More and more travel-related online searches, bookings, and payments are being made via mobile devices – m-commerce. But how can merchants operating in this thriving sector keep pace with shifting customer needs?
We all dream of jetting off somewhere exotic – especially when vacation season has just ended – a fact that is overwhelmingly reflected in our online behaviors.
When there’s so much choice, so many different destinations, types of accommodation, and ways to get somewhere; we need all the help we can get. Luckily, when our need for inspiration strikes, we have our trusty smartphones – our on tap advice portals for, well, pretty much any piece of information we need.
From a travel company’s perspective, in such a crowded marketplace, how are you going to stand out? Travel is big business: a trillion dollar industry. Reports show that as an industry, travel accounted for 10.4% of global GDP in 2017. There is plenty of need and opportunity. But differentiating your business from the competition requires a more tailored approach. A journey, a customer journey that creates a sense of excitement from the very first screen tap.
According to a McKinsey report, smartphones account for 42% of all travel-related requests: a number which continues to rise every year. Also, the average customer sifts through some 50 different online channels – across desktops, tablets, and mobile devices – resulting in around roughly 100 pre-booking touchpoints. Or in other words, 100 opportunities to make your company stand out.
A Google report on mobile usage identifies several travel-related ‘micro-moments’ when smartphone users are concerned with either dreaming about, planning, booking, or experiencing vacations. While these ‘moments’ could be seen as a customer journey ‘blueprint’, knowing how to optimize them from an m-commerce perspective relies on travel businesses being able to offer something unique for each interaction.
From a customer journey perspective, it is imperative that travel brands offer consistent, contextually relevant messages to coincide with travelers needs at different times. There are numerous ways that brands can do this – the Google report details how Etihad airlines displayed live flight information as search ads and how Red Roof Inn once targeted delayed passengers at a nearby airport. But the customer journey stretches way beyond mobile ads.
The marketing mix has numerous ingredients. Brands are increasingly turning to social media, SMS, and messaging platforms as customer service channels. What these platforms offer – over and above intelligent mobile-optimized ads – are an opportunity to begin customer conversations. Additional research shows that 72% of smartphone users look for the most relevant information – they don’t search by brand or even by destination per se. They are more loyal to their needs than to any particular company. To make the most of this opportunity to influence, brands must ‘be’ where the customer is. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to offer an on-demand messaging service that caters to your business’ specific part in the overall traveler customer journey.
Case in point: the Four Seasons hotel group, which (as we wrote about here) is using Apple’s new Business Chat platform to allow guests to search for different hotels and make multilingual inquiries. And technology is now sufficiently advanced for a lot of customer Q&A to be automated. Marriott uses AI-powered chatbots at nearly 5000 hotels to do things like make reservation changes and check on account balances or redemption vouchers. Hotel text messaging has become increasingly popular too; for everything from concierge services to exclusive customer deals.
It is this fusion of utility and branding that makes for lasting customer loyalty. And as an increasing number of messaging services are integrating payment platforms, the path to purchase is becoming even shorter. Other than a house or car purchase, a vacation remains one of the biggest single spends a consumer will make. But in a similar way to a retail purchase, the ‘goods’ largely remain unseen until the customer arrives at their destination. As a result, unless they have strong preferences, customers remain open to suggestion on all manner of details. This gives travel brands even more opportunity to offer insight and optimize the customer experience.
From a mobile perspective, integrating a messaging service within the wider tapestry of digital touchpoints could well be the linchpin needed to transform the experience from an information-based one to a personalized travel planning service.
When researching travel choices, it seems customers want flexibility and spontaneity. Smartphones allow that, but to truly add value travel brands need to find a way to facilitate personalization. To get this right, they need to first understand how consumers research vacations and provide them with useful information in a way that matches their immediate needs. And as machine-learning, Artificial intelligence, Virtual and Augmented Reality are making their way into mainstream technologies, travel and hospitality industry trends and innovations are only going to get more interesting – both for brands and consumers.
Here at Mesaic, we specialize in conversational commerce and work closely with companies across a number of different industries to help them improve their online customer experience. Talk to us about ways we can help improve digital engagement for your travel or hospitality brand.