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Every transaction between a customer and a travel or hospitality brand enables that brand to learn and understand more about that consumer. And when it comes to interacting with that customer, those hotels and airlines have an opportunity to solidify and deepen that relationship even more with real-time, personalized engagement.
But with the flood of digital offers and advertisements comes the challenge for brands of being relevant and truly engaging to the customer – nurturing that relationship via all touchpoints and throughout the customer journey to cultivate true brand advocates.
With privacy concerns in the spotlight, loyalty and engagement experts say travel and hospitality brands can still execute on real-time, personalized interactions without being intrusive with the customer.
Relevancy Has Greater Influence on Customer Interest
Dave Andreadakis, Chief Innovation Officer for Kobie, says that relevancy may have a greater influence on customer interest than privacy after the pandemic. While privacy is always a concern, he says changing customer behaviors indicates that customers are willing to allow their information to be used as long as it benefits them.
“Brands that seek to advance their product by helping the customer through pain points are less likely to be seen as intrusive, while brands that seek to promote their products out of context and out of sync with the timing of customer needs will be seen as irrelevant,” Andreadakis says. “This is not unique to T&H; it is something we see across all industries.”
Natasha Janic, Product Marketing Manager for Industry Marketing at Salesforce, says brands must first ensure that they’re transparent about the data they’re collecting with very clear opt-in prompts.
“The biggest thing to avoid is having a customer say, ‘How did this brand know that about me?’” she says. “In addition to that, they should focus on using that data to improve the customer experience – consumers are a lot more willing to share their data if it means that they’re getting a more personalized and enjoyable experience.
Building on Foundation of 1st Party and Zero-Party Data
Guy Cierzan, Managing Partner at ICF Next, says the starting point for delivering real-time, personalized interactions is built on a foundation of 1st party and zero-party data, trust between brand and customer, and value exchange from the brand to the customer.
“Technology-enabled customer data, accessible and actionable in real-time, is required for executing personalized interactions,” Cierzan says. “Customers willingly provide data and opt-in allowing their data to be used if there is a high level of trust established with how the brand will secure, protect and use the data — with a clear value and benefit back to the customer based on how their data is used.”
Jon Fjalstad, Senior Vice President and Group Account Director at The Lacek Group, says consumers willingly exchange personal information for relevant, valuable brand interactions. Today, he says, that means addressing travelers’ post-pandemic concerns about health safety, local travel restrictions, and financial considerations.
“It’s also smart to focus on small but meaningful touchpoints. For example, welcome Platinum members back during their first post-pandemic trips and make sure interactions are timely,” Fjalstad says.
He also points to the need for brands to mitigate any “creep factor.” Don’t list what you know about customers, Fjalstad says, but do personalize communications and offers.
“You may know a traveler’s risk tolerance and a state’s vaccination rate, but get straight to the point: ‘Travel to Hawaii, with no quarantine period,’” he says.
Best Practices for Ongoing Engagement with Customers
Our panel of industry experts details several best practices that travel and hospitality brands should consider when developing an ongoing strategy to engage with their customers in real-time across touchpoints.
From a strategic perspective, Cierzan says travel and hospitality brands need to engage with an omnichannel lens to ensure that customer interactions via different touchpoints are consistent and work together to provide a seamless level of engagement for the customer.
For example, he says that data driving the digital experience on the brand app or brand website needs to work cohesively with the experience delivered by front-line staff.
“As the same customer may from moment-to-moment be engaging in real-time across both digital and physical spaces,” Cierzan says.
With our increasingly polarized world, Fjalstad suggests avoiding any possibility of “triggering” customers. For example, vaccines have let travel rebound, but how a brand talks about vaccines can make all the difference in how messaging is received.
Fjalstad says a poll by de Beaumont Foundation and pollster Dr. Frank Luntz revealed Americans are open to “vaccine verification,” but not vaccine passports.
“Your brand’s messages can be the difference between customers deepening their relationship with your brand or dropping it altogether,” Fjalstad says.
Data Strategy is the First Step in Real-Time Personalization
Janic suggests a foundational data strategy is the first step in any real-time personalization effort. Make sure you have a unified view of customers across their different interactions — from their browsing history to the booking experience, traveling, and beyond.
