This week, I’m on holiday. As a follower of my blog, you know that I quite regularly take a couple of days off. I live in Europe, where we have more holidays (on average) than some other regions. So with my head already "on" my next trip, I was intrigued by the results of the recently published report US Mobile Travel Bookers.
Mobile bookers are tech-savvy travelers who are willing to share their experiences by creating travel-related online content, like blogs and reviews, or uploading videos. In fact, four out of 10 online travel-related content creators are mobile travel bookers. Travel companies need to cater to this advanced group and support them in their travel journeys across devices. As my colleague Tony Costa shares in his report Build Seamless Experiences Now, "customers don't see individual touchpoints. Rather, they perceive the quality of a firm's services through their overall experiences. When disconnects occur, customer satisfaction takes a nose-dive."
Way back in January I spoke at the Luxury FirstLook conference put on by Luxury Daily in New York (a terrific event, by the way). Several of the other speakers intrigued me. One, in particular, gave a speech that I immediately wanted to bring to attendees at Forrester's Forum For Customer Experience Professionals East: John T. A. Vanderslice, the global head of luxury and lifestyle brands at Hilton Worldwide (those brands being Waldorf Astoria and Conrad).
Here’s one of many things John said that struck me: "Today's luxury buyers make investments of passion." That’s a far cry from the way customer experience (CX) practitioners usually talk about emotional engagement. But it struck me as an authentic way to describe super-affluent buyers who’ll pay to reenact the life of a Roman gladiator or to take a trek through the wilds of Nepal.
I ambushed John on his way out the door and recruited him to speak at our forum, which he did earlier this week. He was great. And he was also gracious enough to answer some questions that we posed to him, which we’re now happy to share with you.
1. When did your company first begin focusing on customer experience? Why?
Last week, we had the opportunity to have a conversation with one of the world’s, and certainly Canada’s, largest premier coalition loyalty programs, theAIR MILES Reward Program. It has penetrated two-thirds of Canadian households, with 10 million active Collector accounts in Canada. AIR MILES is also deeply entrenched in the mobile landscape, having launched the first coalition loyalty program app of its kind in Canada for mobile and tablet, which has since had more than 800,000 downloads. Here are a few nuggets from what we learned about Canada’s increasingly sophisticated mobile landscape:
Immediacy reigns. The most used feature in the application is real-time updates. Mobile phone users pull out their phone throughout the day to access real-time and geo-specific updates on deals and offers at nearby participating retailers. Activity shows that the habit influences the consumer’s decision about where to shop and drives in-store sales.
iOS users are the most active by far. Compared to Android and RIM users, iOS users are by far the most active on their mobile phones. More than 80% of the downloads are from an iPhone with that group being most active.
Mobile engagement drives ROI. When it comes to mobile,any engagement level is positive. This loyalty program found that when users engage with the mobile app, their in-store spend increases anywhere between 5% and 21%.
I was in the US this week, visiting our headquarters in Cambridge, and the topic of loyalty cards and loyalty programs came up. I live in the Netherlands, and although there are plenty of loyalty programs to subscribe to, the benefits aren’t any way near what you get from loyalty programs in the US. Because of that, I normally base my travel choices more on convenience and price than on the hotel chain or airline. But our North American Technographics® Travel And Auto Online Benchmark Recontact Survey, Q3 2012 (US) shows that this is different for US travelers.
US hotel travelers clearly see the benefit of subscribing to a loyalty program for the hotels they visit regularly. In fact, our data shows that about 40% of US online leisure hotel travelers belong to at least one hotel loyalty program. And those who belong to a hotel loyalty program are 10 percentage points more likely to recommend a hotel than leisure hotel travelers who are not part of a loyalty program.
However, the majority of leisure travelers who belong to a loyalty program are Gen X; younger travelers account for only a quarter of current loyalty program subscribers. Hoteliers who want to benefit from social sharing and recommendations should tap the potential of their loyal younger customers in particular.
We have just celebrated Christmas, but I’m increasingly looking forward to the Chinese New Year as this will be my first time spending the Chinese New Year in China in 12 years!
