From itinerary trackers to last-minute booking services, the travel app market is booming.
It’s estimated travellers now use 7-8 apps and web-based services to book a trip — meaning many travel operators have seen their customer engagement fragment as third parties take over the role of trusted advisor on the road.
What’s worse is that operators are also missing out on valuable data about customer interests, past booking history and future plans.
It’s a challenge forcing many travel operators to rethink their customer experience approach, with a focus on building their own digital experience rather than relying on borrowed platforms.
Stormy times for travel
While the growth of booking apps can be seen across a range of industries, they pose a particular challenge for the travel sector, which has had several rough years during Covid.
Travel operators have long relied on the relationships they either develop directly with customers, or through intermediaries like travel agents, to ensure they keep the lines of customer communication open.
And prior to the pandemic, it worked well — with 70% of the $46b inbound tourism market booked via travel agents who would then hand off that booking to the operator.
But things have changed.
Hundreds of tourism and travel businesses have either closed or downsized, agents have moved on, and apps have shouldered in to take their place.
Where apps were once an add-on to the travel experience, they are now the main game.
Booking.com is more downloaded in Australia than the Qantas app, and together with the juggernaut Expedia, claims to manage 60% of trips in the US and Europe.
Mapping app appeal
From a customer perspective, turning to an app to help manage a complex trip makes sense.
TripIT steps in to turn your bookings into an itinerary.
AirBnB not only offers accommodation but directs you to experiences and adventures.
WithLocals pairs you with a personal guide and PackingPro reminds you to pack enough socks.
From a provider’s perspective, there are also some advantages.
Just as hairdressing booking apps reduced the reliance of small business on receptionists, and car sales apps made it easier for dealerships to advertise inventory, global travel apps offer the promise of easier bookings and a wider pool of customers.
But the trade-off for that short-term gain can be seen in relationships and data.
Instead of customers picking up the phone, visiting a website, or arriving on a tour bus with a known intermediary, travel operators have found that their touchpoints with the customer have reduced.
The initial customer experience is out of their hands, and with it the chance to make a strong first impression. Booking tools also focus on multiple providers so would-be customers can be diverted to competitors.
The long-term loss of customer data is potentially more serious.
The key thing any organisation wants, is to capture customer insights — and to get those, you need an ongoing relationship.
While a booking app might provide a low-cost digital platform and a chance to sell to a bigger market, it also keeps most of that customer data out of the hands of the travel business.
So what are the options?
The key takeaway, if you are a travel business, is that you need to look at reclaiming your customer experience.
Own the communication channels
If that experience is taking place on digital portals and communication channels, then owning those channels is the first step.
That might include building your own app or redeveloping your website to make it easy for customers to get in contact, through chat, webforms or making sure contact details are easy to find, so that you can reach, engage and retain customers for the long term.
Optimise the customer’s experience
The second step is to ensure that your customer experience is first-class — across every potential touchpoint.
The advantages of outsourcing part of that experience to a contact centre provider will allow scaled levels of contact with customers, whether that contact is on email, or messaging and chat, or on voice channels.
It’s an approach founded on providing the people, processes and technology that businesses need to grow.
We know it is not enough just to capture customer contacts, you need a system that is seamless and responsive to handle the volume, and agents with the training and skills to make every customer experience superb.
Lead your strategy with data
The third critical step is to have a plan for the long-term, using the insights you are collecting about customers to inform the way you do business.
That might mean tracking and analysing contacts and conversations so you can do more of what your customers love — and avoid things that customers hate.
If that interaction all takes place off your platforms, you can’t learn and grow at pace, so reclaim your customer relationships, improve and monitor the customer experience and use the findings to build for the future.
After three rocky years, travel is back, and the opportunities are bigger than ever.
Having the people, processes and technology in place to take advantage of those opportunities is now the next big step.
TSA are Australia’s market leading specialists in CX Consultancy and Contact Centre Services. We are passionate about revolutionising the way brands connect with Australians. How? By combining our local expertise with the most sophisticated customer experience technology on earth, and delivering with an expert team of customer service consultants who know exactly how to help brands care for their customers.