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Travel is often fraught with a lot of friction. Right from the beginning of the experience, customers are faced with stressful choices. They have to determine which air carrier to fly with, which hotel to book with, and which transportation services to buy once they’ve arrived at their destinations. Considering delays, cancellations, and other contingencies, travel becomes quite a daunting thing for most customers.
However, one global loyalty and benefits provider, Collinson, is focusing on creating frictionless, seamless experiences in the travel space. Loyalty360 recently spoke with Phil Seward, Senior Vice President of Loyalty Strategy for the Americas at Collinson Group, to hear his thoughts on how his company is achieving this goal.
“We recently interviewed loyalty program operators so we could understand our clients,” said Seward. “Then we combined this with research across our business and with feedback from clients. We found two things. One: we need to remove friction in the travel experience, improve CX and ease of use. Two: we’re seeing better opportunities for travel operators to collaborate. Together, with the right attitude, partners can make the airport experience more seamless and enjoyable and more profitable.”
Seward said that he believes that the travel experience, at least currently, is fragmented. Customers want a better method to interact with a brand in one place. Because of this, brands have an opportunity to improve loyalty by connecting customer data to predict, plan, and anticipate customer needs throughout their journeys.
He contrasted the airport experience of US travelers with other customer bases. “We operate globally,” he said, “but we generally find European and Asian airports are designed more towards an enjoyable customer experience, especially in retail and food and beverage. There’s a real opportunity to improve.”
He continued, “In the US, airports are more functional. The experience is typically, ‘Get you from the curb to the gate to sit and wait and do it all on time.’ In Europe, airports expose you to merchandise, holding passengers in the retail or food and beverage area. Collinson is focused on those aspects. We have investments in lounges, restaurants, and businesses that are innovating in the food and beverage and the duty-free space to improve the airport customer experience, and to reduce friction.”
Seward also discussed Collinson’s investment in Grab, a service similar to Uber Eats or Grubhub but specifically for airport restaurants. He said, “With the Grab app, you can search all available food options, order and pay through the app, and your food will be ready to pick up at a location in the airport.”
He continued, “With connecting flights, you often have limited time, so preordering food on the go is a great timesaver. We also have food-ordering kiosks outside restaurants. You can pick the food up at the location or have it delivered to you at the gate, or you can sit down at the restaurant, order your food on the app at a table, and settle the bill without a server. Through the Grab platform, we’ve driven integrations with pretty much all concessionaires, so we only have to integrate with one platform. This unlocks the opportunity to drive commerce.”
Seward believes that making the travel experience seamless and enjoyable through services such as Grab helps Collinson be proactive in its loyalty efforts. Other services, such as telling customers how long they’ll have to wait in traffic or airport security, also improve loyalty. “Loyalty is really at the heart of such efforts,” he said.
He pointed out that, in times of stress, customers will be very grateful for these benefits. “During disruption, you first want to know what’s going on, and a loyalty program app can help with that. It can even keep you from having to wait in a long line by giving you information, or it can arm inflight personnel with customer data to improve CX.”
Asked who is driving this strategic approach, Seward replied, “The customer is essentially driving it, customer expectations, and we recognize this. Travel feels like it’s an industry that’s ripe for evolution. We’ve got to get rid of antiquated, disconnected systems that make the customer experience difficult.”
He continued, “Large travel providers know they need to respond to customer demand, but it does take time. Startups are doing well, with the foresight to look into alternative experiences and technology innovation. They’ve increased partnerships. Collinson is doing that as well. We’ve started working with incubators, startup companies, and their innovation can bring value into established businesses.”
He also said that there’s a greater need for airports to drive non-aeronautical revenue opportunities. “Airports need to drive the customer experience,” he said, “not just functional services. There’s a huge opportunity to drive revenue per passenger up.”
He did admit that the technology needed to meet these opportunities can be challenging for airlines. “I would suggest that they be open,” he said. “My expectation is that we’ll continue to see more collaboration.”
He continued, “It’s critical that airlines invest in everyday engagement to drive loyalty. Loyalty programs provide brands an opportunity to offer this kind of engagement to customers. Airline currency, for example, is very desirable, and it means that airlines can build an everyday dialogue with customers.”
Seward concluded, “Airlines have to recognize the evolution of traveler needs. Younger generations are tech dependent. That’s a big shift for us. So, we can’t just provide technology as an alternative means of engagement. We have to provide primary tech means of engagement. Millennial customers want real-time rewards here and now. They don’t want to wait a year to build up points. We’ve got to understand and address how customer attitudes and needs are changing.”
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