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Customer Experience – Tough to Optimise, Tougher to Monetise
By Ritesh Gupta
IN-DEPTH: Striving to delight your customers and doing so profitably is the ultimate goal of any travel firm. But given the rapidly evolving technological landscape with its proliferation of new devices and operating systems this is easier said than done. Ritesh Gupta reports
It is a high pressure game for today's marketing and e-commerce executives who need to adapt quickly to optimise the customer experience. Indeed converting travellers who shuffle between PCs, mobile phones or tablets to plan or book a trip is a huge task for companies. Ultimately it all boils down to customer experience.
But while the mantra of optimising the customer experience irrespective of the touch point or device being used is growing louder, it is also true that any additional technology spend requires a return on investment.
For two reputable companies - Hertz Europe and Hyatt in the US - revenue generation is a major consideration when ascertaining the success of customer experience-related initiatives.
Test and evaluate
The process of planning and booking is complex, but travel companies not only have to improve every touch point, they have to ensure conversion rates and prove that satisfaction levels are desirable.
To this end, companies are advised to keenly evaluate each and every visit of a mobile consumer. Things to consider include: what device is being used, how long has the customer spent on an app or mobile site and how are they using the device. Today testing and personalisation available for the traditional web has to be replicated for mobile too.
This is not straightforward. Travel companies need to understand that travellers use different devices in different situations for different reasons. This makes it imperative that content is optimised for each environment. There are technology considerations too. You might develop a great mobile website with HTML5 capabilities, but the HTML5 support on many smartphones for native apps might not be enough.
Fast and easy
To get closer to optimising the overall customer experience, things have to be fast, they have to be simple and they have to be easy. According to Eleonora Lamanna, online functionality manager at Hertz Europe, this has meant focusing efforts on web and mobile web platforms to make booking and travel planning as easy as possible over a variety of devices. "We also offer a wide range of vehicles and options so customers have plenty of selection," she says.
One thing is clear, today a lot more support is required to win a customer's loyalty and to offer them choice. Through its loyalty programmes, Hertz offers privileges and benefits designed to make travel easier including faster reservations, faster rental pick up and special offers and discounts.
Earlier this year, Hertz made major improvements to its website booking engine to make it faster than ever before to book. In addition it described in greater detail what is available and on offer.
"Customers can also book and make any reservation changes from our mobile platform with our Hertz app for Apple iPhone, Symbian, Android and Blackberry. To speed up their time at the rental counter, customers have the option to use our worldwide online check-in service," says Lamanna.
As expected, mobile has been an area of focus for Hertz but one of the challenges is that customers are increasingly using multiple devices.
Earlier this year, Hertz set about optimising its cross-platform experience for both planning and booking. This was down to increasingly fragmented use of digital devices. "We have developed a responsive design to allow different users to experience the same level of service across different screen sizes. This means the website will adapt itself to the size of the screen the customer is using - from a large desktop to a smartphone screen," says Lamanna.
According to design specialists, the highlights of responsive design are scalable images and adjustable layouts. From the user experience perspective, content is aptly formatted to any mobile device.
"Owing to the development of the responsive design functionality, we have now managed to move all channels (web, mobile web, tablet, apps) onto the same platform. This makes the experience seamless and maintenance easier," says Lamanna.
Avoid being complacent
As travel companies look for solutions, they should not be complacent.
This means keeping track of technology and how it can address user needs. In a recent interview with EyeforTravel Bill Bernahl, vice president, e-commerce at Hyatt, pointed out that on the technology front, you need to be continually evaluating new developments in standards, such as HTML5, platforms and services. And from a user experience perspective, you need to be always thinking about the user experience lifecycle and how guests move through your experiences.
He also stressed that it is easy to get too focused on one area and not build a cohesive overall experience. This is especially true when looking at language deployment for sites like Hyatt.com which support over 10 languages.
Other than technology, always put yourself in the position of the customer. "The risk is often not to think as a customer would, therefore presenting the information that customers don't need," explains Lamanna. "It's a continuous improvement process that has started already; for example with the additional information about the rate (inclusions or exclusions) but some more work is required to create a customised experience for every customer."
Metrics considered to manage a company's web business are not different to those needed to manage mobile channels. Major aspects like page views, sessions, visits and of course conversion remain the same.
However, the mobile or app channels remain a challenging environment for revenue and conversion. "Testing those platforms will be key to improve performance," says Lamanna.
When it comes to measuring the success of such initiatives, Lamanna says revenue generation is key indicator as well as the overall conversion rate.
Source: Eye for Travel
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