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Strategy

Strategies For Pandemic-Winning Businesses to Maintain Momentum After COVID-19

2020 will go down in history as a year that vastly changed customer behaviors, expectations, and needs for good. And while that was bad for some industries and businesses, others whose products and services were ripe for digital-only and socially distanced environments saw major increases in customer acquisition, engagement, bookings, and overall sentiment.

 

For example:

 

  • Companies like RVshare & Cruise America saw an 846% increase in bookings, as homebound individuals and families sought out adventure and reconnected to nature.
  • Vacation and short-term rentals including AirBnb, VRBO, and AvantStay saw their numbers reportedly triple, and struggled to keep up with the demand.
  • Subscription services experienced immediate growth just weeks into the pandemic, seeing monthly customer acquisitions increase as much as 85%.
  • Grocery stores saw “double digit profits” compared to 2019.
  • The pandemic reshaped the fitness landscape as health and fitness equipment revenue more than doubled from March 2020 to October 2020.

But, as the world returns to some sort of normalcy and consumers begin to venture outside their homes, pandemic-winning businesses are forced to answer the question: What strategies will help sustain recent customer acquisitions and growth? As consumers get tired of doing things they were forced to do during the pandemic, and a resurgence of options become available, pandemic-winning businesses will have to rethink the customer journey and uplevel experiences to avoid their recent success from tapering off.

Business who opt to maintain rather than innovate and improve customer experiences, risk being left behind.

6 Ways Pandemic-Winning Businesses Can Carve a Path Forward

1. Identify Industry Changes & Trends That Will Continue Past the Pandemic

Understand what changed within your industry due to COVID-19, but more importantly, focus on identifying what the staying power of new and emerging trends really are. This will help ensure your business’s time, money, and energy is focused on creating change where it matters most, rather than reactively and wastefully catering to temporary trends that won’t drive long term ROI.

 

For example, according to an analysis conducted by the budgeting app TrueBill for The Washington Post, subscription boxes and services aren’t going anywhere. “Power subscribers” – consumers with 10 or more recurring payments that add up to an average of $145 spent per month – is growing exponentially. In fact, the subscription economy is predicted to grow by $1.5 trillion by 2025, says financial services firm UBS.

 

By understanding the staying power that subscription services have, you may be able to find ways to incorporate unique and convenient subscription-based experiences. Creativity is key. Take for example Tripadvisor. In an attempt to bounce back from hits the travel industry took during COVID-19, they’ve launched a $99 annual program that offers exclusive deals and dedicated service lines to subscribers as a way. Six Washington, D.C. restaurants found a way to play in the subscription economy by joining forces and creating a “supper club” that delivers gourmet meals prepared by different chefs each week to subscribers’ homes.

 

If there’s a will, there’s a way. And there’s a lot of money you may be leaving on the table if you don’t take time to identify trends that are here to stay.

2. Reevaluate Consumer Groups & Update Your Ideal Customer Profile

Consumer groups have inevitably changed, due to COVID-19. Whether it’s just the needs and wants of your existing customers that have evolved, or you find that a completely new customer mix now engages with your products or services, it’s crucial to understand exactly who you’re serving, and how you can create better experiences for them in the future. By gathering and mining audience data, you can uncover new behaviors and update your core personas and customer profiles to inform future customer experience design.

 

For example, the experience and relationship restaurant owners need and want from their produce suppliers changed due to the pandemic. As part of a larger customer journey initiative to better understand everyday business needs and experiences of existing customers, we created and executed a customer survey focused on 1-2 restaurant locations segments for a food distribution company. The intent of the survey was to understand unique attitudes and behaviors that could provide more opportunity to focus on increasing share and loyalty, and to further understand segmentation differences within customer groups. By gathering insights directly from our clients’ customers related to technology and tools, COVID-19 impacts and competition, and perceptions associated with our clients’ existing services, we were able to update attitudinal segmentation within their customer mix and uncover future opportunities for improved experiences.

3. Consider New Customer Behaviors & Usage

With limited options during the pandemic, many customers found new ways to use products and services than originally intended. For example, many rental homes that were typically reserved pre-pandemic for short-term vacations turned into long-term homes away from home. Cars that were previously used to get from point A to point B became safe-havens and temporary escapes for overworked parents. Video communication softwares such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and Skype evolved from connecting business colleagues to hosting virtual game nights, happy hours, and family celebrations.

 

As you mine audience data to uncover new and update existing consumer groups and personas, it’s also important to pay attention to how behaviors or usage shifted during the pandemic. Did customers engage with your products or services in new ways? Were they seeking new results or using your business to complete unprecedented tasks?

 

Use this information to expand the customer experiences you provide by designing, imagining, or inventing new uses for your product or service that provide added value.

 

Also read: 6 Factors Influencing Customer Behaviors in 2021 (With Original Research)

4. Pinpoint ‘Aha!’ Moments Within Your Customer Experience

The “Aha!” moment is when your customers truly “get it.” They understand the value that your product or service provides and realize why they need it – or simply want it – in their lives.

 

Evaluate and pinpoint where “Aha!” moments take place within your current experience by mapping the customer experience using both qualitative and quantitative research methods . Then, using the map, identify ways to either optimize, improve, or manufacture completely new “Aha!” moments to ensure continual value creation and engagement.

 

It’s important that customers perceive value at every stage throughout the customer journey to ensure repeat behavior. Don’t miss opportunities to drive an emotional bond and connection and establish a healthy customer-brand relationship by closing the loop too soon. The experience doesn’t end at the purchase point – the experience you provide creatively continue to drive value far beyond that.

 

Also read: 9 Quantitative Research Methods With Real Client Examples

5. Create New, Innovative, and Added Value For Customers

This is where we bring things full circle, and if you opt to maintain rather than innovate and drive your customer experience further, you’ll get left behind.

 

Through evaluating consumer groups and updating customer profiles, you may find that your business acquired new customers during the pandemic that wouldn’t have considered your product or services in a different time. As they start to return to pre-pandemic norms and habits, how can your businesses ensure you can convert newly acquired customers into repeat customers long-term? Well, using your customer experience map and analyses, look for ways to add value.

 

For example, new customers may not know how to use your product or service fully. If that’s not intuitive, you need to add value in the form of content (think opt-in texts, email nurture strategies, website quizzes and tools) or A.I. assistance to help customers use or leverage your product or services in new ways. By doing this, you can help educate consumers and push them closer to realizing value without selling them anything new.

 

Also, find ways to build community. Now more than ever, people are craving connection and want to support brands whose values align with their own and they can see themselves in. Consider connecting with and reaching new and existing customers by leveraging platforms such as Instagram, and TikTok to start conversations, allow people to attend offline events digitally, provide a look into your business “behind the scenes,” and more. The more authentic and human you can make your community and digital presence, the strong connection and support you’ll forge.

 

Also read: Developing Nurture Strategies That Decrease Time to Value 

6. Help Customers Navigate & Transition Into a Post-Pandemic Landscape

Lastly, be helpful. This is just another version of value, but in this case, it’s selfless. It’s not about acquiring, upselling, or converting. It’s simply about doing what’s right and holding empathy for your customers by extending value beyond the reason people are (or were) forced to use your products or services during the pandemic.

