It’s no secret that digital experiences are what drive today’s consumer forward, and companies that don’t operate digitally are severely limiting their chances of maintaining a positive brand reputation. Not only are customers demanding more online offerings, but they’re also expecting those experiences to have the same level of individualized service that they would receive when working directly with a customer service representative.
This evolution has had a particularly strong impact on the travel industry, which once thrived solely on in-person experiences like booking trips through a travel agent, checking into a hotel at the reception desk and printing boarding passes in an airport. Now, the entire customer journey has become digitized – beginning with travelers researching flights and accommodations through search engines, booking selections through an app, determining an itinerary from popular recommendations, and finally recapping the entire experience through online reviews and social media. While they might not be engaging with the customer face-to-face, each step of this journey provides an opportunity for marketers to make the experience just as unique, personal and tailored to each individual’s preferences as it would be in person.
This shift from in-person to online is continuing at a rapid pace, particularly as a new generation of travelers emerge – one that grew up in an entirely online environment and expects near-immediate results. According to a recent report from ad agency MDG, 43 percent of consumers in the travel industry already use a smartphone to look for travel accommodations. In 2018, 83 percent will use a digital platform to book their travel, and more than 140 million U.S. adults will research their trip online. In order to keep up with this digital boom, businesses need to continue to provide in-person experiences online by catering to each user.
Understanding Customer Preferences
The problem, however, is that understanding customer preferences and expectations can be challenging. In fact, Monetate’s Second Annual Personalization Development Study revealed that the travel industry struggles to understand buyer behavior more than the retail or finance industries. However, the same report proved that when travel companies invested in personalization platforms to better understand the customer, they saw three times their return on investment.
This realization was made by the marketing teams of two Carnival Cruise lines – Cunard and P&O – who determined they needed to employ personalization if they wanted to maintain an advantage in an increasingly competitive market. Specifically, Cunard saw an opportunity to improve omnichannel personalization, while P&O needed to improve their mobile app experience. Both companies were able to successfully do so in three steps.
1. Identifying a traveler’s struggles and expectations
To begin creating better experiences for customers, brands need to first understand where they have flaws and where there is room for improvement. They can do so by reviewing and testing existing processes to ensure they work properly and efficiently meet the user’s needs. This process allows the marketers to understand the viewpoint of the consumer and identify where changes (if any) need to be made. It will also enable the marketer to more effectively anticipate what their customer’s expectations
are throughout the buying process to create a more seamless mobile experience. This is especially important in the travel industry where consumers expect impressive experiences to fuel their wanderlust.
For P&O, this meant resolving a continued bad experience with their mobile application. After testing their mobile app, the cruise line confirmed that potential customers were experiencing delays of up to 30 minutes in the checkout process. In parallel, Cunard was implementing a multi-channel marketing campaign with the expectation to increase traffic to their website and email newsletter. After reviewing the process, the cruise line’s team identified that their new influx of mobile users will expect a friendly, personalized and targeted experience related to the outlet they were directed from.
2. Selecting the appropriate tool from your martech stack
Many of the customer experience setbacks seen by organizations can be resolved by identifying the proper tool in a martech stack. Marketers often have an entire catalog of tools available – from programmatic ad platforms to content management systems and web analytics – to support their digital efforts. In order to make the best use of their toolkits, marketers must be able to effectively sift through their martech stack to identify the best fit tool for each problem. Once they’ve tested their processes and have a clear understanding of any customer challenges or expectations, the process of determining which tool will provide the most value is much more efficient.
To improve the delayed checkout page issue, P&O recognized that they needed a tool that could test and optimize each mobile experience. After selecting and implementing that tool, the team was able to reduce steps in the booking process by pre-populating suggestions for the potential cruisegoers based on data insights. For instance, 90 percent of all P&O bookings are done by two adults that are looking for one cabin, so the option for one cabin was automatically selected to shorten the process. The 10 percent of visitors for which this was not a good fit could change the option and choose a more suitable accommodation when checking out.
In Cunard’s case, the brand required an advanced ecommerce and A/B testing solution to help drive return on their high-impact, multi-channel marketing campaign. This tool allowed the cruise line to create a personalized, user and mobile friendly experience by testing what the potential shoppers would prefer and targeting them when the campaign went live. The team was then able to provide visitors with an experience catered directly toward them.
3. Measuring the tool’s impact on customer experience
As is the case with any new tool deployment, marketers must establish goals to effectively measure the impact of the implementation on their overall customer engagement strategies. The team should look at existing metrics – such as conversion rates, time spent on the website and current revenue – to measure against and monitor while the tool is being implemented.
For Cunard and P&O, this meant understanding the value of the tool they selected in not only solving the customer issues they faced, but also improving digital experiences overall. The results spoke for themselves: P&O saw data-driven changes which resulted in a 7.8 percent increase in the mobile conversion rate. The company has seen 12 times ROI after optimizing its mobile checkout page using the personalization platform. Cunard, on the other hand, was able to field 20,000 new prospects and convert more than 57 percent of visitors.
On top of finding a tool that can deliver results, marketers should also look for a vendor that acts as a strategic partner to provide specific, actionable insights to leverage the full power of their software. In the case of Cunard and P&O, not only did both teams realize dramatic improvements in metrics in just a few short months, but the marketing leaders also noted the value of having a professional services team at their disposal to assist with tool implementation and management specific to each cruise line’s needs.
Customer expectations are constantly evolving, and with competition in the travel industry only expected to grow, delaying in implementing a better digital experience is not an option. By identifying the challenges presented to them, selecting a tool that addressed the appropriate solution and measuring the overall impact, Cunard and P&O were able to create better, more personalized experiences for their customers. For companies in the travel industry that are still failing to create successful, individualized online experiences, it’s time to get on board with personalization.