Two Tour Operators Provide the Best Digital Customer Experience, Says Study: Online bookings now dominate the travel industry. Despite political and economic uncertainty, Brits appear unwilling to sacrifice travel plans, with 86 percent taking a holiday at home or aboard in 2018. Eight out of 10 UK holiday makers now book their travel plans online, whether direct with an airline or hotel (47 percent), a booking website (41 percent) or via a travel agent (40 percent).
With 4 out of 5 holidays booked online, the digital customer experience is key to ensuring travel companies drive sales and grow market share in the coming twelve months—this according to the results of a study by Toronto-based Maru/Matchbox, a communications and brand research firm.
A great customer experience – including online interactions – is a major driver of both customer loyalty and future revenue. Our own insight reveals sites who are regarded better than their rivals enjoy much higher brand advocacy ratings, while supporting market analysis demonstrates that when a brand improves its customer experience, revenue can – and will – increase.
Maru/Matchbox has been benchmarking the digital travel landscape since 2008. By benchmarking top hoteliers, airlines, booking sites and travel agents, the company says, “we can identify the autonomy of a leading site and uncover best practice so others in the industry can replicate leading digital customer experience.”
Without revealing specifics, the company says that its effectively documents the impact of new technology and emerging trends on consumer expectations. Using independent digital shoppers to assess the end-to-end online booking experience, results have helped guide the travel industry over the past eleven years as it looks to continuously adapt to rapidly changing needs.
Holiday habits are changing, Maru/Matchbox indicated, noting that industry reports suggest more UK holiday makers are sacrificing minibreaks for one longer, extended holiday. It means thorough research and careful budgeting have never been so important to online bookers.
So, What Makes a Great Digital Customer Experience in 2019? The takeaways:
—A consistent and seamless digital customer experience is key to driving online bookings.
Yet, results demonstrate industrywide variability across the digital customer journey, including with Travel Digital Experience Benchmark leaders TUI and Thomas Cook.
—While brands are delighting with enticing homepages, many are failing to meet user expectations when it comes to inspiration, search and booking processes.
—It represents a huge opportunity for the market. When hoteliers and airlines are investing in campaigns to encourage booking directly and win back market share from intermediaries (Hilton’s ‘Expect Better, Expect Hilton’ campaign debuted in September 2018), it is essential that brands deliver exceptional digital experiences that drive on-going relationships and reduce barriers to purchase.
—Notably, tour operators and booking agents continue to drive best-in-class digital travel experiences, highlighting the development still needed by travel brands to effectively capitalize on campaign messaging.
—Despite consumers becoming more invested with researching holidays before booking, the initial research stage of the customer journey recorded the lowest benchmark average with a score of just 71 percent.
—Almost all online booking decisions are driven by ratings and reviews. Users expect to see review listings, especially for accommodation. Despite the importance of reviews to the travel industry, surveyors scored an average of just 56% for customer ratings. It is essential that reviews are easy to access and browsers have the ability to read all reviews, not just a select few.
—Customers want to be inspired and expect sites to sufficiently inform them about destinations, resorts and experiences. Product photos and videos – where available – also help customers to make informed booking choices yet scored an average of just 77 percent and 22 percent respectively. It represents a huge opportunity for brands to not only differentiate, but to improve online conversion rates.
—Customer reviews and product photos will become increasingly important to digital travel customer journeys with the impending end to high-pressure selling tactics by hotel booking sites.
—Two thirds (66 percent) of online travel bookers feel pressure-selling messages, such as the number of people looking at a hotel, has influenced their decision on where and where to book. Without these messages, users will put their trust in reviews, with two thirds (68 percent) saying they would use as part of their decision-making. This was significantly higher than both “prices” and “promotions” indicating even the best prices and offers cannot overcome a poor review experience.