 

Play a part in helping them navigate the bounce back to pre-pandemic life in a way that feels aligned with your brand but puts the wellbeing of consumers at the core.

 

Need help envisioning and implementing strategies to maintain success in a post-COVID world? We can help. Contact us today.

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Strategy

How to Holistically Map Your Customer Experience

But what is a customer experience map?

 

It’s a visual timeline that illustrates and examines a customer’s entire experiences with a brand, identifying every behavior, interaction, and touchpoint across a variety of channels. Unlike a customer journey map – which only outlines touch points involved from exposure to sale (and sometimes post-sale) – customer experience (CX) maps dive deeper, evaluating omnichannel experiences and internal processes and workflows to illuminate who and what customers interact with, pain points that arise, and moments of truth that are ripe for innovation and improvement.

Overview of the Customer Experience:

  • Start with the customer perspective. Utilize a mix of qualitative and quantitative data (methods below) to map key touch points
  • Map the internal stakeholder journey, including people, processes, systems, via a service blueprint
  • Combine the maps to begin comparing and contrasting the data and employee expectations versus consumer feedback
  • Identify gaps and opportunities, assess impact of innovation and prioritize for the future

While collecting customer feedback through both qualitative and quantitative (also known as moderated and observational) techniques is key (think web analytics, customer surveys, customer marketing data, customer recordings and interviews, industry research, etc.), it’s also equally important to map your internal stakeholder’s (aka, employee’s) journey, detailing moments they believe to be most important in an end user’s experience (this is often referred to as service blueprinting).

 

Once both maps are completed, they can be compared and contrasted to uncover discrepancies in the customer and internal experience. Pinpointing moments of friction illuminates root causes of customer experience breakdowns that create incredible drag on company retention and growth. Only by taking this holistic approach can you truly start to cultivate next-level strategies for improved customer experiences.

How to Create a Customer Experience Map

As you venture into making your own customer experience map, here are some things to watch out for:

 

  1. Don’t get stuck in the surface. Make sure that you’re driving to the core and really trying to identify the root cause of experience friction points or issues.
  2. Ensure you take an interdisciplinary approach. It’s important not to be siloed in this thinking.
  3. Don’t just take qualitative notes. When interacting with customers, take a multi-faceted approach. You want to ultimately be able to map your qualitative data with quantitative data. Incomplete data can lead to poor decision-making.
  4. Don’t get too bogged down in the details. Come up for air and focus on the biggest areas of opportunities for improvement. It’s all about prioritization. Lots of companies try to solve or map everything, when in reality – sure, you need to challenge your data and ensure you have a complete view – but you also have to prioritize as you go. It’s a delicate balance to strike.

To get started, you must first acknowledge that every touch point is interconnected and feeds into a customer’s perspective and sentiment towards your brand as a whole. The exercise must be authentic. Your goal is to understand your brand’s latent needs and to uncover opportunities that exist due to changing market dynamics, customer expectations and technology breakthroughs.

 

Then, you must allocate one person or team to see the exercise through to completion. Typically speaking, customer experience mapping should be co-created with an external party. Research done solely in-house can be blanketed by unconscious bias, thus muddling results and growth opportunities. Plus, it’s important stakeholders surveyed throughout feel comfortable expressing their true and honest opinions in a confidential and removed setting.

 

Once that’s done, it’s time to get to work.

Step 1: Define your goals, scope, and personas

Your team must first align on goals. Conduct a half-day session with the key internal stakeholders across a number of teams to define business and user goals and pinpoint what you want to learn, what you’re hoping to uncover, where you want to drive focus, and how you plan to quantify and validate insights uncovered.

 

Then, define the personas you want to explore with during the experience mapping exercise. Many businesses have numerous consumer groups. While you can (and eventually should) map the experience and expectations of all of them, you’ll want to identify who they are first. Key details like age, marital status, occupation, daily activities, needs, wants, hobbies, internet behaviors, social media interactions, etc. are all a great starting place. Remember the 80/20 rule and prioritize which groups you’re going to start with. These are your primary personas.

 

Now that you have them identified, you’ll want to start the mapping exercise by capturing existing hypotheses about your customers and their experience. Be sure to capture their needs and emotions felt throughout all of their experiences with your brand. Some key questions to remember here:

 

  • What is driving their buying behavior? Why are they interacting with your business?
  • Where do they interact with your brand (before and after purchase)?
  • How many steps do they go through to purchase?
  • How do they feel as they decide to purchase? Is there a touchpoint after they purchase?
  • How do they interact with your brand after they’re a customer? etc.

Next, decide which part of your experience you want to map. In an ideal world, you’d map the entire experience over the tenure of a customer’s relationship with your brand, but that’s likely not doable in your first few sessions. To get started, break experience mapping into segments. Do you want to map the onboarding or registration process? The purchasing journey? Gauge the interactions your brand has with customers once they’ve already bought in? .

 

Also read: Understanding the Buyer’s Journey to Drive Targeted Campaigns

If you’re stuck – simply try to pinpoint where you think there is the most pain, friction, or confusion in your customer journey. Whether it’s the first, tenth or fiftieth exchange, one bad experience can greatly increase risk of customer churn. A customer who is dissatisfied with an experience will tell between 9-15 people about it* (and that number increases quickly if they take their negative review to social platforms!).

Step two: Evaluate from within

Holistically mapping out your current end-to-end customer experience requires that you evaluate every touchpoint from the surface to the core. That means, you must first evaluate your own people, processes, and systems that impact and touch the customer experience in any way (many organizations refer to this as service blueprinting).

By doing this, you can uncover deep rooted issues or discrepancies between what internal stakeholders and external customers deem important. This is a critical step in effecting meaningful change to your customer experience. But be mindful to avoid these common pitfalls as you execute:

 

  • Getting bogged down in the internal perspective: Make sure all focus efforts are on pain point identification as it relates to the customer or your ability to deliver to the customer. This isn’t an exercise solely dedicated to internal frustrations – if you’re wanting to improve the employee experience, that’s a true service blueprinting exercise. For holistic customer experience mapping, you want to make sure your focus is on pain points that have a line of sight to your end users.
  • Settling for the surface answers: Push to go beyond and really discover the root cause or root opportunities present in your current experience.
  • Missing the opportunity to loop in interdisciplinary perspectives: Often, the connection between business units – especially ones that have overlapping activities related to the customer experience – is where you’ll uncover the greatest opportunities for improvement. Every company has handoffs. It’s important to consider them all.
  • Hinder real discussions from happening between stakeholders: Bringing people together can be massively beneficial. This is an opportunity to create alignment. By bringing teams together to work towards one common goal and share their individual team’s hurdles, your teams will naturally discover micro-solves that can be executed immediately, and contribute to the macro-solution.

