Special Report: Why driving loyalty through customer experience is the future

Digital marketing agency Qubit launched its Future of Travel report last month. Lee Hayhurst reports

Travel firms that don’t invest in trying to drive customer loyalty are probably spending more money acquiring them online.

While competition on price is unlikely to go away, customer experience will become increasingly important.

That’s according to Sergio Iacobucci (pictured), Qubit senior associate strategist, who cited Disney’s MagicBand as an example of good practice.

“A lot of people are saying brand loyalty is dead, that there are no true advocates,” he said.

“In my view, that’s not the case, it’s just a lot of companies have given up giving true customer experience. But the cost of providing that just goes into other areas of marketing such as reacquiring customers.”

Iacobucci quoted a Forrester Research finding that suggests two-thirds of customers switch brands because they have experienced poor customer service.

And he said it is often the little, inexpensive things that make the difference, as long as they are considered as offering value by the customer and are relevant.

“To retain customers you don’t need to offer mass discounts. It’s the small things you can offer along the way,” he added.

Iacobucci said the big topic in online retailing is the development of a ‘single customer view’, which is a representation of the data known by a company about its customers.

“Having a single customer view allows you to merge your digital experience with an offline experience and make it feel like a human touch,” he said.

“At this sort of scale, large brands need to use that data to allow them to do that.”

AI tipped to have profound impact on booking breaks

The next generation of intelligent technology will replicate the sort of human conversations that travel agents have with clients.

“Fully conversational” artificial intelligence could have a profound impact on the booking process, according to Brennon Williams, chief executive of Iridium Systems and Robotics Corporation.

It will allow systems to take account of circumstance and meaning beyond just the words used. It will evaluate voice pitch and rhythm, and facial recognition to determine context.

“You get so much more out of these conversations. This is not cold technology; it means conversations are very rich,” said Williams.

Glh fuses technology with human touch

London’s largest owner-operator hotel company, Glh, is meeting the challenges of the digital age by fusing technology and people to improve the guest experience.

It will launch a room booking site,, in May, offering Airbnb-style named ‘hosts’ with whom guests can interact.

This has been supported by installing ‘value centre managers’ below the general managers, who will oversee all areas of the guest experience and even manage pricing and marketing.

Digital transformation director Caroline Cartellieri said glh has to compete on customer experience and TripAdvisor reviews rather than paid-search on Google. “Pay-per-click search engine marketing is over for everyone except for those with deep pockets,” she said.

Glh owns Amba Hotels, Claremont, Every Hotels and Thistle brands.

2016 will be a ‘defining year’, the data will tell you, says Expedia

Having a good grasp on market data this year could be more important than ever given the challenges in the travel sector, delegates at the launch of Qubit’s Future of Travel report were told this week.

Andy Washington, Expedia managing director for northern Europe, told the event in London that July 8 is a crucial day for the industry.

This is two weeks before the start of the school holidays when legacy operators would usually hand over all their remaining inventory to their late sales teams.

However, Washington said the Zika virus in central and south America and the threat of terrorism, which is shifting demand to ‘safe’ destinations, is skewing the market meaning 2015 could be a “defining year”.

“The data will tell you that traditionally July 8 is the date that you should go and book your holiday. But this year it’s going to be very, very different. This year is quite a defining year for all businesses in our travel industry.”

Washington told delegates that analysing data to make sense of the vast quantities Expedia collects is at the heart of the firm’s strategy.

He said a successful test and learn business ethos must involve everyone in the company, be instant and be fun, the speed of change meaning “everything we do today will be different in six months time”.

That is why Expedia has adopted a strategy of constantly testing new hypothesis and learning and why it carried out over 4,000 tests in 2015 to make a succession of incremental improvements.

“We make small changes frequently,” he said. “Our customers are telling us how to run our business rather than the legacy top down model where the business tells you what to do.”

Expedia operates on a 120-day test and learn cycle and anyone in the business is able to run a test. The ideas are voted on to decide which are taken up and the results analysed.

“We have 700 data analysts. We use smart data. We all have data coming out of our ears, it’s how you use it, how you engineer it,” Washington said.

The Future of Travel Report includes contributions from futurist Glen Hiemstra, robotics expert Brennon Williams and senior executive from Expedia, Thomas Cook, glh Hotels, and Crystal Ski.

Produced in association with Travolution and Travel Weekly, it is available to download now for free from the Qubit website.

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