Driven largely by advancements in online technology, the needs and expectations of today’s travellers have changed as much in the past two decades as they have over the past two millennia. As a result, today’s travel companies need to innovate how they sell travel products, as much as they need to innovate the product itself.
At OpenJaw Technologies, we believe that all travel companies, from airlines to hotels (and everywhere in between), need to relate differently to their customers. They need to think of themselves as retailers and not just the seller of a seat or a bed. They need to inspire customers, offer a personalized experience, differentiate themselves from the competition and convert effectively. We call this philosophy t-Retailing.
The theme of the third annual OpenJaw t-Retailing Summit was to educate travel companies to become better travel retailers. Dr Nicola Millard, a customer experience futurologist at British Telecom, was the keynote speaker at the Summit. A consistent finding from Dr Millard’s research across markets and verticals was that ease of interaction with a brand is a prerequisite for today’s consumer. This is borne out by the fact that 78% of Brits and 82% of Americans spend more with businesses that are easy to interact with.
So why do travel retailers fall behind their online counterparts when it comes to making it easy for customers to do business with their brand? The Amazon-isation of travel is often used as a default “call to arms” for the industry, and while there is a lot to learn from how intuitive that particular retailer can be, travel is more complicated.
From the customer’s perspective, each trip is made up of a dizzying number of choices and components, including flight dates/times, routes, cabin classes, hotel options, car, insurance, transfers and activities. From a travel retailer’s perspective, managing these individual products and prices from different suppliers provides unique challenges. Companies like OpenJaw can reduce this complexity, hide it from the view of the customer and present an easy, integrated shopping experience. OpenJaw can also enable travel companies to directly manage their product offerings in an effective and profitable way.
Data-driven merchandising is a potent tool for increasing the ‘easy factor’. Big Data is a buzzword which, like the Amazon-isation of travel, is over used. Big Data certainly has its place, but not at the expense of leveraging ‘Little Data’. At OpenJaw, we support the use of Big Data systems; however, we also encourage our customers to leverage the data already existing in their e-Commerce platforms, including product level analytics.
Consider a common travel product – a seat on a flight – and the opportunities it presents in terms of revenue generation. Offering extra leg room at a cost is something many fliers are aware of. A business traveller will pay more than a holidaymaker to sit at the front in order to speed up embarkation; an aisle seat on a long haul flight is worth more than on a short haul flight; families will pay to sit together.
But it is essential that choices such as these are carefully cross-sold at the right time throughout the booking flow if it is to satisfy customer need and realise revenue for the retailer. Product level analytics can play an important role in establishing how to cross-sell effectively.
What constitutes the right product at the right time is driven by an understanding of who the customer is and what products can meet their needs based on the context and where they are in their travel journey. In order to cut through the clutter and avoid paralysis associated with too much choice, biasing of products based on a Personalization strategy is an important tool for making the travel shopping experience ‘easy’.
Travel isn’t the only vertical to have it’s established processes thrown into disarray by the rise of the smartphone and other wireless devices. Travel retailers need to look towards an omni-channel retailing approach to manage these new channels. Delivering a consistent customer-centric experience across platforms that is device- and context-aware, useful and elegant in its simplicity is something many retailers struggle with and must strive for.
We absolutely have to strip away anything that gets in the way and make it easy for the customer to buy, regardless of the device and ensure a frictionless journey to, and through, checkout.
Easy interaction also hinges on having a single view of the customer. If you can access everything a customer has bought, searched, or shared, then you are one step closer to seamlessly servicing their needs across multiple channels. At OpenJaw, we facilitate this view through our SuperPNR repository.
Dr Nicola Millard summed it up perfectly for us and our customers when she asked “Can we design the effort out of the customer experience?”. Travel is one of the most complex verticals in which to do this but it is an important consideration for companies who are looking to become successful travel retailers.
Senior Vice President of Development
Paul is the Senior Vice President of Development at OpenJaw Technologies. Since joining OpenJaw in 2007, Paul has directed the teams that manage the OpenJaw t-Retail Platform and its components. Paul’s responsibilities extend from Product Management to Product Marketing and Product Development.
Paul has nearly 30 years of experience in the travel industry. Prior to joining OpenJaw, Paul spent nearly 20 years at Datalex where he held a variety of software engineering and management roles. He spent 5 of those years in Atlanta, where he led the US development team delivering product-based solutions to major US clients such as Delta Airlines, ATA, Gelco, United Airlines, AeroMexico, Cendant and Best Western. Prior to leaving Datalex, Paul led the customer project team which formed the basis of their enterprise leisure product offering to clients such as STA Travel.
In addition to directing OpenJaw’s development efforts, Paul is actively involved in the Irish Software Association’s Product Management Group.
Paul graduated from Dublin City University with a degree in Computer Applications and recently completed a Master of Business at the Irish Management Institute.