Yesterday’s standard

I’m not a fan of stated “certainties”, but I do believe in the existence of one… CHANGE. It is inevitable and challenging at the same time. Change is happening all around us and we are aware of it, we see it. It is up to us to decide either we perceive it as a threat or see the possibilities that come with it.

There is an abundance of information all around us making the world seem more accessible with every day that passes. More and more, experiences are what defines us instead of possessions. Robotics present us with new production possibilities, new ways of living are created. The mass media audience today is fragmented across all digital distractions available instantly.

With every swipe, tap or voice command we experience new emotions, our perceptions change. We learn that we can have what we want when we want it and how we want it. And the reference point moves further and further. What we valued in the past is no longer valid today. It is just yesterday’s standard.

The motivation behind our choices shifts, our standards of excellence are higher, what we love or need identifies with the most intuitive experiences out there. This is us, everyday!

Yet, ironically, when we are within the closed doors of our office we seem to forget all that. Business as usual still prevails. We are all familiar, I believe, with the expression “the way we do things around here”. We definitely heard it more than once or even said it ourselves when a younger “misfit” was trying to pitch us a different way. We were taught to think by analogy, within limited boundaries and a safety net. We still stop at benchmarking ourselves against our competitors and the industry as a whole, when we should be comparing also with the top customer service/ customer experience/ app/ website there is.

Let’s think for a minute at those brands that presented us with a new normal… Apple, Amazon, Tesla, Netflix, Uber, Airbnb, Starbucks. Do you want to go back to how things were? Does your family, friends or colleagues want to go back? Or we all want better? Different?

What are we going to do about it?

Well, learning to rethink the way we think can be the way to go. And while we are at it, focus on the customer and his/ her experience. We reached a point when it’s imperative to create new things that generate new value, understand why things are, how they might change and how we achieve growth.

I know that Kodak is a repetitive theme when someone wants to emphasize on the consequences of not adapting as a business, but it got stuck with me. So, here I am mentioning it again. Kodak failed to imagine a different future, to understand and predict their customers behaviors and preferences. In 1975 Steven Sasson invented the digital camera. Back then it took 50 milliseconds to capture the image and 23 seconds to record it to tape, according to the New York Times article on the subject. The Times writes that the device was a strange mixture of parts: a digital cassette recorder, a Super-8 movie camera, an analog-digital converter and other components connected through circuit boards. His bosses said no. " They were convinced that no one would ever want to look at their pictures on a television set. Print had been with us for over 100 years, no one was complaining about prints, they were very inexpensive, and so “, Sasson declared. Kodak eventually did make the big switch to digital, but 18 years too late. Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

When we will be asked to embark on a new revolutionary project, what will the answer be? Will it be yes? Will we fail to see the relevance? Fear will stop us? The conventional thinking will still win? Or maybe we will be the ones promoting the fresh idea to others.

But how do we go about it? Where can we find inspiration? How can we learn to rethink?

Not everyone is Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Richard Branson. And it’s ok. Although the media sometimes makes us believe that the innovation is just for the elite, it’s in fact open to everyone who would consider it.

Innovation is a mindset, it can be perfected by practice. It starts with perspective, seeing things differently, searching for answers, validating an idea, assessing the situation, identifying opportunities. The process is similar to design thinking.

As an exercise, let’s take on a problem. Instead of trying to fix it, let’s begin by dissecting it. Look at it from all angles, identify different ways to see it. Accept nothing and challenge everything. As the process evolves, new ideas will come up improving the original one.

We won’t become innovators over night, but we have to embrace the fact that the constantly evolving digital economy, technology and customers behaviors all require a different perspective, a fresh approach. The way people change and continue to do so is not going to go back to what was yesterday. So, it’s time to take on change. It all starts with us.

How many touchpoints along a traveler’s journey?

I remember when this question first started popping up. It was almost 8 years ago while I was working on an online travel pilot project. Since then things evolved. Although finding the best price-quality ratio is still the most important factor for the majority of travelers, the coordinates changed significantly.