“Once you have that, identify which touchpoints are most relevant to specific customers and when,” she says. “If you’re running a week-long promotional offer, sending that via email is probably best.”
However, Janic advises that if it’s something that is more time-sensitive or location-dependent, then that’s the communication you’d send via SMS or push.
When it comes to engagement best practices, Andreadakis says travel or hospitality brands should move beyond seeing their brand as the center of the customer experience. He says thinking about the broader customer ecosystem allows brands to understand what moments will have the greatest impact on customer engagement.
“For travel brands, this means that sometimes the most impactful moment is out of their control. The customer sees the entire journey as one experience,” Andreadakis says. “Taking the flight has the same importance as their experience traveling to the airport, their time at the airport, lounge access, etc.
For example, he says many brands used the low traffic time during the pandemic to invest in upgrading customer-facing systems.
“Leaders in the industry will be looking to integrate information about the customer throughout each of these experiences, not solely to get more information to market to them, but to create as seamless of an experience as possible,” Andreadakis says.
Advice on Leveraging Loyalty Programs and Customer Experience Initiatives
But as the travel and hospitality industry slowly emerges from the pandemic, loyalty and customer experience experts offer sage advice on how brands should leverage their loyalty programs and customer experience initiatives to engage travelers with real-time messaging and offers.
As brands focus on the customer experience and ushering them through pain points, Andreadakis advises they start from a position of helping the customer rather than a continuous upsell cycle.
He cites, for example, that customers often get notifications that gates have changed or that their flight is delayed before a gate agent even has the opportunity to make an announcement.
“Suggested changes and offers that put the customer in a better position at this time will be much better received than random messaging throughout their trip,” Andreadakis says. “Even if no offers are made throughout the journey, helpful communications begin to disarm the customer and make them more likely to positively receive offers later in that same channel.”
As brands emerge from the pandemic and build back demand, yield, and occupancy, Cierzan says those valuable assets stand ready to propel a strong recovery.
“Loyalty programs provide a bounty of high-value customer data that can be leveraged for engaging travelers with real-time messaging and offers,” he says. “Mining behavioral, transactional and declared data to predict future travel and destinations can provide ample jet fuel for activating highly targeted and relevant messaging and offers.”
Unleashing Pent-Up Demand of Loyalty Program Members
Cierzan says prioritizing and unleashing the pent-up demand of loyalty program members should be a strategic imperative for every travel and hospitality brand.
Existing programs and engagement activities are based on a brand’s knowledge of customers, but, Fjalstad says, now’s the time to leverage customer data, revisit program and campaign constructs, and reestablish customer relationships in a recovery environment.
“Be sure to fortify micro-segmentation strategies by enhancing member profiles to include, for example, vaccination verification, risk profiles, and preferences,” he says. “And leverage external signals that impact travel—for example, case rates, travel restrictions and relief.”
That means diversifying engagement opportunities to favor leisure travel and non-travel earning until business travel returns.
“Increase program flexibility to acknowledge a slower earning pace and help members understand what these changes mean,” Fjalstad says. “And be sure to recognize customers in the moments that matter, for example, when they reach a new status level or when they redeem an award.”
Janic says loyalty programs are a great way to capture more information about your customers, and unifying this data with everything else you know about your customer is going to be critical in delivering the experience they expect.
“The pandemic will potentially hit the reset button when it comes to loyalty in travel and hospitality,” she says. “While business travel is going to be slower to return, many consumers are cashing in their points for leisure. This leaves the door wide open for them to change their preferred airline or hotel.”
Janic says that brands need to be thinking about how to engage customers beyond points and miles and focus on making this return to travel especially memorable.
“This means taking all of the data they’ve collected, bringing in program partners, and using that to really differentiate the entire travel experience with things like exclusive access to shows and events, or restaurant reservations.”
Thank you to our expert panel:
Natasha Janic, Product Marketing Manager at Salesforce
Find out more at salesforce.com
Jon Fjalstad, Senior Vice President at The Lacek Group
Find out more at lacek.com
Guy Cierzan, Managing Partner at ICF Next
Learn more at icfnext.com
Dave Andreadakis, Chief Innovation Officer at Kobie
Learn more at kobie.com
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