Travel Brands Need Deeper Customer Relationships in Order to Emerge from COVID Well
By Mike Giambattista, Publisher, TheCustomer
By definition, Travel & Leisure brands are more personal to consumers than other categories. Thus, brand sentiment – both positive and negative – carries a disproportionate weight in purchase decisions.
It works both ways:
- Delight a customer in this space and gain significant emotional “margin”.
- Disappoint a customer in this space and brand equity dissolves very, very quickly.
Thus – understanding your customers’ expectations, their values, and their trust thresholds is vital.
As the world emerges from COVID lockdown and brands re-calibrate for the new paradigms, it’s too simplistic to prescribe that brands need to better understand their customer – that maxim is universal to any business that has customers. The difference rather, lies in the methods with which brands acquire that understanding – especially for travel & leisure brands.
The traditional methods of gaining customer intelligence (3rd party data appends, cookies, and cross-domain tracking) are not only inadequate to the task of creating true customer relationships, but they are now legally risky.
If the fulcrum of customer lifetime value relies on healthy, positive engagement, then it is incumbent on brands to initiate customer relationships in ways that reflect an authentic understanding of, and care for those customers’ values.
For so long, airlines, hotels, and others in the travel and leisure space have hidden behind loyalty as a proxy for their understanding of customer expectation, sentiment, and engagement. The behavior of airlines, in particular, exposed just how poorly they consider their consumers’ actual wants and needs, and a post-pandemic reckoning is coming. I, for one, will be switching from an airline where I have flown millions of miles and been a member of their highest, ‘secret’ tier, simply because of how poorly they managed my experience during the lockdown.
– Dave Frankland, Author of Marketing to the Entitled Consumer
Remember when turn-down service first appeared as a high-touch, added-value to your stay? How long did it take before that once-appreciated gesture morphed into an expectation? And then, how long did it take before it disappeared from the scene altogether? The point? Consumer expectations are always rising. Always. And brands are always, always chasing them.
But what if travel and leisure brands could get out in front of those expectations? What if there were clear pathways to gain insights that illuminated customer expectations ahead?
Premise #1) Your guests have a very good, and in some cases, inflated view of their importance to you. They know you need their business. They know you want their data. And, for the most part, they are willing to be fair in their dealings with you for it.
But that willingness is predicated on brands’ ability to engage with them in an exchange of fair value.
Case in point – VisitScotland had an existing pool of visitor data but lacked the contextual insight that could help them to understand the most important touchpoints and felt-benefits that would drive deeper engagement and visits. Through a simple interactive quiz that was embedded into the VisitScotland website, users were guided through a “conversation” which, over time, built a detailed profile of their preferences, expectations and travel dreams – all offered up freely in exchange for rewards and visit experiences.
Premise #2) De-risking the customer engagement process also improves the granularity and the efficacy of the data gained through that process.
Consent-based data capture does both. Basic relational principles indicate that trust-based communication encourages transparency and depth in the relationship. But the opposite is also true – relationships that are purely transactional lack the depth and resonance that allows for deeper levels of commitment and loyalty. Since consent-based data can only be captured directly from a consumer, it goes far beyond clickstream and other “traditional”, less transparent data sources. This data is also rich, actionable, and can create strategic differentiation for travel & leisure brands.
Premise #3) Customercentricity initiatives won’t get you there and too many customer experience efforts under-deliver on the basic promises of improving engagement and understanding.
Pro-active transparency, authenticity, and congruency with your customer values will produce much more than solid, actionable data. That kind of approach to customers and prospects produces relationships with people who choose to become your customers. When consumers are offered a fair value exchange for their preferences and intent motivations, this mutually beneficial environment entices consumers to want to share and engage more.
Perhaps more than in most categories, travel and leisure brands are dependent on understanding and meeting the emotional expectations behind customer purchase decisions. It is nothing short of imperative then, that these brands recalibrate their outreach & acquisition efforts to correspond with those values – the foundation of which is trust.