A Journey Through Travel Data

When I was growing up travel was controlled by agents, the gatekeepers of secret algorithms, and consumers were limited in their ability to navigate the hidden world of airline rates and hotel pricing.

Like most industries, the Internet has forced travel companies to take a more customer-centered approach to both marketing and data strategies. Consumers have a great deal of control over their travel experiences. Social media influencers, customer reviews, flight trackers and alerts, and travel blogs has made the old-fashioned travel company experience almost obsolete for most of the general population.

Today, the overall trend is increased customer control. In order to stay relevant, travel companies need to leverage data and technology to get their products to the right traveler, at the right time, with the right message.

Follow the Path to the Data

Travel providers have a wealth of information to enhance their customers’ buying experience, including trails of metadata around reservations, inquiries, itineraries, bookings and customer feedback. However, they must use inventive approaches to harness new technology, understand and use traveler preferences, search history, personal reviews and comparisons.

It’s a known fact that the more a travel service provider knows about a potential traveler, the more targeted the customer experience can be. That said, companies successfully using travel data to strengthen the customer experience have the developed ability to gather, analyze and interpret data into meaningful knowledge of their customers.

The Fork in the Road

In order to deliver on a data-led marketing strategy, first, of course you need the data. Consumers have become adverse, and for good reason, to providing personal information to companies, including travel providers. What you must show them is that you aren’t just collecting data for marketing purposes or to sell to other brands, but that you WILL create a more fulfilling experience for them by knowing their preferences and interests.

By focusing on three main aspects of your customer interactions, you can evolve your data marketing strategy to reflect a more personal and trustworthy approach to the customer: the customer journey, customer experience and customer feedback.

Customer Journey: Partaking in the Adventure

There are very few industries that require as much research and investment before making a purchase as the travel industry. 95% of travelers read a minimum of 7 reviews before choosing a trip. To enhance customer experience, it’s important to understand customer preferences, interests, online activity and behavior, or moreover to understand the customer journey from initiation to completion.

But what is the journey? Imagine the customer journey as a cycle. As customers move through the different stages of the journey- initial interest, research, purchase, social media sharing, and eventually re-purchase, they experience different needs and frustrations, which depend heavily on their experience at each stage.

What can you do with all the data that you have on your customer digital footprints and engagements along the journey? Ask yourself, what is the purpose for the journey? For example: 43% of business trips are “bleisure,” with people extending their trip to add some vacation time. Providers can target these travelers based on both sets of interests, showcasing their full range of capabilities while also expressing individualized attention to the customer.

Customer Experience: Feeling the Journey

As you can see, the travel experience for the consumer begins long before they actually embark on their travel. Since most travel is now booked online or through mobile, slow or hard to navigate websites, bad mobile apps or no app option at all (gasp) are major pains points customers may experience throughout their journey.

Approach your company as a consumer would. If they searched your business online, what would they find? Where would they find it? How easy would it be for them to find this information, to navigate your website (in foreign languages or currencies!), to contact someone, to make a purchase? If this information is not quickly visible to the consumer, they can get easily frustrated and impatient. With all the option for travel at their fingertips, they will just move on to the next option.

Customer service should also be factored into the overall experience. Is help available? Also, is your UI user friendly? Are you sending too many emails, not enough? What can you do to simplify the overall experience so that the journey can continue uninterrupted and with the pleasure of knowing what is to come.

Customer Feedback: Sharing the Journey

Travelers love to leave feedback, and travel pros are discovering ways to aggregate this feedback into useful, insightful data. 76% of travelers post vacation photos to social networks, and 52% of Facebook users surveyed said their friend’s photos inspired their own travel plans. Companies can see this as an opportunity for free marketing by encouraging their consumers to share photos and reviews, and interacting with them online as much as offline.

Companies need to be aware of the bad along with the good, and soliciting positive feedback needs to be a part of your overall strategy. Remember, feedback and social sharing often crosses multiple platforms, positive incentives “to share their experiences on popular social media” not only help you gain the trust of your customers but may give you better access to their data.

Remember: feedback can be a double edge sword. Through social media, the reputation of a brand is no longer only solely in the hands of its creators. Therefore, social media management is just as critical as your separate marketing and advertising practices.

Follow the Data Trail

Companies can now follow the trail of data to create personalized customer journeys. Understanding what a customer wants to hear, and how they want to hear it, leads to decreased marketing cost, and and overall greater customer retention and loyalty. This, in turn, leads to higher levels of customer feedback and a more positive brand reputation. Additionally, you’ll find a stronger likelihood of referrals, increased profits, and the big win: an overall better customer journey.

Rockford Hunt is a long time Marketing professional. For the last 15 years he has been helping corporations launch that next big idea. If you would like to discuss your next big idea, or for any other development needs you may have, contact 310-993-7625 or rock@rockfordhunt.com