With the growth of UK consumers purchasing holidays online, many have unconsciously experienced the digital customer journey - from choosing a destination, researching available hotels, reading reviews, to completing the purchase.
For the consumer, it’s simply finding and booking a holiday. This is a point travel agencies need to consider in planning their digital experience because – when researching and purchasing their trip - the customer is likely to go with the path of least resistance. Conversely, customers will steer away from sites that stop them doing this.
Agents therefore need to think about the steps they can take to enable and empower their customers to make a purchase rather than push them towards the competition. In short, they need to provide high-quality, contextual customer experiences.
Assist the customer as if they’re in front of you
Customers entering a high street travel agent have, at the very least, decided to investigate a holiday. If someone were to ask them what they thought of the store as soon as soon as they walked in, it would, at best, just disrupt an otherwise positive experience. At worst, it would send them straight back out the door - potentially into the arms of the competition.
Similarly to the overly-zealous customer assistant, "How can I help you?" chat pop-ups are disruptive and potentially damaging to the customer journey
The online store experience should be approached in a similar way to its high street equivalent, especially since 76% of all UK holiday bookings are now made online. Similarly to the overly-zealous customer assistant, "How can I help you?" chat pop-ups are disruptive and potentially damaging to the customer journey.
Instead, like the best stores, contextual help simply highlights that online assistance is available without being intrusive. If the customer has an idea of what they’re looking for, they’ll likely research and buy a holiday anyway. The contextual offer of customer service is a tool to help them if they need it, for example by providing guidance on the different types of available room.
Don’t forget mobile
Booking a holiday can be a long process, with many choices of destination, hotels and experiences to consider and research. According to research by Abta, many consumers now use their phones as part of that process, meaning it’s important to factor in a strong mobile presence.
Whether as a website with interactions developed to match the smaller screen or within a mobile app, customers readily use mobiles at opportune moments, such as during the morning commute. During this research period, consumers are arguably more susceptible to frustrations if their enquiries are interrupted by pop-ups asking if they need help, or inversely, if no help appears to be available.
Analyst Tiffani Bova described customer experience as “the last source of sustainable differentiation” and “the new competitive battleground”. Although originally referring to IT solutions, her insight applies to the travel industry too.
Given the screen size limitations on mobile devices, if the customer knows that they can access assistance that’s waiting in the wings rather than forcing itself upon them, they can allay any questions they may have about the booking and complete the purchase with confidence - an incredibly important factor given the emotional and financial commitment of a holiday.
Once the customer has researched and committed to the holiday and moved to the checkout, there is still an opportunity to engage with them in the right way. Personalisation of additional services, through effective data capture can enable travel agents to offer experiences that may be of interest. Alternatively, if they’re a returning customer, they can also potentially offer vouchers, such as free breakfast, for their loyalty. By engaging in the right way, rather than using this as a point to serve the dreaded "how do you find our website" pop-ups, travel agents have the opportunity to further upsell and grow revenue through additional products.
Analyst Tiffani Bova described customer experience as “the last source of sustainable differentiation” and “the new competitive battleground”. Although originally referring to IT solutions, her insight applies to the travel industry too. With UK residents having made 67.8 million visits abroad in the 12 months to July 2016 and spending on these trips reaching £40.8 billion over the course of the year, it is a great opportunity for those agents prepared to invest in engagement to find new ways to give customers a smooth experience which supports them every step of the way to buying their dream holiday.
It’s also food for thought for those who aren’t currently reviewing their online tactics. With such a wide range of holidays to choose from, consumers can afford to be picky and opt for those that give them the best service. And as consumer choice increases, it is a thought that agents can no longer afford to ignore.
Alf Saggese is managing director, Europe, Middle East and Africa, at Moxie, whose clients include Sandals, Great Rail Journeys, United Airlines and P&O Ferries.