How to Drive Loyalty Through the Traveler Experience

Travel is an ever-expanding market. A strong economy, rising global consumer purchasing power, and digital innovation have all fueled its record growth. However, with increased growth comes increased competition to win the hearts and minds of travelers.

When is the last time you asked yourself if your current efforts to drive loyalty are working? In an environment where travelers have more booking options than ever before, how do you measure the impact you’re having?

Research suggests current efforts to drive loyalty are not working. 

In a 2017 study by Accenture, 71% of consumers claimed loyalty programs do not drive loyalty and 23% demonstrate a negative or non-existent reaction to companies’ loyalty efforts. Even worse, those who participate in loyalty programs are quick to leave for a competitor. In the same Accenture study, 77% of consumers admitted they now change their loyalty more quickly than they did just three years prior and 61% switched some or all of their business from one company to another within the previous 12 months.

What is Loyalty? 

Loyalty is defined as the quality of being loyal to someone or something or a strong feeling of support or allegiance.

In the travel world, loyalty is more than merely collecting miles and points for every purchase. The service your brand provides, across all touch points, is more memorable than the points you can offer. Remaining competitive in this market is driving industry leaders to focus more on consumers.

Loyalty is about:

  • A relationship
  • A personalized connection
  • An emotional investment

The key to loyalty is coming in at the right moment.

There is an opportunity for you to win your frequent travelers’ hearts through the experience you provide when things go awry. Disruption is unavoidable in travel but do your customers feel as if you have their backs when things don’t go as expected?   
 
The way your organization manages travel disruption can drive further loyalty to your brand or detract from everything you work so hard to establish. If you can identify how to measure the traveler’s experience, you can analyze your performance and create new value in your loyalty program. As a result, you’ll turn the inevitable disruption into a shining example of your brand and stand out from the competition.

Tap into the emotions that drive loyalty.

 Humans are emotional creatures. According to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, the answer to how to drive customer loyalty is directly related to the subconscious mind. Travelers are more likely to remember how you made them feel before anything else, and their emotions are what will ultimately drive their decision making.

There is no bigger opportunity to appeal to someone’s emotions than when they encounter a disruption in their travels. Design your loyalty program around creating these emotions when things don’t go as planned:

  • Familiarity – Personalized communication makes your brand approachable. It creates a sense of familiarity because it helps make your customers feel as if you know and understand them.
  • Surprise – No one expects travel to be easy. It is a pleasant surprise when you provide exceptional service when things go wrong.
  • Gratitude – The number one reason customers abandon a brand is poor quality. Customers expect equal value for what they pay so they will feel gratitude when you deliver more than expected.
  • Belonging – When customers share their story, they’re teaching you how to make your service better. Help your customers feel as if they’re a part of your brand by listening to them and applying their feedback.
  • Relief – Disruption is unavoidable. What matters most to customer loyalty isn’t having a perfect record, it’s how you respond when that perfect record is broken.

How bad is disruption right now? 

Disruptions from irregular operations cost airlines approximately $35 billion USD annually. Those figures jump to $60 billion when costs to travelers & others in the ecosystem are taken into account. According to J.D. Power, 42% of travelers identified the management of disruption as the single most important area in need of improvement.

In 2018 alone, the data team at Cirium documented a total of 6,363,989 disrupted flights, which broke down into 475,282 cancellations and 5,888,707 delays. According to a report by Sabre, 85.7% of travel experts believe a frictionless trip with minimal disruptions or delays is a critical ingredient to providing a positive experience for the high-value road warrior traveler.

How do you create loyalty in the face of disruption?

Most travelers anticipate travel disruption to be chaotic and disappointing, so any effort to surprise them and show them it doesn’t have to be that way will make your brand an instant hero. All you need is the right strategy.

One of the top considerations for your travel disruption strategy should be communication. Make every effort to provide transparent and real-time communication. More importantly, don’t make your customers ask for information. You want to be known delivering consistent information to your traveler, partners and employees as they need it.

To take your communication efforts further, try to implement personalized and contextually relevant communication. Don’t make your customers think, instead, do the thinking for them. Combining what’s changed with who has been impacted and how they have been impacted plus where are they in their journey instantly creates a personalized communication that is specific and relevant to them and their situation.

The second part to an effective disruption strategy is becoming proactive. Don’t ever wait for disruption. Start re-accommodation efforts earlier to smooth out the flux of support calls and reduce airport lines. You can take this further by offering priority e-accommodation. Remember that inventory is not unlimited and you should protect your highest value travelers first.

The final part to your strategy should be to leverage data and partnerships. Pierre Charbonneau, Director of Passenger & Facilitation at IATA, once said, “Passengers expect to get up-to-date information on all aspects of their journey with minimum effort, through their preferred channel. Offering this level of personalization is reliant on capturing, managing and understanding passenger data. But no single member of the travel ecosystem has the capability to optimize the end-to-end journey on their own.”

Take advantage of internal partnerships that can help capture and act on information. For example, an airline can equip in-flight crew with knowledge that the passenger in 8A was significantly delayed on their last flight, which creates an opportunity for special acknowledgement like a complimentary drink. Take it further with external partnerships to serve the traveler. Travelers experience more than just your flight, they experience a complete journey starting with the drive to the airport through to checkout of their hotel and back.

The Theory of Reciprocity

Customer loyalty is driven by small things, the softer things that are harder to measure but are very real. The Theory of Reciprocity supports the idea that most customers perceive good service as a genuine act of kindness rather than as you trying to buy their affection.

Imagine the value of “surprise reciprocity” – the art of figuring out what customers don’t expect you to do and then doing exactly that. Brad Tuttle, a writer for Time Magazine, once commented on the current state of customer service by said, “Smart businesses should come to realize that the customer service bar is lower— and that today, it’s easier than ever to differentiate your company from the pack with (crazy as it seems) actual quality customer service.”

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