Now, to get a revitalized understanding of your business’ performance and efficiency, conduct workshops with internal stakeholders – this can include customer service and sales reps, researchers, customer experience specialists, marketing leads, product owners, designs and more. These service blueprinting workshops should include a few important exercises:

 

  1. Hypothesize and map out internal interpretation of the customer’s journey. Be sure to identify each phase and define customer interaction points.
  2. Map out the people, process and systems that are in play at each of those key interaction points.
  3. Capture what internal stakeholders say about those key interactions (qualitative). Simple things like definitions of words, or what they want customers to feel after that interaction can all be important in understanding the internal impact on your CX.
  4. Articulate underlying assumptions and beliefs around language commonly used to describe KPIs and company-wide goals. This will help identify and deconstruct misunderstandings between teams and enable a fresh start where everyone is on the same page and working from a consistent understanding.

At the end of the workshop, you should be able to identify each phase in the customer’s experience, who and what they interact with within your organization, and how you meet their needs along the way.

 

Keep in mind, for some companies, a workshop is all that is needed to gather internal perspective. On the other hand, sometimes workshops are just the starting place and then require deeper dives with specific departments, business units, or individual role types to further precipitate areas where exploration is needed. So, once your workshop is completed, identify whether or not you need to go deeper, and, if so, what types of roles, departments or business units you need to go deeper with.

 

Continue to conduct stakeholder interviews until you feel confident that you’ve really mapped out the impact those areas have on the internal customer journey or end customer experience.

 

Need an example? Let’s talk about articulating underlying assumptions. Healthcare organizations often use the word “encounters” as a measurement for improving patient engagement. However, when we’ve asked organizational team members to define the term, no one in the room has the same definition or knows how to explain it. If everyone perceives and defines a goal and/or measurement like “encounters” differently (or in many cases, can’t define it at all), it’s impossible to know how or when to measure and define success. The solution? Get it on paper (or a whiteboard or shared digital document)! When you put something down in writing and rally around a common definition, you can identify optimal procedures to measure it. This will ultimately contribute to agreeance and alignment necessary for not only standing up successful marketing programs, but proving ROI.

If everyone perceives and defines a goal and/or measurement differently (or in many cases, can’t define it at all), it’s impossible to know how or when to measure and define success.

Step 3: Hone in on the end users

Now it’s time to look beyond the internal perspective and focus the lens on your customers. This requires the most time and could take anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple years to complete, depending on your scope.

 

Before you get start, there are a few tips to consider that will help you avoid common pitfalls at this stage:

 

  • Ensure you get to the real root cause of pain or opportunity and don’t get caught in optimizing for the surface level. As with other phases, this requires that you push beyond the surface of what users tell you qualitatively. A great way to do this, no matter what process you use, is to ask “Why?” three to five times. Once a user shares an observation that seems important, ask why. Then ask why again, and again. Many companies gather initial observations and never get to the true root cause, therefore they’re stuck treating only symptoms of problems.
  • Don’t rest on qualitative data. Instead, pair it with quantitative data. Find ways to objectively measure what is happening to your user’s experience at key milestones throughout the journey. We often do this by merging qualitative data with surveys or other analytical data (think customer CRMs, google analytics, website data, or MPS data).
  • Avoid intuition as your primary method of gathering user experience. Qualitative techniques we often employ include interviews, focus groups and ride alongs.
  • Give yourself time to really hone in on the user experience. Many companies never gather this information, at all; instead, they architect their journey based on internal perspective and move forward. It’s always important and useful to get real, quality feedback from end users.
  • Don’t forget that your customer base is diverse. Get feedback from multiple personas as you go.

Also read: Qualitative vs. Quantitative Data in CX Design: Everything You Need to Know

 

During this phase, you and your team should use qualitative and quantitative techniques (learn more about that here) to obtain real customer feedback by guiding them through each phase of the outlined journey to validate their needs, wants, and experiences. 0 By sitting down with real customers, you’re able to explore their goals and needs respective to your product, services, and/or digital presence. In the end, you’ll be able to expose valuable insights that can drive future focus. Often, this phase identifies opportunities for re-engagement. While your goals may be more specific, it is still important to see the full picture before drawing any conclusions about your overall customer experience. At this stage, compiling as much information as possible is key.

 

Need an example? Sometimes this phase can give rise to specific problems, including the root cause of customer conversions. One of our clients – a leading nation-wide insurer group of automobiles, homes and small businesses – was seeing a dip in quote yields and overall conversion rates. After doing a deep data dive – using both qualitative and quantitative techniques – we discovered the majority of drop offs were occurring moments before clicking the, “I’m ready to complete my quote” button. Why would users go through the trouble of filling out 99% of the form, only to abandon the process right before getting the information they originally sought? The answer was buried in the messaging.

By speaking to customers, we discovered the last question in their quote-request form – one that asked the user if they’d like to enter information to receive additional insurance quotes – was causing feelings of exhaustion and frustration for potential customers. Instead of marking “No,” and continuing on, they simply bounced away from the site – and, likely, with no intention to return. This not only illuminated the main pain point, but allowed us to execute focused competitive analyses to get inspiration from competitors, develop potential solutions, test them, and then launch the solution/s to the market.

Step 4: Review, analyze, and map it out

It’s time to start putting the puzzle pieces together.

 

With an integrated team spanning a variety of disciplines (including research, business innovation, experience design, and consulting), review the customers’ experience data from every angle. Doing this will provide a more holistic view necessary for creating a more robust and useful map.

 

Conduct another workshop to synthesize and compare data from internal and external perspectives on your customer experience.

 

Starting with the qualitative data, use tools like an an affinity map to clearly identify where your customers’ needs are being met – and where they’re not. This should expose service gaps and highlight opportunities.

 

Next, test the customer feedback against the internal perspectives map previously created. More often than not, it will reveal discrepancies between what internal teams believe is important, versus what customers really assign value to. This visual approach, while also displaying challenges within the current experience, will make achieving cross-functional alignment around future plans easier.

 

Also read: Crafting Employee Experiences to Improve Customer Experiences

 

Keep in mind that the ultimate goal is continual evolution. Take the time to test and, as you do, update your journey map.

Lastly, to pinpoint exact moments of friction and/or leverage in your customer experience, pair the quantitative data – which analyzes customer sentiment and perspective at every stage and interaction – with your new qualitative understanding of the user experience. By overlaying these data points – like a customer’s likelihood to renew – you’ll be able to pinpoint specific moments that drive loyalty or churn and their financial impacts.

 

At this point, now all that’s left is to prioritize the areas of opportunity and roadmap short- and long-term focuses to improve business workflow. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal is continual evolution. Take the time to conduct ongoing testing and, as you do, update your experience map.

 

Need an example? A major broadband communications company who had been in the business of delivering entertainment and connection companies and companions long before the internet existed was struggling with gradual increases of customer dissatisfaction and churn. Month over month, the company’s acquisition and retention numbers decreased. Thei business and market share was at risk. By pairing quantitative sentiment with our qualitative understanding and visually mapping both, we were able to pinpoint the main points of friction that we needed to solve for: Severe client and market variability, inconsistent structure and resources a reactive servicing model, disparate systems and processes, a need for continued product training, and shifting client expectations. To summarize, the experience being delivered was afflicted with challenges and creating volatility throughout the journey, ultimately contributing to churn.

