This article was first published in Customer Experience Magazine
When you think about the number one reason why customers book via AirBnB, you may be surprised to learn it isn’t to buy a low-cost product. In fact, it turns out their choice is based primarily on the desire to stay in unique, quirky spaces. And this is the travel industry’s articulation of a global phenomenon set to revolutionise consumer and services industries. Customers are evolving – and they want it to be all about them.
Our analysis shows us customers are turned off by the restraints of having a product, or even a ‘customer experience’, pushed at them by a company. Welcome to the world of Customer 4.0.
Customers want to be served with unique propositions and experiences, relevant to their specific universe, and designed to deliver their personal outcomes. Effectively, today’s customers want companies to help them achieve their personal goals, irrespective of product or price structures. And it’s happening across other platforms too – Uber, Spotify, even Amazon’s new drone logistics services.
How can business models based on standardisation succeed in a Customer 4.0 world?
Mass travel and tourism has long depended on standardisation of product, service, process and experience to protect the small profit margins prevalent in the industry. That intrinsically prohibits a Customer 4.0 approach because you can’t standardise a unique, personalised experience. Whilst hyper-personalisation is something that every hotel, tour operator, or cruise ship says they offer, it isn’t something the majority of the travel industry currently deliver.
To complicate matters, customers increasingly shop around and trust the recommendations and opinions of those in their universe, rather than a provider. This means getting it right is all the more important because these customers talk to each other. In fact, they’re hyper-connected.
So how can the travel industry respond to these changes? And more importantly, how can you capitalise on the opportunities presented by an increasingly engaged, but vocal and demanding, customer?
Improve your online experience to match customers' appetite for tech that works
Inevitably, companies will turn more to technology to help deliver truly dynamic sales and marketing experiences that demonstrate a customer-led approach. The customer will see the potential to receive an experience tailored to their individual goals. Cost, time available to research and the travel product itself will remain competitive factors, but exploiting technology to delight your customer online is a key attribute of a firm operating with a Customer 4.0 mind-set. Booking.com’s celebrated personalisation strategy, which puts knowing your customer and what they want at the heart of their sales strategy, is a case in point here.
Use technology to improve your product, not just your experience online
Going deeper than just online improvements, the industry must build further on the concept of dynamic packaging. Package holidays used to offer no flexibility whatsoever but now you can choose the number of nights you want to stay, flights, the type of accommodation you stay in and even buy ancillary products, such as excursions. But these developments are still based on predefined building blocks that do not allow customers to express their travel goals and does not dynamically define, source, package and price components into one individually unique experience. Tour operators, aggregators and disruptors in the travel sector need to develop a means to allow customers to do what they’re already doing through multiple, ‘toggled’ visits to different providers, through their own seamless platforms. This approach is critical to deliver to this new generation of customers.
Companies will increasingly use insight and analytics technology, maybe even deep learning, to better understand their customers. The drive will be to capture, analyse and build insights from customer data to personalise their offering.
This means more than their name in an email. The proliferation of weather data, voting data, wearable data and more, means businesses tackling this right now are the best positioned to gain a personalised picture of the customer like nothing seen before. This will enable you to meet customers’ expectations – as long as you then have the culture, process and systems to act on the insight.
Get really personal
The personalisation expected in a Customer 4.0 world isn’t just in the purchasing of the product, but the delivery of the product as well. The ability to respond with flexible and agile solutions that meet their specific need will make a real difference in the near, mid and long term. Hilton’s use of mobile devices as digital room keys is a near-term vision to remove the check-in process at times when you want to just flop straight into bed with no hassle. The future will be a one-stop-shop that allows you to buy one ticket for your autonomous drone taxi, your flight (and luggage), check in, and your return journey – all at one click of a button. Easier said than done, especially when you consider that PA’s Customer 4.0 insights tell us that 57% of customers don’t have a clear idea of what they want to buy when they start their purchase process. For travel organisations to progress towards this future vision, they need to understand how customers’ goals continue to evolve over time to decide how they’re able to adapt in line with these shifting expectations.
Real personalisation however, where the entire product is uniquely designed to deliver customers’ goals, isn’t something many organisations and technologies are geared up to do. But the coming three to five years will be a crucial time for travel organisations to transform so customers continue to engage and be fulfilled. Being able to deliver to this new wave of customers will mean a total revolution in transport, travel and hospitality business models, and some exceptional results for those who make it. Failure to respond to this challenge will mean many risk a decline into irrelevance. Exciting times ahead for the travel industry as we attempt to cater to Customer 4.0.