Sudindar Rao, Sr. Manager – Software Engineering, Sabre Bengaluru
Today’s travellers demand personalization; they like to be understood and catered to. According to a study conducted by McKinsey, 71% customers expect personalized interactions from any business that they engage with. Businesses are today finding it challenging to manage the level of personalization, they currently offer at a segment level, as customer expectations have far surpassed that. Hyper-personalization – as the name suggests, is a form of marketing that utilizes Artificial Intelligence (AI) in conjunction with real-time data to create customer-specific and highly granular products, services, or content.
The travel industry needs to implement hyper-personalization by utilizing the customer enaggement platforms available in the market – like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Customer Experience Management (CEM) platforms for instance. These platforms leverage Big Data to facilitate highly customized one-to-one interactions between customers and the business. While choosing the right platform, it’s important to ask – is it scalable? Scalability is a critical aspect in the travel industry, especially considering seasonal variations.
Online Booking Tools (OBTs) and Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) should harness data to effectively leverage customers’ past browsing or buying habits, in order to offer them enhanced services. The travel industry can leverage this advantage to stay ahead, by enhancing their management systems to monitor and optimize revenues. Furthermore, this approach can enable them to improve customer relationships by focusing on the right type of property and channels based on customers’ travel history. Such efforts will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the company’s reputation. To take it a step further, integrated messaging, analytics, and customer profiling are of utmost importance, representing a remarkable technological advancement that can connect all systems and provide the best possible service to customers. However, it should be noted that this does not replace the front desk’s responsibility of going the extra mile to personally greet guests in the offline world, as they currently do.
The benefits of hyper-personalization are phenomenal. It has a positive impact on the company’s bottom line by removing obstacles in the buyer’s journey and providing easier, quicker access to what customers are seeking. When customers want to make a purchase, they typically want to avoid long wait times and find what they need faster. Hyper-personalization offers that capability and much more. Another advantage of hyper-personalization is the considerable shortening of the sales cycle, which is highly sought after in the travel industry. One aspect that the travel industry tends to overlook is the stress customers experience before making a booking. Hyper-personalization significantly reduces this stress by providing customers with all the necessary information to make a booking based on their inputs. To ensure that customers feel they have been given all the options before making a purchase, they are presented with an overwhelming array of merchandise, carefully curated to appeal to their preferences. This increases the likelihood of a purchase, improving the conversion ratio from shopping to booking, which has traditionally been a challenge for the travel industry. Loyalty and customer retention are crucial for the travel industry, and hyper-personalization makes customers feel more secure and valued, thereby encouraging them to return.
Hyper-personalization can be scaled to any level to make the customer feel more valued. However, it also presents a set of challenges – like effectively analyzing data to make meaningful impact on the customer, which requires a certain level of expertise. Hyper-personalization is a time-consuming process, and striving for a high level of granularity can be costly. Merely having customer data does not excuse the industry from engaging with customers in real time; this is a pitfall that the Travel Industry should avoid. Customers should not feel overwhelmed by the available information and its application in understanding their personal behavior. It should not be seen as an invasion of privacy either. The most effective approach is permission-based hyper-personalization.
Many businesses in the travel industry have taken the initial steps in this direction, but there is still much more to be done if they truly want customers to feel valued.