Driving Customer Loyalty in an Increasingly Commoditized Travel Industry

This article originally appeared in Forbes

Adding Airline Value

Customer loyalty in the travel industry is not what it used to be. With increased transparency on comparative prices and easier access to booking tools, travelers are increasingly loyal to those that provide the best prices and experiences.

After attending PhoCusWright’s Travel Innovation Summit in November, we noticed how appropriate the summit’s theme of “cult of context” is in today’s market. Travel organizations can no longer afford to be generic, attempting to appeal to everyone. Customers expect contextual relevancy and companies are expected to deliver.

If I’m on a business or leisure trip to Asia, it’s acceptable for me to want to know every detail about cost, flight routes, class of service, location and amenities. A few years ago, I’d have to cross-reference this information between books, multiple websites and calls to travel agencies. Today I expect the most optimized solutions tailored to my individual needs. After all, in a hyper-connected world, why would I settle for anything less?

The key to winning in a commodity-based landscape is to offer a contextual experience without increasing marginal overhead or sacrificing brand equity. This sounds simple enough and in many instances it is. Knowing where a user is going, when they’re leaving, and why they’re traveling is now par for the course. Matching this information with user interests remains difficult.

Below are three ideas we have to help do just that. Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section of this article:

1. Pay Attention to Their Data
A customer’s data is more readily available today than ever before. Capturing the information needed to know your customer is female, from Beijing, 43 years old, works for a Fortune 500 and enjoys hiking in her spare time isn’t rocket science—API plugins to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms have made this simple. Overlaying this information onto your preset messaging and up-selling suggestions is challenging. Target’s ability to accurately guess a teen pregnancy is an extreme example, there are many less complex ways to let your customer know that on her journey she can hike Mt. Rainer on her day off in Seattle or enjoy Yelp’s highest-rated Seattle sushi after she checks into her hotel.

2. Speak Their Language
Fact: seventy-two percent of customers prefer to make a purchase in their own language. This isn’t to say that customers don’t understand English (although English is not the primary language in fifty-seven percent of the fastest growing markets). This simple means that customers want to know that you’re paying attention to their needs. Traveling is stressful no matter where you are in the world and if people aren’t speaking your primary language, it can be even more daunting. If you’re dealing with a customer in an emerging market or an established market, it’s critical to not only recognize their native tongue but to demonstrate that you appreciate it. This leads us to our final point…

3. Change Their Perception
In today’s global economy formerly distant cultures are connecting through new mediums faster than ever before. This could leave your brand exposed to misinterpretation as your messaging travels from one culture to another (we’ve seen plenty of corporate ads get mistranslated). As you’re working on anticipating your customers needs don’t shy away from trying something new and potentially resetting the watermark. Dropbox did this by giving away free storage and charity:water did this by asking their members to donate their birthdays. The travel industry is notorious for pushing the same holiday-centric buttons over and over. That’s fine, but it’s not going to change a customer’s perception of your brand.

Making an impression in today’s world requires taking a risk. Just make sure the risks you take are in context otherwise your just another meaningless product and the only way you’ll win is price.

In an increasingly commoditized travel industry, what else are we missing? What would you add?

Ryan Frankel is the CEO of VerbalizeIt, the company that connects businesses and travelers directly to a 17,000-person translator community to deliver real-time quality translation. He is considered an expert on global communication and international customer engagement. Ryan is also a Wharton MBA alumnus, former private equity investor for Goldman Sachs and an endurance athletics enthusiast. You can reach him via e-mail at ryan.frankel@verbalizeit.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *