The Secret to MarTech: Keep It Human

What the travel industry can teach you about delivering a better customer experience through technology

Written by Jamey Bainer
on 09.11.18

It should have been easy for ReeRee Rockette. The London-based salon owner and lifestyle blogger knew exactly what she was looking for:  an all-inclusive vacation package, anywhere she could spend a week in the sun with friends and get away from it all. Why, then, was this what she tweeted in the moments before she hit “book now” on her trip?

Image source: Twitter

The anxiety Ree Ree shared in this tweet is something we can all identify with, and it is ornamental of the disconnect between experiencing travel and shopping for travel experiences: One’s a joy, and the other is a nightmare.

“You somehow fall into a hole of searching, finding a holiday that looks good, reading 20 reviews of it, and then scrapping it. Then starting over,” Ms. Rockette described. “It feels like you could continue this cycle for eternity.”

Though it may not feel like it to you or Ms. Rockette, legions of marketers are spending every waking minute trying to take the pain out of travel shopping, and rightly so: It’s not a good sign when the consumer who has already decided to buy your product is filled with dread and anxiety in the seconds leading up to the purchase.

Over the course of tackling this issue for many years with clients like Expedia, Travelocity and Flights.com, I’ve been exposed to some of the most brilliant thinkers in the industry. These are people who can teach companies of all shapes and sizes how to deliver a better customer experience in any industry.

Rather than hoarding their lessons to myself, here are some tips and takeaways from these ace marketers to deliver better experiences to your own customers.

1. Don’t trade technology for the human touch

A lot of companies are counting on artificial intelligence to automate the solutions to their pain-filled shopping experiences, but don’t buy into the hype around A.I., according to triptuner Founder & CEO Tedd Evers:

“The whole user perspective, and more importantly the user experience, has gotten left by the wayside by the hype surrounding A.I. A lot of it is the over-reliance on technology, and just putting it out there without understanding the user perspective,” says Evers. “It’s not inspirational because it’s just a technology. It’s rear-view mirror. People are chanting ‘Machine learning! Machine learning!’ but it’s based on what you did in the past. At the heart of inspiration is the future, it’s not the journeys that you’ve taken, it’s the journeys you haven’t discovered yet. It’s that serendipitous aspect, the sense of discovery, and A.I. can’t solve for that.”

Evers took a different tack with his own company, triptuner: the travel inspiration and discovery platform gives users the ability to tweak their travel preferences through a stereo system-style interface that adjusts the levels in different aspects of the trip, like “Adults” to “Kid-Friendly,” or “Urban” to “Remote.”

Image source: triptuner.com

“The anecdote is to give people very clear, transparent and easy ways to control their preferences, to be able to say ‘This is what I want in the moment now,’” says Evers. “A lot of travel is artistry: creating the journey, and how the journey changes, and how you react to it, how plans come together, that’s all part of it, and that’s part of the memory and the experience we have, and AI just can’t touch that.”

2. Connected systems drive connected experiences

Sometimes over-reliance on one particular technology piece delivers a poor customer experience; other times it’s the result of relying on too many systems that don’t communicate with one another.

In the travel space, airlines have been particularly impacted by this challenge as they strive to facilitate more digital innovation within their organizations.

Historically, “airlines are slow to adopt and innovate in the digital space,” according to Andreas Lihv, Director of Digital Sales for Etihad Airways. “The focus of the business is being an airline, not a digital e-commerce technology company. This is not true to all airlines; some certainly have made changes accordingly to adopt new technology and strategy, but the major challenge here is that there is still a lot of legacy systems and regulations affecting the consumer journey.”

Solutions to this challenge are being driven by a mix of industry-wide initiatives and tech ingenuity on the part of individual airlines. As an example of the former, Lihv pointed to the NDC (New Distribution Capability) Program being spearheaded by the International Air Transport Association. The program is designed to set new standards for how airlines and travel agents communicate with one another, providing consumers with richer and more transparent flight shopping experiences.

While implementation of the NDC program may make things a little easier the next time Ree Ree Rockette books a trip, Lihv pointed out that companies whose customer experience includes moving from an online to offline environment need to think about how to connect the systems used by their personnel out in the world.

“Airlines can start to use tablets and other consumer facing technology available to help staff connect data points and provide customized experiences for the various stages of the journey, from booking to the return back home,” Lihv said.

Key takeaways for you:

  • Technology should enable, not replace, the human element of your customer’s experience. Things like artificial intelligence can harm as much as they can help provide a great experience.
  • The best customer experiences are the ones the customer drives themselves. Provide users the tools to customize as they see fit, rather than dictating what their “personalized” experience is going to look like.
  • Find ways to connect (or replace, if you have to) legacy systems with more contemporary technology solutions, and look for solutions and applications from unexpected sources, such as using consumer electronics to empower on-the-ground staff and facilitate data capture and exchanges between systems.