By outlining the specific issues, we were able to build a path forward to develop a proactive and consultative CX that focused on the most essential needs, including:

 

  • Elevating the customer care solution to create a repeatable experience that promotes consistency while preserving autonomy
  • Simplifying the employee experience to reduce friction by streamlining backend systems and processes
  • Modernizing client interactions with omnichannel and digital-forward experience
  • Invest in delivering an experience that is predictably proactive and drives consultative value
  • Clearly demonstrating the ongoing value of partnering with a customer care solution

Pinpointing the needs and developing solutions enabled us to become part of the client’s strategy, not just a one-off tractic. Next, we built a roadmap that encompassed recommended initiatives, identified workstreams, defined what success would look like and outlined how the work would enable continual program evolution.

The Bottom Line

By consistently completing the customer experience mapping exercise (don’t set it and forget it!), you can empower your team to problem solve from a data-driven perspective and establish plans for future CX initiatives and investments.

 

At the end of the day, customer experience mapping is about connecting with your customer, and deeply understanding and empathizing with their needs and wants. If your company can prioritize solving customer’s problems as the world evolves, you’ll set yourself up for unstoppable momentum.

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Uncategorized

Trends Driving CX Design in the Hospitality Industry: Q&A with Marriott International’s Christine Kettmer

Prefer a high-level recap of the conversation? Read it here.

Q&A with Marriott International’s Christine Kettmer

Jesus Ramirez: With me today is Christine Kettmer, Senior Director of Global Enterprise Insight and Strategy at Marriott International. We’re going to be talking about the future of travel, but before we get to started, I did want to share some sad news. Many of you may have seen that Marriott’s president and CEO Arne Sorenson passed away. I wanted to acknowledge this unfortunate news and also send a heartfelt condolence to his family, his friends, and everyone at Marriott. Christine, is there anything you would like to add?

 

Christine Kettmer: Thank you so much, Jesus. Thank you for those sentiments and to everybody who’s reached out so far. It definitely is a very hard day, and a tremendous loss for the hospitality community and the Marriott extended family. Arne was just an amazing person. He was incredibly approachable, humble and brilliant and just such a visionary. He transformed our company. He was the first non-Marriott family member to serve as CEO and only the third CEO in the company’s history. We’ve been around for 94 years. Mr. Marriott said it really well: [Arne] was an exceptional executive, but [even more], an exceptional human being. So, [it is a] huge loss. Thank you for those sentiments. We’ll definitely be continuing to pray and think about him and his family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire community.

 

JR: Thank you, Christine. Perhaps a good way to start our conversation is for you to tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional journey.

 

CK: Sure, I’m happy to do that. Thank you for the opportunity to be here. As you said, I’m the Senior Director for Global Enterprise Insights and Strategy, which is a function at Marriott International. I’ve been at the company for about seven years now in different roles… I’ve always been interested in marketing and communications and consumer insights and behavior, so started off working at a nonprofit at the NGO in Geneva, Switzerland. right out of college. I moved there and did [marketing and communications] work for a human rights organization. Then I pivoted to working on different campaigns for health and education and safety accounts here in Washington, DC… I used to tell people all the time that I worked on social marketing. I [could] teach people to brush their teeth, but I [didn’t] know how to sell toothpaste.

 

I really wanted to get back into the product side and the innovation [of business], that allowed me to pivot and go back full-time to business school. After business school, I [took] the traditional CBT route. I worked at Johnson & Johnson for three years on [their] baby brands [and] a couple of the beauty brands, and really learned how to run a PNL [and] be responsible for new product development. But I always just loved the “Why?” – [why] people purchased different brands or were attracted to different products. So, that’s really what led me into the consumer behavior space. As I said, I’ve been at Marriott for about seven years now in a couple of different roles. I went back to brand management for a little while and worked on the GW global brand team, and the JW Marriott global brand team for a couple of years, but I’ve been in different roles related to insights, strategy, customer experience, [always focused on] helping to represent [the] voice of the customer? What is it that’s important to [them and] where [can] we take their travel experiences… in the future?

 

JR: That’s awesome, thank you for sharing that. It’s a great journey. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about your teams, responsibility and what you do at Marriott [now]?

 

CK: Sure. Ours is a relatively new team, but it’s a great group that basically thinks about where we [are] heading as a company. What are we seeing in the trends and [what are the associated] implications for our business? How do we create strategic opportunities for our leaders and for our brands for the different business lines that we’re involved in? [We focus on] leaning into the perspective of what’s happening in the marketplace, what we’re seeing in the data, and what our guests are telling us, and [try to represent] that point of view. So, we’re thinking a lot about all the things and information that are happening right now, as a result of our business, but also, [identifying] where opportunities [are]. Where are those bright spots are? Where are the things that we can lean into and where can we go in the future, so that we’re meeting the guests where they are, but we’re also [driving] loyalty and commitment to our brands [for] the long-term?

 

JR: The travel and hospitality industry [was] hit fairly hard [this past year] but there have been some bright spots. You and I have spoken [previously about] some really interesting [themes]… What have been the bright spots for you and your organization during this time?

 

CK: People are definitely looking forward to booking their next trip. And if anything, they’re going to be more appreciative and [more] cognizant of what that will mean when they’re first on that airplane ride, or they’re checking into that hotel, or even if they’re getting a rental service [or] mode of transportation. So, I think one of the bright spots is – even though [it took] a little longer than obviously anybody would have hoped or anticipated – there is that excitement [and] enthusiasm, that when people want to plan a trip, they’re willing to do so. They’re looking for that next vacation, or even [feeling] excited about conferences or in-person networking opportunities to reconnect with colleagues.

"I am optimistic that travel will come back, and I think it's going to come back with a vengeance. I use the term 'revenge travel'. People are willing and excited, but they're also ready. And so again, if it's taken a little bit longer than the anticipated, I think people will be certainly more appreciative of it."

So, the enthusiasm, that’s something that really strikes me as a blind spot. I would also say, in general, there are lots of opportunities for our guests, when they have a good day, they’re more inclined to tell other people about it. So, we’re seeing some bright spots in social media and in our Guest Voice, which is our platform. We look at all of the survey responses that come in, once they’ve had a really good experience… [We’ve found that they’re] more inclined to book something, and either stay longer or post about it [and] share with others. It really is about restoring that confidence. Making sure that we’re doing all the things we’ve always done – the standards are incredibly high – but reinforcing cleanliness and safety protocols, and really making sure that we’re still enabling that high-touch high-tech service combination. So, leaning into our associates: Making sure that they’re feeling trained to demonstrate the [right] protocols, but also like deliver or welcome [guests] with a smile, even if [when] wearing a mask. [We’re] really trying to make sure that the experience is still there and that we’re ready to welcome our guests, whenever that time is right for them.

 

JR: One of the things that I found really interesting in our last conversation was that Marriott was one of the first to mandate mask requirements. To me, this is an indicator of leading through values, and really placing an importance on not just guest safety – obviously that’s important as we go forward – but also your associate and employee’s safety.