No two travelers are alike. Each path to purchase is unique and far from following a straight, simple line. It’s a mix of touchpoints with various twists and turns. Today’s customers are more curious and demanding. Being exposed to a multitude of channels and information, they are willing to devote a lot of time to conduct independent research before making a booking. According to a Google survey, 55% of travelers agree that they have to check too many sources of travel information before making a decision. From the Expedia study stating that a traveler would browse up to 38 websites before buying, other reports found the average number to be 6,5. The truth is that even for the same traveler this “average” varies with every new trip.


Where does it start?

The planning phase for the majority of travelers is expected to begin with a Google Search. If we were to look at the trends in searches for the past ten years, the shift in behavior is obvious.

For example, the searches on the broad “travel” topic globally show a decrease in interest on web search

Meanwhile YouTube and Image search trends for the same topic paint a different picture, proving in fact the rising consumer interest for visual content.

Cisco predicted that by 2021 78% of all mobile traffic will be video and in 2018 an estimated 84% of communications will be visual.

Research doesn’t end with Google Search or even starts with it a lot of times. It goes further with review websites, social media channels, friends & family recommendations. Occasionally the travel impulse comes from an inspiring video, a friend recent experience, a blog article or an ad. User-generated content is becoming incredibly influential when it comes to what Millennials buy – 84% of them and Generation Z say their friends’ posts on Facebook influenced them to change their travel plans. On Instagram close to 1 million unique users search weekly for travel related hashtags globally looking for inspiration, motivation, new travel brands or travel communities. The research process has now become a part of the travel experience itself.

And they are relying more and more on mobile for the travel research. A Google study confirmed that 70% of travelers have done travel research on their smartphone, while stated that 1 in 2 traveler journey start on mobile.


How does a traveler path to purchase might look like?

Different for each traveler, that’s for sure. The more I analyzed the data for the travel projects I was involved in and talked with clients, I realized that the typical, average traveler profile is a myth. Up to a point you can identify common variables, but beyond that lies the personality, the needs and wants of each person. And the smallest detail can incline the balance towards conversion or not.

Just imagine the traveler profiling process. You start with the segmentation based on the main reason for traveling: business, leisure, volunteer etc. Then you take a step further and filter the traveler considering the socio-demographic layer and purchasing history. To gain even more perspective you will also add to the equation the traveler typology and preferences, the social footprint and online behavior. No wonder that one size fits all approach doesn’t produce the desired results.

Google partnered with Luth Research to analyze the digital activity of its opt-in panel participants to provide a snapshot of what a real traveler's time-to-make-a-plan moments actually looked like. One of the participants is a single mother of three who travels for both business and pleasure. In a five-month period, she planned business trips to Amarillo and Kerrville, Texas, while also exploring vacation destinations in San Antonio, Whistler, and Puerto Rico.

This is how her travel journey looks like over the course of 5 months

In a similar report, Sojern presents 8 traveler profiles and their booking journeys. One of the travelers is planning a couple getaway to go skiing. He is a frequent traveler both business and leisure. During a 4 months period he had over 255 digital touchpoints to conclude the booking and as soon as he returned home he was looking for new flights to go back. In his case the trigger happened while looking for flights for a business trip, not knowing the exact ski destination, but having a preference for a brand ski resort. There is also the efficient planner. A mom of two booked a Caribbean cruise for her family in a 4 months’ timeframe across 60 touchpoints. After finalizing the bookings for cruise and flight, she goes shopping for vacation supplies and 3 days before departure books a hotel.

From comScore study into 2 million travelers research and booking behavior we learn that a hotel purchaser takes 89 days to book while visiting 34 sites. He reached 182 touchpoints.


Why is this relevant?

To make you aware of the uniqueness of each traveler path to purchase so you can develop omni-channel strategies that communicates with them as individuals before, during and after the trip. Focusing only on the averages or basic common traits won’t bring the expected results. Start with data. Get to know your customers, gather insights on how they find your brand, how they interact with you, what they like and dislike about that interaction, why they book or fail to purchase. Build based on those insights. Reach your customers and potential ones in an authentic manner relying on your unique attributes and come up with interactive campaigns so you can develop a relationship with them. Last but not least, remember that there is also a lot of potential beyond the booking, enough room for ancillaries to take the spotlight.

