The travel industry has changed rapidly in the last ten years, which is most easily seen by how customers research and book their upcoming holidays or business trips. In the past, everyone used travel agents, then with the advent of Google and other similar search engines it became much easier to research accommodations, flights, and activities. Travel specific sites like TripAdvisor made it even easier for travellers to quickly price check a variety of hotels, check out reviews and see what the best restaurant options are in proximity to their chosen accommodation.
The travel industry has changed once again in the last five years alone with a move from desktop searches to those almost entirely performed on applications, now used as the primary source of info. Now at the click of a button on your smartphone, as you sit on the couch watching television, your hotel accommodation can be set up in a matter of seconds. This is no different for flights. Popular airlines have also capitalized on the ease of app use and have worked to make theirs as efficient and bug free as possible.
The major digital customer experience trends that have arisen in the travel industry to date are: a move to mobile apps, the use of artificial intelligence in the form of chat bots, and social media marketing.
The Move to Mobile
The airline and accommodation sectors have quickly realized the importance of the need to move from web-based platforms to mobile based applications, and that customers must be able to seamlessly transition between the two. However, anticipating how customers will interact between the two, or primarily on the app, can sometimes be a tricky process. This is where a customer journey analytics platform comes in. Apps do not always function optimally, and there are on occasion some bugs that must be worked out. But knowing why an error occurs, or where it is occurring in the research or booking process can sometimes leave IT departments coming up short and scratching their heads. The digital analytics from first click to booking, show the entire journey a customer has taken to get to the finished product, and ultimately what any travel related company wants – a booking. Some of the major airlines in the world have seen drastic increases in flight bookings simply by running specific diagnostic tests and following the customer journey which has allowed them to pinpoint all errors and increase revenue from app-based booking exponentially. Find the error, reduce and eliminate it, get more bookings – it is that simple!
The Advent of Artificial Intelligence
In terms of digital customer experience trends, we’re seeing a rise in the use of artificial intelligence in the form of chat bots. Just like some popular social media sites, travel sites are subject to algorithms designed to match customers with the most tailored information possible to enhance booking potential. This is where big data for smarter customer experiences comes in to play. If a chatbot asks a potential traveller what they are looking for and they respond with flights from New York City to Paris, France this automatically provides them with a destination. From there the chatbot can select the best available flights in terms of travel time, hotels that may be of interest, discounted activity packages, and more. As the customer clicks on the information provided, their digital path can then be charted and the results further refined by the bot, until almost exactly what the customer is looking for can be provided as a ‘best’ option.
Social Media Marketing and Influencer Culture
Social media marketing is employed more and more, especially on sites such as Instagram which often enlists the help of ‘influencers’ to depict the amazing travel experiences provided by their airline, tour group, or cruise line. As far as digital customer experience trends go, this is definitely one of the most noticeable.
Everyone wants to go on a glamorous vacation and take those Insta-worthy pictures full of magnificent sunsets, stark landscapes, and the obligatory beach pic. Yet, one thing that may not be immediately noticeable is that a lot of these experiences are actually sponsored by specific airlines or resorts in order to garner widespread social media coverage. Customers may or may not notice that as they click the geotag for the Maldives that all of a sudden, the top hits are those related to specific resorts or airlines.
Beyond being aware of the power of influencers, the travel industry has to provide excellent customer service on social media, as this is where unhappy travellers may turn to complain when they are faced with flight delays or lacklustre accommodations. Careful handling of these sorts of Tweets and comments can make the difference between earning a life-long customer or being lambasted on Buzzfeed.