EyeforTravel’s Digital Strategy Summit

May 2019, London

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Data science & psychiatry: essential skills to make travel ‘less annoying’

Travel is a high-anxiety purchase and the industry isn’t making it any easier, finds recent research from McKinsey

Travel is a complex, high-anxiety purchase, say international consultants McKinsey. To prove it their report on How to Service Today’s Digital Traveller contains the staggering numbers that the average purchase journey for a single hotel room lasts 36 days and hits 45 touch points! What’s more the journey is distributed among search engines, the sites of intermediaries and suppliers and involves multiple devices.

For the traveller, there are almost infinite possibilities, and often the purchase cannot be returned. As the report points out, the internet has so much information that it is, in many ways, making the travel journey much more difficult, protracted and “downright annoying”. 

The internet…is, in many ways, making the travel journey much more difficult, protracted and “downright annoying”

Alex Dichter, one of the senior partners in McKinsey’s London office, recounts in the report the journey that his colleagues had, after studying cross-device clickstream data from the US online-shopping panel of Verto Analytics. He reckoned they needed skills in data science and psychiatry.

The role of research, they found, is changing. The clickstream sample data set showed that in 2018, 31% of accommodation searches started on search engines, upward of 23% in 2017.

“Rather curiously, the travel-shopping journeys that began with search led to purchases more quickly than those that began on the sites of suppliers and intermediaries. But this does not mean that suppliers should shift all their budgets to paid research”, he commented.

The proportion of cross-device travel shopping was rising – up 10% in the past year. While 63% involved mobiles, only 17% were pure mobile, he said. However, people often use their gadgets “to fill time, doing things on them over and over again”.

At the heart of the challenge to the question of understanding the customer is, says McKinsey, “the siloed nature of service delivery and the insular cultures, behaviours, processes, and policies that flourish inside the functional groups that companies rely on to design and deliver their services. In many cases, these groups are also the keepers of the touchpoint…”

6 words of wisdom

So, what to do? The advice is:

  • Step back and identify the nature of the journeys customers take from their point of view.
  • Understand how customers navigate across the touchpoints as they move through the journey.
  • Anticipate the customer’s needs, expectations, and desires during each part of the journey.
  • Build an understanding of what is working and what is not.
  • Set priorities for the most important gaps and opportunities to improve the journey.
  • Come to grips with fixing root-cause issues and redesigning the journeys for a better end-to-end experience.

Then there is the question of the evolving of brands in the travel-buying process. Of companies serving the industry, McKinsey says: “Given all the consolidation among intermediaries and suppliers, to what extent are they engaging with and capturing customers, as opposed to fighting a hopeless battle to win ‘promiscuous’ and disloyal ones.”

With so much going on, how can travel companies keep abreast and keep up with the evolving customer? For a start, McKinsey state, that “companies need to address the fact that – at least in most cases – they are simply not worried to naturally think about the journeys their customers take. They are wired to maximise productivity and scale economies through functional units. They are wired for transactions not journeys.”

And they add, companies that “want to transform the overall customer experience may need a bottom-up effort to create a detailed road map for each journey, one that describes the process from start to finish and takes into account the business impact of enhancing the journey…”

A three-pronged approach

Alex Dichter, who is a travel industry specialist, suggested the following three moves:

“Embrace the travel purchase journey. Above all, embrace it by making it shorter and easier: 36 days and 45 touchpoints are too much. Of course, travel companies want to improve their conversion rates, but they should resist jumping right to the sell; instead, help consumers to explore, to choose, and to feel great about their purchases.

Invest in your capabilities. None of what we recommend can work well unless companies invest sufficiently in their digital capabilities—building online channels is no ‘fire and forget’ exercise. World-class travel companies continually evolve their digital offerings, but those of many travel suppliers look pretty much as they did ten or 15 years ago. That has to change.

We may well see some convergence between those two poles [hotels and airlines] over the next few years.”

Make your worldview converge. Think about how to strike a balance between the hotel version of the world (many brands put relatively little public recognition at the holding company level) and the airline version (a few very widely known behemoths). We may well see some convergence between those two poles over the next few years.”

The reward for orchestrating a good journey? McKinsey says: ”…delivering a distinctive journey experience makes it more likely that customers repeat a purchase, spend more, recommend to their friends, and stay with your company.”

EyeforTravel’s upcoming London Digital Strategy Summit (May 21-22) will be addressing some of these issues with speakers from Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Virgin Atlantic, Ctrip, Uber and more 

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