A genuine human connection has greater impact on spend and loyalty than operational efficiency delivered by automation, but today’s consumer wants it all.

How can you equip your travel business to deliver an ‘all-of-the above’ approach…

Online-only brands are in for a reckoning in 2023: Develop a physical presence of some kind or stumble. That’s the stark warning from research firm Forrester, as it releases its five retail predictions for 2023. First on the list? Ignore “hybrid shopping” at your peril as consumers increasingly demand a mix of digital and in-person channels to build their own shopping experiences.

Having spent much of the past two years in a virtual-first world, the distinction between online and offline shopping has disappeared. Replacing it is the expectation of a buying journey that is fast and efficient some of the time, rich and experiential at other times, but always easy and intuitive.

Brands that create buying journeys that easily work regardless of the path a consumer takes – online, offline or all-of-the-above – will do well, as consumers expect the convenience of interchangeably using face-to-face interaction, online shopping and mobile app usage.

And, if you think the “hybrid shopping” trend pertains only to groceries, fashion and tech, consider the clear benefits to your own organisation of introducing automation in the parts of the buyer journey that would be acceptable to your customers, if nothing else to free up your team to focus on what they do best – selling the travel experience.

The human connection

In the rush to digitise and drive operational efficiency, humanity took a back seat. However, when it comes to driving satisfaction, the human connection will always trump operational efficiency.

That’s because, according to research by Qualtrics, consumers are demanding deeper, more human connections with the companies they buy from. In fact, a genuine, human connection has greater impact on spend and loyalty than operational efficiency.

Qualtrics explains: In a call centre, empathetic agents are about twice as likely to make customers happy than shorter wait times. Think how frustrated you get when you need genuine help and empathy and you’re trying to get it from a bot.

Consumers want companies to really listen to get a better understanding of how they feel, what tasks they wish to execute online, and which they would prefer to engage with an empathetic human being – and then they want you to respond in the right way.

A splintered shopping journey

That doesn’t mean you have to throw out tech and go back to doing everything in person.

In fact, there are many things that your customers would prefer to do with no human interaction at all. Have you asked yourself, your customers, which channels they would prefer to use? And for what tasks?

According to Forrester, consumers will typically use a combination of digital, physical and hybrid channels to learn about, shop for and buy products and services.

Often, the first exposure a potential customer will have to your company is in a digital space as they learn more about you and services, and this may change as they proceed on the path to purchasing your services.

There’s a time and place for digitisation. When you need technical support, nothing beats human interaction. If the transaction is repetitive and simple from a self-service perspective, automate it, e.g., checking the status of something.

Travel businesses can prepare themselves by understanding each customer’s intent, and their channel preference during the buying journey, and then seamlessly route them.

Take the opportunity to look for the “quiet quitting” signs – when your customers have abandoned their buying journey. Look at their behaviour, from that first interaction to the post-purchase engagement. You’ll see exactly where the friction is and be better equipped to step into the gap.

You need to automate, for your own sake

Beyond delivering convenience and efficiency for the customer experience, automating parts of the consumer journey makes sense for travel businesses too.

Our industry has not been immune to the 2022 workforce trends of “great resignation” and “quiet quitting” and many travel brands are grappling labour shortages across the travel and tourism eco-system, from a shortage of baggage handlers at airports to senior consultants.

Automation is the only solution for these continued labour shortages and brands will have to invest more strategically in this next year, Forrester’s research confirms. Investing in automating time-consuming functions like task management and, to a certain extent some customer service actions, using AI, will be key to freeing up staff to focus on human connection.

Because when consumers are forced to make decisions on whom they’ll spend their money, it’s really the brands and individuals they have the greatest connection with that will win their loyalty and the sale.

Let’s share a practical example of how this works in the travel and tourism space, using Wetu – a platform that, by its very nature, facilitates connection, communication and knowledge exchange.

What you gain, via the Wetu platform, is a digital workspace enabling the full eco-system of travel and tourism to share institutional knowledge and intellectual property, including digital marketing assets, that can be used to engage with and convert your mutual travel customer.

Curated digital assets, hosted in the cloud, serve multiple purposes:

  • For tour operators, DMCs and travel agents, it’s a communal resource everyone can use to build proposals with the comfort of knowing that the products are vetted by consultants following site inspections conducted over time; and costings and booking information are fully up to date; and
  • For accommodation, restaurant and activity suppliers, the platform is a source of product information that anyone in your company can access to respond quickly – even when key or senior staff members are on leave.

Imagine a world where travel businesses decrease the amount of time they spend on admin, curating and presenting digital assets in a compelling way to delight customers, while increasing employee satisfaction by freeing them up from the repetitive tasks that tech can take care of efficiently and error free so that they can deliver on their customer’s increasing demand for personalisation and human connection.

That opportunity exists for travel and tourism businesses today, through Wetu.

There are headwinds, but there are also tailwinds size

Lastly, while this year should have been disastrous for the travel industry – higher cost pressures, staff shortages, inflation, higher fuel prices, etc. – the industry has continued to recover from the pandemic-induced downturn because older people have disposable time and cast, Millennials prefer to spend on experiences, not things and people re-evaluated and reprioritised what’s important to them in life and that includes travel.

So yes, there are headwinds coming in 2023, but there are tailwinds too. And currently, those tailwinds are stronger than headwinds, according to Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta.

In 2023, people will still spend on travel. They will be pickier. They will seek fewer, richer experiences. They will demand the level of digitisation they enjoyed during the pandemic. But they will also crave human connection.

What can you do today to find that balance between human and digital and put your travel business ahead of the pack?

Forrester’s “Predictions 2023: Retail” Report. Click here.
Qualtrics What your customers need you to know for the year ahead. Click here.

Today’s consumer expects a buying journey that is fast and efficient some of the time, rich and experiential at other times, but always easy and intuitive. To deliver this “hybrid shopping” experience and improve efficiency, travel businesses must find the balance between human connection and digitisation.

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