 

CK: Completely. Yes. The founding principle of the company is all about putting people first. So, we always have said that if you take care of your associates, they’ll take care of the guests, and the guests will come back. That’s been the underlying business model since the beginning. So, it [seemed] really groundbreaking last summer, [but] we look back on it now, and it’s almost a no brainer. Of course, [employees] would wear [masks]…. But at the time, when it was announced in July, it was really forward-thinking for the industry. And it was in the spirit of “We’re all in this together, but we’re trying to protect each other and do [whatever we can to] allow our guests to feel more comfortable, but also reinforce the fact that we [prioritize] health and safety so much…” We really want to make sure our guests feel comfortable. However, that might look, we’re doing everything on our part to make it happen.

 

JR: That’s fantastic. There are signals that indicate there’s pent-up travel demand. There’s an uptick in consumer confidence as it relates to travel. So, how are you anticipating and preparing for this eventual resurgence of travel?

 

CK: As I mentioned, our brand standards and our maintenance and safety protocols are certainly paramount. We want to make sure that we have those physical cues, that they’re being demonstrated on a regular basis, and that our guests are prepared. They know expectations going in – from the time that they’re planning and booking a trip, to the pre-arrival communications, [and] the on-property experience. And then, hopefully [providing] something that really feels positive and resonates with them, so that when they’re wanting to rebook, or that they’re sharing with others, they have a good story to tell. [We hope that sentiment will make them more] inclined to come back again in the future. I think, also, just in general, it’s about like flawless execution of the basics, right? Meeting our guests where they are.

 

So, you know, making accommodations [and doing] all the things that we had in place before, but now [elevating them]. So, [for example, updating] our technology with keyless entry, or [allowing guests to] get keys downloaded [through] the app; [messaging] through the app for housekeeping requests [or ordering] in-room dining or room service. Just making sure that we’re still providing that high-tech high-touch service model, and that our guests [feel like] our associates… care: They want to make sure that they’re comfortable with their stay, and that they feel like they’re being taken care of. When guests come, [we don’t want them to] have to really think about much. It’s all sort of available for them… And hopefully, again, having a great experience.

 

Also read: What’s In Store For the Future of Travel?

"The little thoughtful gesture, and small touches accumulate. They really go a long way. I think that gets remembered, and then guests sort of expect that elevated level of service.

JR: I want to double down on something that you had mentioned, which I found really interesting. There’s this talk of contactless and, obviously, that’s important given some of the safety concerns, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not personal and the experience and those moments of truth and those touch points are still opportunities to create personalization. I think that’s something that you guys have really focused on.

 

CK: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, a lot of our associates are tremendous detectives. They’re really good at getting information without people operating too much. They do a great job of just making sure that the little elements and experiences and touch points, they feel really personalized. But it’s not something like, “Oh, we just happened to have extra of this…,” or “This is something I’m going to do to be nice.” It’s actually through an authentic and genuine kind of connection. And so, I think a lot of our properties… I can think of examples when I was working on the JW Marriott brand. I hear stories like it’s almost expected, if you check in, you mention [you’re there for an] anniversary or birthday – that you’re celebratin –if somebody happens to find that out ahead of time, and there’s a special amenity or gift, [like it’s recognized by the on-site] restaurant or something. It’s just a nice touch. And I think, you know, a lot of our hotels do a good way of making the guests feel uniquely recognized and special, but also, in a way that it’s not burdensome. It’s just actually a true pleasure and [an] opportunity for our associates to shine and to do something that they feel is really unique, too.

 

JR: Yeah. It’s those little moments of delight that are really human in nature, and they don’t have to be big things. They can be small little things, and they make a big difference.

 

CK: Exactly… It sounds obvious, but sometimes, if you’re waiting for a car to pull up as you’re checking out of the hotel, [providing] cold towels available, or bottles of water if it’s a hot day. When people are arriving, [giving] them like a little cloth or something, so that they can wipe the airport [off of] them, or whatever it is. [The] little thoughtful gesture and small touches accumulate. They really go a long way. I think that gets remembered, and then [guests] sort of expect that elevated level of service. But it’s really foundational at the end of the day. It’s about getting those basics, right?

 

JR: That’s fantastic. I’m going to switch gears a little bit… Travel just isn’t about travel. It’s always had a larger meaning and, you know, it’s quite possible that the meaning of travel is going to change or has changed during this time. What are your thoughts on this?

CK: Yeah, it’s interesting… People are definitely planning still for that next big trip. [Maybe it’s] something that they wanted to take five [or] 10 years from now, but [now], it’s more immediate. So, once the timing again is right, they’re taking advantage of it. But I also think that people are going to be a little bit more intentional with their travel. They’re not necessarily [going to] try to go… Like if they go to Europe and do seven countries and seven days – [travel] might be a little bit slower, a little bit more focused and deliberate. And certainly, I think a little bit more introspective. People might just be more appreciative of the opportunity to travel. And we’ve seen this shift towards, what I would call: The intentional or the slow travel, where people pace themselves, again. Maybe they take a longer route – it’s a little bit more scenic – or, of course, [they’re] blending business and leisure travel… People are taking more extended time to have some time maybe for work, but also tacking on a few extra days to spend with family members or friends… Everybody is just excited to be with their loved ones… People are comfortable, but they’re kind of experiencing virtual meeting or Zoom fatigue. So, having the opportunity, nothing replaces in-person connections. We know that, whether it’s a chance to go visit extended family members or at our hotels [at] conferences and meetings [or] events: People miss being with other people, and you can’t ask them to replace that in-person connection. So, having the opportunity to really foster those moments, I think people [will] be more appreciative of them, in general…

 

JR: Inherently, we’re social creatures.

 

CK: Yeah, exactly.

 

JR: I heard somebody say a little while ago, I can’t remember where I read it, but it was something along the lines of: “Travel used to be for escape. And now, it’s more for connection.” That’s connection to others or connection to yourself, which [aligns with your idea of] introspection and slowing down and being more intentional.

 

CK: I think, in general, people are just more appreciative… We’re just going back to our roots and a little bit more appreciative of the gifts of the world around us and what we can give back, in turn.

 

JR: That’s fantastic. So, in your role in particular, you mentioned this at the top of the session… in your role, you’re really looking at insights and trying to have a pulse on your guests and travelers, in general. So, what are some of the things that you’ve seen? What are some of the new consumer trends or needs or behaviors either that you didn’t expect and were sort of a surprise [about], or things that you’re seeing that are thematic?

 

CK: In terms of behaviors, I touched on [this] briefly earlier, about “B-leisure:” The blending of different trip purposes. Whereas before, people might’ve tacked on an extra day or two, now, because of the extended breaks that people are taking, or even temporary relocations – you’ve heard the stories of some of these different countries that are offering temporary work visas or opportunities for people to scoop up a house for a dollar in different markets and stuff – I think people are really being a little bit more deliberate with their tips and trying to blend the experiences. So, then it’s that balance. And I think in general, just focusing on their personal and mental wellbeing has been tremendous. It’s been really important. So, I, I would say leaning into some of the more wellbeing-focused travel. That’s something that we’ve seen pick up quite a bit. People are thinking, “Okay, how can I incorporate physical exercise or mindfulness experiences and our hotels?”

