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Liz Barnsdale

Harnessing customer data in the travel sector

The travel sector is not immune to the rapidly changing customer landscape. A change that has been accelerated through the use of ever smarter, faster and cheaper technologies that work with and harness the power of data.

Customers now expect more from all brands they interact with; more immediacy, more recognition, more tailored service, more of everything. They set their benchmark relative to the best service experiences they receive. Anywhere. Regardless of sector. Meaning the competitor set just got a whole lot wider, where the likes of Amazon and Google become the brands to watch.

So how can travel brands capitalise on their customer data to stay ahead of the crowd?

The travel sector isn’t short of data – it just needs to know where to focus

For many years travel brands have been in an enviable position compared to many sectors. Customers readily handing over their personal details, travel intentions, departure preferences and more, all for a long weekend in Paris or a fortnight in the sun.

Yet sitting on a lot of data isn’t in itself powerful. Power comes when brands identify the ‘signal in the noise’ (Nate Silver). The ‘signal’ being the meaningful data that is going to provide the value balance between what’s right for the customer and right for the brand.

Understanding the signals is reliant on having a clear customer and business strategy from the outset. It’s not about starting from the point of asking ‘what data do we have and what do we do with it?’

Know the customer
The starting point is knowing who the customer is, where they are, and what they expect from their interaction with their travel provider. Aligning this with the brand’s purpose and role will help them achieve their aims and ultimately achieving business success.

Mapping out the customer’s end-to-end travel experience with the brand helps to identify where a brand is data rich, and where there are noticeable gaps that need to be plugged. Recognising that an end–to-end travel experience doesn’t just start the moment someone gets on a plane, and end the day they fly back. Planning a trip takes investment of time and emotion. Experiencing the trip is then another phase of the overall experience. And the memories that come home with us and we share with others completes the cycle and begins to inform the ‘what next’.

It’s no wonder then that TripAdvisor, having successfully built a data-rich, customer-first platform, are now expanding into direct booking proposition. TripAdvisor has built a reputation on being there at the planning and memory stages of a traveller’s experience; with a simple value exchange of data and engagement for advice and recommendations. And now they can more immediately direct our decision to buy – and gain incremental revenues as a direct result of that.

There is no destination for customer data management. It’s a never-ending journey
TripAdvisor’s simplicity of purpose from the outset shows what a clear customer and business strategy can achieve. Now the world’s largest online travel website, TripAdvisor’s founder and CEO Stephen Kaufer, has been open about how they’ve achieved their success.

His advice rings true for all companies grappling with how to make use of their customer data. ‘Be ready for change.’ For there is no ultimate destination other than an acceptance that you need to move quickly and be prepared for constant iteration.

Ultimately brilliant communications are simple stories, told well 
The best travel experience I ever had was courtesy of Audley Travel. Why? Because they listened to me and communicated simply and consistently throughout my entire experience with them.

They captured data on me and used it to deliver a personal service second to none I’ve received before. And Audley remained true to their brand. Yet the trick for travel brands like Audley, as we face an ever faster, more connected customer future, is to take that brilliance in personal service and make it work for them at scale, quickly. And I currently struggle to find travel brands that have successfully been able to deliver that consistently at every touchpoint.

KLM has been at the forefront of some beautifully personal social moments. Airbnb has built a brilliant proposition and data-driven utility. And whilst I’ve held TripAdvisor up as being a success story they do sometimes struggle to find the right balance between content and commerce in their communications.

So the good news is there is still a huge opportunity for travel brands to step forward and deliver a compelling customer experience that is powered by their customers’ data. I just sincerely hope someone does it before Amazon or Google steal the march

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