These concierges knew the answer was focusing on the customer, on the relationship, on delivering that personalized touch that made them indispensable. And the good news is that this answer is still the same today. But now, the world is a lot more complicated.
Today, the travel industry is huge. The Adobe Digital Insights predicts that U.S. travelers will spend up to US$297.13 billion this year, and since the introduction of the Internet, smartphones, and social media, travel has become incredibly complex. For example, according to travel and technology company Amadeus, “the average traveler searches nearly 50 times online, makes 38 site visits, reads a dozen reviews, researches for 15 weeks.”
Each of these millions of interactions starts with one person, waiting for you to delight them. But it’s impossible to deliver an exceptional customer experience to every one of those individuals without a solid digital foundation.
Thus, travel companies are at a critical crossroads: They can build a digital foundation that allows them to understand and exceed the expectations of each customer, or they can miss the proverbial boat while other brands press forward.
“You can’t afford to be bogged down in tying multiple marketing solutions together. You require a complete digital foundation that enables you to assemble experiences on the fly, without compromising on security or privacy.”
a global vice president, Cognizant
“If booking was a great experience, but check-in wasn’t, then what have you accomplished?”
group product marketing manager, Adobe
Knowing there’s no time to waste, many organizations try stitching together different content, data sets, departments, and methodologies. And many, looking to stretch their budget, attempt a do-it-yourself approach, building only what they think they’ll need in the near future.
But a digital foundation serves experience brands best if it’s built from the ground up so every component works together seamlessly: analytics-based insights, content management, cross-channel delivery, and a unified interface. A patchwork system just won’t cut it in the long term.
And investing in this foundation with an eye to its effect on the customer journey pays off.
“Travel stress is introduced by unknowns,” says Devin Sung, VP of personalization at Marriott. “And it’s our job to solve it.” So Marriott dug deep in travel customer data, mapping information far beyond hotel stays—examining web searches, flight bookings, car rentals, room service, and other information that could lend itself to creating “predictable data points” for each guest.
By preloading these data points onto its digital platform, Marriott was able to chart its customer experiences and arrive at moments of delight, relief, and surprise. Simple gestures such as serving black coffee to a customer who always takes it black, or offering early check-in to a guest who always takes a red-eye, add up to beautiful experiences in the travel customer’s journey.
Marriott’s success reflects the fact that guests’ every digital interaction creates data that can then be used to deliver experiences, often via those same digital devices.
Mobile touchpoints in a travel day.
Content is a huge part of delivering on these expectations. And with a strong digital foundation, you can exceed them.
“The tactile process of touching and swiping and the immersive experience of video and high-quality imagery make [these apps] a more engaging, entertainment-focused encounter than a website or printed brochure.”
head of web & digital, Celebrity Cruises
With a unified digital platform, travel brands can have fun charting new territories in the personalized experience realm. For example, Marriott is finding ways on its app to personalize content—and the experience it leads to—based on a customer’s profile, habits, and the stage of their trip. Fitness gurus will hear about a hotel’s gym facilities, while those on a working trip can order room service at their conference table. With a unified digital platform, content and information are easy to customize and deliver at any stage.
“Smart devices are now everyone’s indispensable travel companion, as more and more travelers increasingly expect to have their needs satisfied using their mobile phone.”
senior vice president of digital, Marriott
Social doesn’t have to be a one-sided conversation, says Eddie Gonzalez, director of marketing strategy and analysis for SapientNitro. Rather, it’s the opportunity to nurture a relationship. Brands can anticipate and create opportunities for inspiration, like a share-worthy photo op. “This natural inspiration is more valuable when it comes from a friend, instead of being pushed out by a brand,” Gonzalez says. Thoughtful touches like “selfie spots” on a cruise ship or an inexpensive social-sharing wireless package for passengers can give customers a way to share their experiences—through their own personal lens.
Only with a strong digital foundation can travel brands harness the potential of social platforms to personalize these digital dialogues and engage with their customers. With the right tools, these brands can target outbound efforts, cultivate relationships from inbound posts and messages, and curate user-generated content that followers and friends will trust.
By building thoughtful digital foundations with an eye to creating these exceptional, moment-to-moment travel experiences, brands can forge lasting human connections with their customers. And they can find brilliant everyday ways to infuse comfort, convenience, and contentment into their customers’ travels.