"Focusing on their personal and mental wellbeing has been tremendous. It's been really important. So, I, I would say leaning into some of the more wellbeing-focused travel. That's something that we’ve seen pick up quite a bit."

I have to say, they’ve just done an amazing job pivoting and re-purposing different spaces. [For example], we have family yoga sessions. There are hotels where they reconverted old rooms into spots and sanctuaries… It’s really been interesting to [see] what guests are wanting and requesting, and how we’ve been able to accommodate… And then, I think also just in general, one thing that is so important for our guests is feeling very comfortable when they come to the properties through all elements of the journey. So, from the moment that they arrive, they have a good experience, to the times when they’re enjoying some of our food and beverage outlets… [it’s also important to] make sure that like we’re offering opportunities for work arounds. Some of our hotels, again, have done an amazing job when it comes to redesigning some of their guest rooms to be private dining spaces or [hosting] evening social events where we have like cocktail cards or places where people can choose to have a happy hour kind of experience…

 

And then just also being able to [provide] partnership [experiences in] local areas if they want to leave the hotel. We have this great program called Eat Around Town. Guests can go, earn points through local establishments and partnerships and restaurants. I don’t know if people realize this: We have over 7,000 hotels globally. Multiply that times the communities in which those properties are located, and you’ve got lots of chances to really enjoy your points, [and do stuff] off property, as well.

 

JR: Let’s talk about the whole notion of transforming spaces. I think that’s a really interesting thing that we’ve seen, [and] not just in the travel industry. It’s been a common theme. Restaurants, as an example, have had to rethink their floor plans [and] their entire delivery system. It’s also created an opportunity for different businesses [and] industries to really rethink their spaces and things that are not being used. How do you repurpose them to really serve your customer? I thought that was really interesting… I’d love to learn a little bit more about your partnerships and what your perspective is on how partnerships will evolve going forward, given that there’s [not] a single entity that owns the full end to end customer experience, but there’s a lot of alliances and partnerships.

 

CK: We have so many different types of partnerships. I think some of the ones that really resonate with people right now are the ones where, again, you’re drawing meaningful connections or experiences, too, or that it’s relevant or applicable to what they’re doing every day. I think about last summer. We launched a program where you could earn a grade. It was, like, six times the amount of points for groceries, and again, it was through our credit card program. It was meeting people, our guests, where they are and what they’re using their different points on, or their credit card dollars with, at this point. Our Marriott signature brand [also] partnered with Ted. I think some of the talks that are out there are [focused around] those meaningful moments or connections or experiences – just taking the chance for people to feel like travel really enriches the soul. And when they’re traveling, people feel a little bit more open to new experiences and to opportunities. And so, if it’s that intellectual stimulation or learning [opportunity], I think that’s a great way for people to feel like, “OK, I can be more balanced and full of life and present in the moment.” And I think that some of that comes through in those little moments or those different pockets of inspiration that we try to activate through partnerships.

 

JR: I think that hits on a couple of things. It hits on this notion that rethinking travel – the partnerships that you’re forging are – different than they were even several years ago. And it’s more about learning in these really meaningful and intimate experiences. I think that’s really interesting.

 

CK: Definitely. I think the balance is now a little different… You touched on things like our spaces and the redesign, you can’t necessarily always do it in community or with others. So, thinking through, “How do you benefit individually, but then share that out collectively?” How does that balance occur, where you’re able to do something for yourself, but you also can share it with others, even if you have to be a little bit more socially distant or physically not in the same space? There’s still a way to feel that enriching experience.

"How does that balance occur, where you're able to do something for yourself, but you also can share it with others, even if you have to be a little bit more socially distant or physically not in the same space?"

JR: What are you doing or what is Marriott doing to really position itself to be able to offer those types of experiences or be a part of that experience?

 

CK: There are a lot of different things that our hotels have done. We have a partnership where we do tours and activities. There are off property chances where people can take advantage of different versions or experiences. Some of our properties have farms where you can go and pick your own food, almost [be a] farmer for the day, which is pretty cool. [Also], when [people] go to a hotel, they don’t want to stay at [the] hotel the whole time, so having the chance to experience some of those off-property locations. I can think of one of our hotels in Thailand, [it has] a great partnership with a local aquarium. They do an activation where they actually bring kids who are staying at the hotel to the site and they teach them about all the different animals that are there.

 

[Also], I think [it’s] the Ritz Carlton down in Amelia Island. they have an onsite Marine Biology, which is pretty cool for families. It’s [about] trying to bring some of the elements of what’s around them, [and weaving it into] the experience at the hotel, or even off-[property], if it’s a partnership or local activation. I think, in general, people just want to [have] tangible, sensorial experiences, really getting back to [their] roots and back into nature… I think people are feeling a little bit more appreciative and intentional with that nature perspective.

 

JR: Yeah, that’s great. You mentioned being a farmer for the day. I went to this [goat] farm in Pescadero a couple of years ago [where you could] pet the [animals]. That’d be a great experience through one of your hotels.

 

CK: Totally. I mean, I remember a couple of years ago, goat yoga was all the rage, right? One of my colleagues said something the other day that. There is a local alpaca farm here in DC, and you can bring people there. It’s just amazing that, connection to animals [and] sense of nature. It’s just really important to people. So, that’s fantastic.

 

JR: One of the things that I’d love to spend a little bit of time on is this notion of understanding your traveler and understanding your guest and understanding customer sentiment. [I’m] curious to hear your thoughts on what can brands do to get closer to their customer, to really understand what are their needs [are], and what role does data have in this?

 

CK: I think a lot of it is, just like I was saying earlier, going back to the basics. Really listening to your customers, understanding what’s important to the guests and paying attention. And I think this comes through. We have great resources that we can utilize from social media where we’re getting that real-time feedback as people are staying in our hotels, but also just looking at the data like the post-day surveys, and looking at what worked well, [and where] could be opportunities for improvement? We always love it when our guests are recognizing special associates, or they share an experience that they’ve had. [It’s about] really paying attention to what’s important and making sure that we’re doing all the right things. So, it’s a combination of… signage in the right place or the high-tech service that’s available, or just ensuring that we’re adapting and adapting, [again].

"I think a lot of it is going back to the basics. Really listening to your customers, understanding what's important to the guests, and paying attention."

[For example], I think all of our restaurants pivoted really quickly to offer QR codes, instead of having tactile menus or having different technologies… The app was able to [accept] housekeeping requests on demand – people could [message] through the app and the interface [to] request services. A lot of it is just recognizing, what are the patterns or the trends that are emerging and the common themes? And therefore, ensuring that we’re doing it right. [Are we] setting the expectations so that our guests… [know what they] can expect to have happen? … It’s really just about getting the basics right. And making sure that we’re listening to them and meeting them where they’re at and delivering [with] flawless execution wherever we can.

