisitive and want to be able to make informed decisions? Practicality and relevance are the minimum requirement for any tool. And when it comes to inspiration and information, the big companies in particular have a big gap in their portfolio – trip planning.
With the digital transformation, the number of touchpoints has increased dramatically. New touchpoints between travelers and companies emerge, while old paradigms are called into question and need updating to keep pace with this change. The overall experience of travelers is affected by their holistic digital experience – customers are used to the excellence provided by top players such as Google and Amazon which set the standards.
Trip planning solutions aren’t new – they have been a subset within the personalization trend. Travelers want knowledge and information relevant to their specific needs, in one place and available on demand, in a way that provides a great user experience. Companies should offer travelers tools that meet these minimum requirements: dynamic information, advanced design, integration with social media and seamless switching between different devices, for starters.
In today’s digital funnel, travel companies are experts in enriching their knowledge about the customer, while engaging with them throughout the customer journey. Useful content is key to add value in this process, and trip planning solutions fit perfectly well in different touchpoints as the perfect excuse to engage more.
Solutions before needs
On a general level, the customer journey has four main touchpoints that companies are already familiar with:
- Post trip
Attention needs to be paid to the different characteristics of each stage in terms of format, tone of voice, the degree of personalization. Relevance should improve as travel firms and destinations have more info about our customer.
The industry knows that customers have not only high expectations but also an assumption that travel firms will meet these expectations. Organizations must anticipate any desire the traveler might have and interact accordingly. “Big data” can help predict how customers might behave, but many travel firms lack the in-house expertise to fully understand the nuances of data collection and how to create actionable insights from that data. Increasingly, travel firms are working with specialist tech providers to optimise their use of data and to ensure that the traveler’s digital experience of the touchpoints remains front of mind.
One area where this type of collaboration is evident is the role of destination content at the various touchpoints. Travelers want to know about what experiences destinations can offer – even if they have visited before – and the content can be adapted to the different requirements of the touchpoints.
Starting at the inspirational stage, a tool that provides broad and complete information on different cities around the globe, with standard features, is a great first step. The second stage requires more personalization and targeted, specific messages. It is important therefore that companies make sure they find out about their customers’ preferences at the earliest possible stage so that all future interactions across the touchpoints are engaging and relevant.
For the following stage, companies should be aware that personalization is about more than just the content – that is a given. But personalization needs to factor in other elements such as identifying the traveller’s preferred channel for communication, and on what device. Original and relevant content needs to be delivered as a perfect user experience. By creating a tailor-made product which combines these two components, travel firms can differentiate their brands in a crowded marketplace. Customers are open to new touchpoints that add real value to their needs, perhaps Amazon is the perfect example.
Another element to consider is that the best practices vary from vertical to vertical, which means that travelers might expect different information at different stages depending on whether they are engaging with an OTA, an airline, a hotel or a destination. Incorporating different content in the messaging across the touchpoints reinforces the perception that the suppliers are engaging with the traveler on the traveler’s terms. Being able to propose different content to different profiles (for example, depending on the country of origin), is also key to be more relevant to the users.
How airlines are doing it
Singapore Airlines offers its clients premium destination content, linking up with Smartvel to embed an inspirational trip planning tool to its main destination pages.
This innovative tool consists of a complete “live” agenda of the destinations, featuring static (such as the main sights and attractions, restaurants, tours) and dynamic (one-off live events, concerts, time-limited art exhibitions, trade fairs ) content. Users are able to select their travel dates, filter by preferences and make their own selection of items to start building their own trip itinerary and share it by email or social media with your trip companions.
Air Europa has also been “rethinking its touchpoints” with its customers and including Smartvel’s solution to propose what to do in their destinations. By prioritising the user experience in its design and ensuring that it is presented to the traveler at the appropriate touchpoint, the airline is able to add value to the passenger’s experience while enhancing its brand reputation. Air Europa includes a link in the booking confirmation email in order to redirect the user to the trip planner tool with the selected dates and destination already prepopulated.
Smartvel, the content solution provider responsible for both Singapore Airlines’s and Air Europa’s trip planning tool, is a five-year old company that has developed a unique technology based on big data and machine learning. This technology gathers, classifies, translates and geolocates all the “live” agenda of any destination in the world. It has been designed to work with any travel website or app and can be customized with the client’s look and feel and also incorporate the client’s own content or ancillaries. As well as travel suppliers, Smartvel can also work with cities and destinations, and is helping Buenos Aires to tap into the experiences requirements of visitors to the city.
By “rethinking touchpoints” we mean how the digital transformation creates new opportunities regarding customer-supplier interactions. With today’s available technology actual “moments of truth” can be better and companies can create new ones adding value in a real win-win scenario.