Reflecting on the last few months and looking ahead to the somewhat fuzzy future, it seems likely that it'll be some time before the number of people using public transport hits the levels seen pre-COVID-19.
Many businesses find themselves in a tricky situation - they’re chomping at the bit to get the economy moving again, but customer confidence is at an all time low. So, the question travel organisations have been asking themselves is: how do we get customers travelling again?
1. Keep things crystal clear
Train and bus companies are experiencing a massive 80% decline in customer numbers, so it’s vital to ensure those who are travelling feel safe, valued and cared for. Of course, Government policy and the media will have a clear influence on customer perception and trust, but many potential travellers will remain sceptical. To build confidence, customers need to be reassured of their safety with clear, consistent and empathetic communication.
Before travelling, customers need to understand what's being done to keep them safe and what exactly is expected of them too. For example, when catching a flight, do they need to allow more time for check-in? Does the airport have a one way system in place? Will passengers be socially distant and wearing masks on the plane? How are front-line staff being trained and empowered to support customers in keeping themselves and each other safe?
2. Let your marketing geniuses shine!
This unprecedented situation presents a unique opportunity for marketing departments to get creative. Any sense of normality has gone out the window, making this a time where being disruptive and innovative could really pay off. With service, reliability and value for money still playing a big role in the customer experience - as well as how disruption is managed and communicated - it’s worth thinking about what clever campaigns you could run to incentivise customers, whilst remaining reassuring.
If you are a relatively new entrant to the market, perhaps this is an opportunity to establish your brand voice - an identity that sticks in the emotional memory bank of customers. Of course, this is easier said than done - especially with the majority of back office teams continuing to work remotely for the foreseeable - but over time, executing on these elements consistently will support the recovery of individual brands, as well as satisfying the industry need for customer loyalty and advocacy.
3. Remember your front line heroes
Your people on the front line become the ‘face’ of your brand and the service they deliver can truly make or break the customer experience, so having the right people in the right seats is essential. Empowering your front line staff to do what’s right by the customer is powerful - not just in person, but on social media too.
Digital and social channels are a great way for your brand personality to shine - engaging with customers and having genuine, meaningful conversations. If you can listen and deliver consistently on public facing channels, you will start to build CX gold dust in authentic customer stories. But dealing with real-time mentions on social media requires a very different set of skills to handling telephone or email enquiries, so ensure you equip your agents with the tools, knowledge and confidence they need to be successful.
4. Be great storytellers
For years brands have demonstrated the power of storytelling, with many companies using stories in their digital and social marketing campaigns to support the overarching brand message. The effect really solidifies customer perspectives about who you are as a brand, what you stand for and how this translates into the customer experience.
Customer service and front line staff will have plenty of great stories to tell, that demonstrate just how much you value your customers. Sharing stories regularly and making it a part of your company culture can be a powerful differentiator that enables you to stand out from the crowd. A few well-placed stories, that capture the emotion of the customer, will go a long way in helping convince others to travel again.
5. Leverage your data
Right now, those who have a holistic approach to their use of technology and an integrated use of CRM are really seeing the benefit. With a system full of invaluable information about their customers, they’re able to easily surface important insight, identifying and segmenting customers based on criteria such as their level of vulnerability or their frequency of travel.
With vulnerable customers potentially feeling more nervous about travelling, it’s worth thinking about what reassuring messages you can deliver to this customer segment. As for frequent travellers, you could look at marketing any promotions or pricing incentives you have on offer. These are some fairly obvious examples, but when we look at the power of personalisation, the need to adapt your messaging and processes to the needs of different customer segments is clear. For some, this will be second nature, but for many grappling with CRM, omni-channel and marketing technologies, there is still an opportunity to look at employing this tactic as a quick win.
6. We’re all in this together
With the right technology your departments can work collaboratively, sharing insight that enables you to adapt with the changing environment and plan for the future. Applying a unified approach across Marketing and Customer Services is a great start. For example, if you're running digital campaigns, it's imperative that customer services are aware of the message and context, so they can plan for any impact this may have on the enquiries they handle that day.
Equally, Customer Services will have an understanding of the key topics that drive inbound contact. Recognising and sharing these trends in the moment will enable the Marketing team to react and work out how best to share the information customers are in need of, before they have to ask - closing the loop early and reducing inbound contact. In times of disruption, this approach is especially important.
7. Let’s get digital, digital
To bolster their recovery, travel brands need to take stock and adapt their technological vision to help all areas of the business make informed, customer-centric decisions. Early adopters of ‘digital transformation’ will have a distinct advantage in the current climate, with brands that have listened to their customers and invested heavily in the right technology experiencing fewer barriers to innovate and win market share.
As budgets are slashed, those that are behind will have to make some tough decisions, with management teams needing to be selective when placing time and resources in the technologies and strategies that add the most value. A key area of focus could be an optimised CRM system with rich customer metadata, which not only helps the agent deliver a better customer experience, but brands can start to build a holistic customer view too, enabling them to begin channel shifting customers from traditional channels, to cheaper and more efficient digital ones.
Of course, there is a long way to go, and for many travel businesses this has - and will continue to be - a tough and testing time. Technology, strategy and innovation aside, the situation we all find ourselves in has thrown up many challenges - personally, within our businesses and for our customers. But this is the time to remain positive and plan ahead - the travel sector will continue to be a vital part of the infrastructure and economies of many countries around the world, especially those reliant on tourism. If you invest in the right technology, your people and continue to communicate clearly, you will build customer trust and momentum in the travel sector once again. But, perhaps for now, it’s time to focus and put things in place that enable you to not only get through the current crisis, but also move your business towards the nirvana of digital conversation management.