 

JR:  You and I had a conversation earlier this week, and you were mentioning that you’re a founding board member for the women leading travel and hospitality group I found [that] really interesting and fascinating. I’m wondering if you might be able to share a little bit more there.

 

CK:  Sure. Yeah. I’m happy to talk about it. And thank you for the opportunity. So, Women Leading Travel & Hospitality is a relatively recent group. We just launched in January. So, if people are looking for it, they can find more information on LinkedIn. We have some social channels through Instagram, [and] they do a newsletter that comes out once a week on Tuesday mornings. And it’s really a network of different women throughout the different hospitality industry. So, of course, [there is] me from the hotel space; there are a couple other women leaders who are from other competitor companies, or peer companies, but then it’s also about representation from airlines, from transportation services. We have some relative startups, like where people are working on things that are related to RVs and alternative accommodation. There’s a woman who is running the innovation center at DFW at the Dallas Fort worth airport.

 

So, I mean, it’s the whole gamut of different experiences, but one thing that I’ve really appreciated… We have peer groups where we talk about all sorts of different topics. What we’re seeing in our respective industries and sectors, but then also like, what are some of the challenges that we’re all facing in this remote environment? Or how are we going to lead performance evaluations this year, or even just like, you know, what does it mean to be a really effective leader? And so, it’s a whole gambit of different topics, but I think that there’s a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for people’s different viewpoints and their input. And it’s just a great way to network with other people. So, I would really encourage people to be looking at their website. We have an event actually next Thursday, which will be February 25th. [Anyone] can participate in that, but it’s a relatively nominal membership entry point for people to join. And it’s just a great network and a way for people to really [come] together from different industries and different perspectives.

 

JR: Yeah. I love that. I love the fact that there’s this spirit of partnership and it’s not competitive. And, you know, I think that was a topic that was hit on in the previous session as well, that I think this time has really shown that the industry is stronger as a whole. When everybody comes together and partners, it’s much more operative…

 

CK: Yeah. I’ve been very impressed with a lot of the different groups. I know, in particular, the U.S. travel Association has been really pivoting to get all of the different sectors involved in terms of planning a vacation day or thinking about like that next trip… IT goes through all the different stages [of] that customer journey experience.

 

JR: I have a few more questions and then I think we should probably pivot over to the question in the Q&A… What are you optimistic about? What are you most excited about looking forward?

CK: I am optimistic that travel will come back, and I think it’s going to come back with a vengeance. I use the term “revenge travel”. People are willing and excited, but they’re [also] ready. And so again, if it’s taken a little bit longer than the anticipated, I think people will be certainly more appreciative of it. I think in general, I’m optimistic that people are going to be a little bit nicer, a little bit more patient… We know that travel is such a gift, and that people won’t take it for granted… And so, I’m optimistic that every time that people travel going forward, you’re just going to realize what a tremendous gift it is and what an experience it is to be able to do it, whether it’s personally, or professionally, or some combination.

 

JR: One of the things that we’ve seen probably over the last year is also the approach that companies have had to take days off. There’s been a lot more flexibility and acknowledgement that it’s an important thing – that people’s wellbeing is important. There’s going to be challenges, as we go forward. And I think I’m optimistic and hopeful that companies will value that going forward or will continue to value that.

 

CK: I agree. I definitely think so. And I’ve seen, even among our leadership, people taking advantage of opportunities to have those blended experiences… But that balance is really critical.

 

JR: Yeah. So I know we’re wrapping up. I can I ask a few of the Q and A’s. One of them is: How has your loyalty strategy been impacted over the last six months?

 

KC: Sure. So we’ve made a couple of different changes to our loyalty program. And if people are curious to know a little bit more, they can certainly go online and see about some of the requirements as it relates to status and tiers and weeknights and all that. But I mean, as it is today, of course we want people to love our brands, to be those brand ambassadors, to have great experiences. [We] focused on what I was talking a little bit earlier, in terms of [providing] opportunity to earn points [at] different ancillary revenue sources. But also, we want to give our guests the chance to burn points, to use their points, [and] actually take advantage of those redemption days. To really plan that next big trip [and to] be excited for it. So, it’s just more of a shift in terms of where the spending is. In general, I think our five-point program has been consistently recognized as a really amazing program with wonderful perks and privileges, and members just love it. So, we want to keep that train going, I would say.

 

JR: One last question. What is the pivot at Marriott that you’re most proud of in the last year?

KC: The last year? I would say the authenticity that people are showing. I think that people are really just so genuine in terms of their experiences now. It’s a little bit vulnerable, but people have shown their home lives; It’s intersecting with their professional lives. But I think a great example of going back to what we were kind of talking about at the beginning… Displaying empathy from the get-go and really acknowledging and recognizing that people are going through all of those stirred up emotions: The ups, the downs, the peaks, the valleys. And so, just having the courage and conviction for people to say, “I can’t be on-call at six o’clock at night because that’s the time that I put my kids down for a bath,” or at 7:00 AM… It’s just, again, “That’s not going to work for me because that’s the time that my husband and I read the newspaper together and have coffee.” The little things like that, it’s showing everyone’s authenticity, but also the expectations that people will continue to give their all and that everybody is working together and we’re not going to let go of short and long-term plans, but we want to be supporting each other. [Whatever] that looks like.

 

JR: Yeah, yeah, we’ve really sort of brought down the facade that everything is flawless. It’s not.

 

CK: It’s real.

 

Are you actively trying to plan or strategize for the future of plan? Contact us now to see examples of our work with travel & hospitality clients.

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News This Week in CX

What’s In Store For the Future of Travel?

Airports, airlines, hotels, and businesses that rely on local tourism are rapidly trying to build new and innovate old customer experiences to make customers feel safe, and encourage the resurgence of travel sooner, rather than later. Just this past week:

 

  • Air France announced plans to test new ICC AOKpass health passes starting March 11 on all flights from Paris to Pointe-à-Pitre and Fort-de-France. The tests will be provided to travelers willing to volunteer, and be an opportunity to assess real-life application and gather consumer feedback. The ICC AOKpass is one of many solutions being evaluated to manage digital health documents. If successful, it is meant to improve the customer experience and streamline the airport journey so that the skies can safely reopen and traveling without fear can resume.
  • Emirates announced a new partnership with GE Digital Aviation Software and TE FOOD  to trial a new smartphone app that empowers safer and easier international travel. The app, currently titled TrustOne, will house all medical screenings of employees and travelers. Additionally, users preparing for a trip will be able to use the app to find testing and lab locations, book appointments, and review test results. Use of the app will cost money – around $40.84 – but a representative for GE Digital said in a press statement, “This is the first step in making international travel during the pandemic as convenient as possible by facilitating pre-travel requirements.” As trials ensue, the GE Digital team will continue to iterate to ensure the app meets government testing and verification requirements.
  • FlySafair, an airline dedicated to transporting travelers to South Africa, also released an app that they hope will simplify the customer experience and in turn, increase their pandemic travel market share. “Customers can manage their journeys on their own devices,” explained FlySafair’s Chief Marketing Officer Kirby Gordon. “Boarding devices are kept on the device which supports our ‘No Touch’ approach at the airport and live updates through the app will keep customers abreast of any possible schedule changes.” Individuals who wish to visit South Africa can also use the app to search for and book flights.