Customer experience: the numbers

How well do you know your customers? What value does your product or service bring to their life? Are they happy, fulfilled? How can you align your brand goals & values with the journeys your customers want to take while building a long-term relationship?

These are questions that keep popping up lately. Research tells us that by 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Many specialists, keynote speakers, investors, entrepreneurs say that you can compete on customer experience and win even if you aren’t the cheapest or don’t have the top product.

Here are few stats:

  • customers would pay in average with 16% more for products and services if the company ensures a great customer experience (PWC research)
  • 40% of customers began purchasing from a brand due to its reputation for good customer service (Zendesk research)
  • 32% of customers would stop doing business with a brand they loved after one bad experience (PWC research)
  • 60% of customers will stay loyal to a brand due to its history of positive customer service experiences (American Express research)
  • 79% of customers shared with others their bad experience (Zendesk research)

Bottom line is… create an exceptional customer experience and the customers will pay & buy more, be loyal and transform into brand advocates. Simple, isn’t it?!  93% of senior executives across several industries confirmed that improving customer experience is one of the company’s top three priorities, yet only 37% of the executives were actually moving forward with a formal customer experience initiative (Oracle research). In the meantime, a lot of customers seem disappointed, more than half stating that customer experience at most companies needs improvement.

It looks like a disconnection between what companies want and customers expect. The companies focus on their financial outcome, costs vs profits, doing good on the environmental and social front due to the consistent pressure on these topics, while customers care about values, speed, consistency, convenience, relevance. The demanding customer of today can’t understand why there aren’t more Uber like easy to use services or, why not, even a Disneyland MagicBand to improve the healthcare experience.

The customer expectation is for a seamless, integrated approach. Unfortunately, reality is “a bit” different. Accenture found that 89% of customers get frustrated because they need to repeat their issues to multiple representatives. And according to Kampyle 87% of customers think brands need to put more effort into providing a consistent experience.

What is Customer Experience?

According to Wikipedia customer experience (CX) is the product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship. This interaction is made up of three parts: the customer journey, the brand touchpoints the customer interacts with, and the environments the customer experiences (including digital environment) during their experience.

In short, CX is the sum of all engagements a customer has with a company during the customer lifecycle. It’s not just about the customer service, marketing, IT, sales or your employees. It’s about each department and all of them together. The customers are different, choosing to interact with you via different touchpoints for different tasks – website, mobile app, social, call center, instant messaging, email, sales reps, physical store, ads, etc. They don’t know and, let’s face it, don’t care that your call center and web presence are managed by separate teams and operate on different technologies or that the communication between your departments is challenging.

The customers expect to engage with you effectively regardless of the channel they use, getting what they need exactly at the moment of choice. Although they may accept different level of service from different channels, the customers expect the communication to remain consistent. 71% of customers say that inconsistent message cross-channel negatively affects the experience (Forrester study).

What do customers prioritize when picturing the ideal experience?

The question was asked in a consumer study performed by Altimeter. The responders were invited to make their own top three and the final results showed that:

  • 52% of customers considered that fast responses at questions and complaints is top priority;
  • 49% of customers placed finding the information needed quickly second;
  • 36% of customers included completing the transactions quickly on their list;
  • 30% of customers considered an always consistent experience as one of the priorities;
  • 19% of customers valued personalized experience based on their data.

The same study also asked the customers what prevents companies from providing an ideal customer experience. The answers Lack of employee training and they value profits over customers received the top votes. So, when something goes wrong, the customers don’t blame it on the technology, but rather on organization’s priorities and people.

On the same topic the PWC research pointed out that speed, convenience, knowledgeable help and friendly service are the most important elements of a positive customer experience.

It seems that focusing a lot of energy and money just on mesmerizing ads or cutting-edge technology to wow customers, while neglecting the end-to-end holistic view of the customer journey and the customers needs & motivations, might not do the trick in the end. You can have the most amazing app out there. If your customer support employees are rude or the app is disconnected from the company’s internal systems, it will be just another app applauded at first, then overlooked, not used and in the end a cost with no return.

Technology is the enabler, easing the experience. Use data and analytics to get to know your customers, talk with them so you can understand them and empower your employees to drive customer satisfaction.

And when customers’ expectations are met or even exceeded, companies gain measurable business benefits.