Opinion: Who benefits from technological advances?

Opinion: Who benefits from technological advances?

Customers need reassurance that travel providers have their best interests at heart, says Waseem Haq, digital and innovation director at Travel Counsellors

Following Travel Weekly’s report on the Competition and Markets Authority’s enforcement action against hotel booking websites last week, it’s clear that continuous advances in technology have enabled a quick and easy way to book travel online, but the question remains, how is it benefitting customers?

Alongside the CMA’s statements against some hotel booking websites, whose claims include displaying hotels with higher commission rates more prominently on search results, Which? Travel also reported on online flight providers displaying deals that don’t exist, only for the customer to discover a host of hidden charges before they get anywhere near passport control.

In addition, The Sunday Times highlighted the practice of some online travel booking sites featuring fluctuating prices to customers based on their online browsing activity, with the aim to ‘catch’ a customer who looks like they can afford the price on paper – or should I say online.

It can make for a grim read, particularly when coupled with the level of emotion attached to a travel booking. Both business and leisure travelers want to see return on investment – both in terms of their money and their time. They also need to see a return on emotional investment – that trip they’ve been looking forward to needs to meet or exceed their expectations. This is where technology, without a human touch, can fall short on delivering those high expectations, and returning that emotional investment in buckets (and spades).

The constant question we should always be asking ourselves as travel industry professionals is how do we, or how does the use of technology, benefit the customer and better their experience with us – from initial enquiry to booking and beyond. Building trust with customers and creating brand loyalty is a valuable commodity, and offers a longer-lasting relationship then a quick and dirty deal online.

Customer Experience is about understanding what customers think and how customers feel, and technology companies often use the insights from Data & Analytics to gauge these thoughts and feelings. At Travel Counsellors we have more personal relationships with our customers. Our Travel Counsellors take the time to actually talk to their customers, meet up with them, discuss their travel when they return – these interactions provide deep emotional feedback on their experience, and deeper insight into how to optimise this experience through the whole booking and travel journey. As technology companies focus on the evolution of CX the Travel Counsellors model was fundamentally built on this concept – building trust with customers from a continual focus on the customer experience.

In fact, the inherently human need, “To trust” is a commodity that’s traded online. From the wealth of review sites and forums that exist so that browsers can invest in the personal experiences of others before deciding whether to trust a brand, to the app star ratings that help mobile users decide if the space it occupies on their smartphone is worth it – these could all be described as online trust indicators, and they are the closest thing to offering a personal, “Human” experience online.

The impact of these trust indicators on a company’s bottom line is tangible and creating customer trust is a serious business, but more importantly research supports the argument that customers crave it. Recent brand and market research conducted by Travel Counsellors revealed that 74% of customers value trust in the relationships with the agent where they book travel. And trust, especially in the digital age, is now the common currency by which all brands can be measured. The 2018 Euromonitor Consumer Trend report highlights the increasing demand for brands to build trust across multi-generational consumer groups, from Gen X to Z, and the direct correlation with this in creating loyal customers.

We are certainly seeing an increasing trend through personalised connection for trust to move away from brands to individuals – be that advice on what to wear, what products to buy or what music to listen to. It’s only by really taking the time to get to know our customers, both on and offline, that we can anticipate their needs, fulfill their travel requirements and exceed their expectations. The use of technology can indeed support and enhance this personal relationship. Mobile technology will continue to impact and innovate the customer experience. Indeed, this formed the premise of our own app, which houses all travel documentation and keeps the customer in constant contact with their Travel Counsellor – and as a result the company has seen a 20% increase in booking conversion rates via the app. Ultimately a desire to ensure these technologies are used to improve customer care is required at every stage of the journey, so that they enhance the trusted relationships built and the overall customer experience.

Ultimately customers want and need reassurance that their travel providers have their best interests at heart, and that they can trust them to do what’s right. Trusting your travel agent, and knowing they will get it right for you, requires that they take the time to build a relationship with a customer – one that lasts long after booking, or clicking “Buy” online.

Customer loyalty comes with the reassurance offered from working with an expert who uses technology to seek out the very best travel options, based on personal preferences that they have taken time to get to know. Trusted travel advisors, with technology at their fingertips, and care for their customers, can offer a customer experience that goes beyond ‘best price’ search results that promise much yet deliver little, and nurture brand loyalty. This is a much more fruitful future-proofing business strategy than offering deals online that don’t exist in reality. What’s more, it’s simply the right, and human thing to do.

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