It is now a cliché to say that online retailers (and increasingly, multi-channel retailers too) have revolutionised the extent to which they can personalise and target products and services, and the marketing of these, to customers.
However, whilst travel suppliers (including suppliers of travel and hospitality services and content) were ahead of the brick-and-mortar retail industry with loyalty programmes, and were compiling big data sets on their customers before others caught on, they have not kept up with what the state-of-the-art can do when it comes to implementing a personalised approach to communication, interaction and service delivery.
It is of course important to note that some are ahead of others in terms of the maturity of their personalisation efforts, but, by and large, there would be little disagreement with the proposition that much more needs to be done.
Personalisation means products, services and communication targeted using a combination of known user preferences and unknown, or unstated desires that add ‘value’ to their experience. With this framework, there are three key aspects of personalisation that are relevant to travel suppliers.
The first is personalising the customer journey across channels. The travel lifecycle typically begins with a meta search and booking using a web channel followed by fulfillment/ delivery using the mobile channel.
The digital customer experience has become the key priority for travel suppliers, as it is now an accepted truism that apart from price wars that only one or two players can win, stellar customer experience is the only differentiator that will attract and retain customers. Smart, digitally empowered customers expect better, more innovative products, services and experiences.
Finally, analytics and metrics are critical to enable personalisation and to ensure that these decisions are taken on the basis of provable business cases.
Personalising the customer journey
Savvy travel suppliers match the personalisation throughout the entire customer journey. Looking across the researching-purchase-travel lifecycle, travel suppliers must be able to manage customer information across channels and steps, so that they are never forced to re-enter information.
Personalisation at the planning and research stage would throw up complimentary bundles like Air+Car, show what other similar customers have searched or purchased, provide destination information including special events, and, if the customer is already known, showcase customised bundles based on themes.
At the stopping and purchase stage, retailers should provide a choice of related products through upsell or cross sell, offer loyalty rewards or discounts, prefill personal and payment information, showcase offers based on custom filters from in-depth knowledge of the customer, and create and compare alternative offers.
Then, at the travel and experience stage, they should provide multiple real-time personalised alerts on predicted arrival or departure time, personalised alerts informing customers of the status of flight and hotel bookings and the next steps, and guidance within airport and hotel environments, as well as recommend complimentary offers like lounge vouchers, spa treatments and discounted items.
The digital customer experience
Virtually every part of the digital customer experience can be personalised. Basic personalisation includes background colours, wish lists, language, currency, stored payment data and personal information. Channel and communication preferences are typically applied to marketing efforts to provide targeted benefits to customers.
The next level of personalisation comes from associated offers that micro-target the customer. Content recommendations like landing pages, marketing offers, promotions and other items of interest resonate with customers, while the ‘mobile first’ approach that is becoming prevalent means that geo location combined with date, time and stage of travel can help create personalised messages and offers.
Finally, gaining a 360-degree view of the customer is an essential source for personalising and micro-targeting the customer experience. This can be in the shape of demographic, social, preferences, family, interests, hobbies, opinions and attitudes, gleaned from online and offline data – meaning that the days of crude bracketing based on ‘lumpy’ demographic and socio-economic classifications have given way to much more fine-grained knowledge of the customer.
Analytics and metrics
Analytics and metrics form the bedrock of any system of delivering personalisation on a sustainable basis. While analytics tools help to identify content and the next best action, metrics help validate the business case by instilling a practice of measuring all the changes in terms of business outcomes.
Analytics has two key elements: type of analytics and type of data. The most common type of analytics is segmentation on the basis of rules, behavior and products. With big data, traditional customer and transactional data types are being supplemented by social, geolocation, third party, weather and economic data that have the potential to fundamentally change how businesses interact with customers.
Analytics algorithms are also evolving to incorporate predictive analytics and machine learning. For example, these tools are helping travel suppliers gain the ability to engage with potential customers who have left without completing a sale and provide real-time help and information to passengers in the event of a disruption.
Metrics are perhaps the most important part of personalisation and often the most ignored as well. Measuring the success of a change or intervention using a controlled simulation completes the feedback loop for personalisation and helps create a business case for the change.
A/B testing is now commonly used as a tool to measure impact before a fully-fledged rollout – stories of how this is implemented are widespread. One large online travel company changed the colour of its ‘Book’ button on the website that then led to an uplift of a few million pounds.
Sourced from Adnan Saulat and Suman Nambiar, Mindtree