Reimagining the Hotel Customer Experience

While airports and airlines scurry to announce new plans and fight to be the first to lead pent-up travelers into the new normal, hotels are also planning for what the future may hold. According to Christine Ketter, the Senior Director of Customer Experience and Innovation for Marriott International, the forecast for future travel is bright.

 

“We know that people are definitely looking forward to booking [their] next trip,” she told our Vice President of Strategy, Jesus Ramirez, during a Brand Innovators live discussion. “And if anything, they’re going to be more appreciative, [and more] cognizant of what it will mean when they’re on that [first] airplane ride or checking into that hotel. I think [that’s] one of bright spots, that – even though it took a little bit longer than obviously anybody would have hoped or anticipated – there is that excitement [and] enthusiasm that when people want to plan a trip, they’re willing to do so. They’re [proactively] looking for that next vacation, or even [getting] excited about conferences or in-person networking opportunities to reconnect with colleagues.”

 

To ensure hotel visitors have exceptional experiences, Christine said it’s important for hotels not only to personalize the visits, but provide them with socially distanced yet engaging opportunities on-property and off.

 

“[Marriott International has] done an amazing job pivoting and repurposing different spaces. We have family yoga sessions [and] old rooms [that have been converted] into sanctuaries. [It’s all about] what guests are wanting and requesting. It is so important for our guests [to feel] very comfortable when they come to the properties through all elements of the journey, from the moment that they arrive to the times when they’re enjoying some of our food and beverage outlets. Some of our hotels [have redesigned] guests rooms to be private dining spaces or [spaces] for evening social events.”

 

Local partnerships are also creative ways to improve guest experiences. For example, Christine says various Marriott locations allow guests to be farmers for a day or take Marine biology courses for intellectual stimulation.

 

Also read: 3 Companies Launch New “Unparalleled” Experiences Aimed at Improving Common Life Events

 

“Travel used to be for escape. And now it’s more for connection. That’s connection to others [and] connection to yourself,” Jesus said, pointing out that intention and introspection will all be themes that travelers weave into their vacation plans. “So travel just isn’t about travel. It’s always had a larger meaning,” he says. “it’s quite possible that the meaning of travel is going to change or has changed during this time.”

 

Christine agreed, saying hotels need to spotlight guest’s mental health and wellness by providing options for them to engage in both physical and mindfulness exercises.

 

To learn what else Christine and Jesus predicted for the future of travel, watch the full conversation below or read the full transcript here:

What Our Travel Expert Predicts For Airlines & Hotels

We wanted to pick other Tallwaver’s brains so we reached out to our Senior Consultant Matthew Kiesel, who worked for two airlines at headquarters (United and American Airlines) and did airline management consulting for Sabre prior to joining our team, for his take on the current and future state of travel.

 

What is your perspective on the travel industry right now?

I think the piece that’s still been hit the hardest is corporate business traffic. And there’s a couple of reasons behind that. One: Companies have travel restrictions for health and safety reasons. They don’t want their employees traveling when there’s liability and risk. Two: Many companies have faced extreme budget cuts, so travel is one of the first things to go in terms of controllable expenses. And three: People have just adjusted to the Zoom world in a way that no one thought was possible. Some of those meetings where professionals may have flown somewhere for just a day or hopped across the world for a sales pitch, that’s changed because everyone is surprisingly comfortable meeting virtually now.

 

Do you think travel is going to return anytime soon?

I think the segment we see coming back quicker than others is domestic travel and leisure travel. People are anxious to go somewhere. The fares and room rates are unbelievably cheap right now, so people that feel comfortable taking small risks are willing to take advantage of those deals. I think international travel is a bit of a different story, though. There are so many restrictions going between countries – you have to research what countries are allowing travelers and inbound traffic, or even where you are allowed to make connections. Additionally, there are so many additional travel requirements. You need a test before you get there, then you need a test to get back into the United States. Some places have even instituted mandatory quarantines. So, that type of travel will be slower to come back.

 

What do you think needs to happen to increase traveler confidence and make the experience easier to navigate to support a resurgence of travel?

Airlines, airports and hotels have done a surprisingly good job of being nimble and dynamic. Airlines, in particular, are typically slow to react because they’re massive companies and kind of old school in their management style. So, they’ve really used the technology and tools at their disposal, like apps, to be more nimble, change more quickly and adapt to the various updates in rules and regulations. And I think the apps, when they’re official and a part of the travel journey, will really help out. Travelers won’t be tasked with figuring out the rules or where to get tested by themselves. If travel and hospitality organizations integrate those requirements into the process at a reasonable cost, people will likely be willing to accept that.

 

What do you think the customer experience associated with travel will look like as we enter into a post-pandemic world?

For both health and safety reasons – and, equally so, cost reasons – airlines have stripped away nearly every component of onboard service. They’re barely even offering water service unless you need it. They’ve been able to make that work, and have forced passengers to lower their expectations even further. But I think as travel returns, the airlines will have a difficult time figuring out how to bring back the onboard experience. They have to really evaluate what their model is going to look like. Are they going to return to exactly the way they were before? Or do they use this as an opportunity to reset their customer and onboard experiences in terms of identifying what people are willing to pay for?

 

Are there any data insights you think organizations within the travel & hospitality industry should be paying attention to?

When airlines first started coming back, they were all blocking the middle seat, that way travelers knew there wouldn’t be anyone directly next to them. Now, I believe all the big carriers except Delta have eliminated that feature. What’s interesting is that we haven’t seen any data that suggests Delta outperformed other carriers by keeping that customer friendly component. That proves that people are still primarily price conscious when it comes to traveling – and that might transcend airlines and relate to hotel accommodations, as well. All organizations in the travel and hospitality category need to experiment to figure out what people are willing to pay for and, therefore, what customer expectations they need to strategize around and plan for. More than ever, organizations need to understand consumer behavior and what’s driving them to travel, either now or in the future.

 

Also read: Qualitative and Quantitative Data in CX Design: Everything You Need to Know

 

As travel and hospitality organizations seek out solutionists and partners to help innovate their customer experience, what should they be looking for?

A company who can look at the experience holistically, starting with journey mapping. In the airline world, we often performed customer journey mapping. It’s an exercise that traces every touch point, from booking or searching all the way to picking up your bag and getting into your car after a flight; a good journey map should even evaluate the post-flight experience and communications. Travel and hospitality organizations should look for partners who have experience evaluating the various touch points and illuminating moments of friction and opportunities for improvement. Further, for any project, the recommendations from partners should be substantiated by strong qualitative and quantitative data to ensure they’re not only giving customers what they want, but also predicting what they’re going to need and how their behaviors and expectations are going to evolve.

Is your organization looking to grow, optimize, or digitally transform your customer experience? Reach out to us today. We’d love to help.