Reading the reports on how much US consumers spent this year during the holiday month made me reflect on what Chinese consumers do during their single most important holiday of the year — and how they spend their money. While the Chinese New Year is traditionally about celebrating the New Year with friends and family, in recent years an increasing number of people have chosen the unconventional route and used this time to visit other countries. According to Ctrip.com (quoted by Sina Finance), more than 50% of the packages to the US, Middle East and Africa, and Australia were booked two months before the Chinese New Year. And wherever Chinese travelers go, they shop: If you’ve ever seen a Chinese travel group’s itinerary, you will know that a couple of stops at a shopping mall or an outlet are usually incorporated into the plan.
When you fly nearly every week, you can get pretty bored on a plane. When I am sick of working, playing games, or watching movies, my latest distraction is checking out laptop screens. Sometimes I'm curious what movie you are watching but other times I am interested in what type of confidential company information you are displaying for the world to see. In the past few weeks I have seen the following types of information on my fellow flyer's screens:
End of year/end of quarter sales numbers
Disciplinary emails regarding employee peformance
Pre launch marketing information (which I presumed to be under embargo)
Competitive displacement information
Most of the time I suggest that my fellow traveler invest in a privacy screen, and most of the time they are receptive to the suggestion. It really is astounding how many people don't spend the approximate $30 on one. If your company doesn't issue them, I suggest you work to change that stance. World readable aren't the permissions you want on your laptop screen, time for chmod (UNIX joke).
Do you remember the last trip that you took? In this season, chances are that it was only last week or last month. As much as we love to travel, ideally for leisure, we are often overwhelmed by all the planning and coordination that are involved in the process — flights, car rentals, lodging, just to begin with. And if you are truly a planner, you want to add the places to dine, events to attend, and attractions to stop by to the itinerary.
Luckily, we are in the technology-centric era. We have websites, software, and devices that help us make life easier. Two companies that I recently came across, TripIt and Traxo, are designed to take care of travelers’ concerns. Much like TripIt, Traxo aims to simplifying travelers' lives by aggregating all of their travel information in one place, but it does so in a more elegant auto-pull manner versus an email push one. Traxo users just need to link their travel accounts to Traxo via a one-time, upfront process, and then Traxo automatically detects all of their trips, miles, and points and intelligently combines them into a single travel dashboard. It also allows members to share experiences with friends and possibly discover where they might have an overlapping trip with another.
Social media has forever changed the way travelers interact with each other and companies — and its use is still growing. Forrester Technographics® data shows that 26 million more US online leisure travelers use social media in 2010 than in 2008. In fact, leisure travelers are really connected to travel companies beyond booking: A high 41% of US online leisure travelers have become travel social fans (TSFs) by friending, following, or becoming fans of a travel company or destination on a social networking site like Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, or Twitter. But why do they do this?
As the data shows, discounts are a powerful motivator. One in three friends, follows, or fans travel companies and destinations to learn about the seller's offers and discounts. As a result, smart travel organizations will start using social networking sites as extensions of their Web sites for travel deals. Travelocity, for example, has a 'roaming gnome' on its Facebook page that offers and promotes the company’s "Deals Toolkit." JetBlue Airways has a dedicated Twitter account, @JetBlueCheeps, to push special deals. Who will follow with the holiday season coming up?
The recent recession has changed consumers' mindsets. They are more careful and prudent about how they spend their money on everything, including travel. But can price drive loyalty? What makes consumers feel valued? Forrester's Technographics® research shows that price and transparency of costs are indeed very important elements for travel companies to make their clients feel special, but these are followed by support statements like “Make me confident that any arising issues will be fixed.”
To increase loyalty and make consumers feel valued, travel companies should see beyond deals and extend their focus to include support. In a recent report on this topic 'Why Travel eBusiness Misses The Mark By Only Emphasizing Price' my colleague Henry Harteveldt gives an example of how a travel seller can use the recent Icelandic volcanic eruption to show affected customers they care, by offering them a special deal when they log into their account.
As Henry says, travel sellers must remember that they don't own the traveler; they earn the opportunity to serve the traveler from one purchase to the next. Fail and the traveler will consider your competitor — and price will likely provide the motivation to switch.