Wednesday, February 19, 2014

PERSONALISING TRAVEL EXPERIENCES.


Personalisation is, well, it's so hot right now. Working in the travel industry it seems every industry segment, every supplier is trying to operate at the highest standards with consistency of process whilst also trying to be different, to stand out and serve up unique personalised touches. It's a tricky juggling act…consistency, process and magic.

You're a big global brand. You know I like a window seat when flying short haul, and an aisle on longer lights…you know what to do. It's a pretty basic expectation these days.

It's interesting watching how businesses interact with existing customers and seek out new ones. A common technique is the old here's an interesting FREE thing we've produced, just give us your email address and it's yours. Now we're connected. Problem is, you've given me the same thing you've given a thousand other people. One for you. One for you...and…one for me.

How nice then to receive an invitation for something personalised from If You Build It who are connecting with a potential market by whipping up free Facebook cover images in return for a post about the experience. Warts and all. So here we are.

I'm not playing down the job they did for me but, for a pro, a Facebook cover pic is probably a relatively easy job. Get a handle on the brand or person (sometimes tricky), find the right elements and - cue: magic - bring them together and Bob's your uncle.

After a bit of going back and forth, voila! I had my new FB cover image. Two, in fact. They're mine, personalised and unique. Not a cookie cutter in sight. Happy days.

New Facebook Cover image by If You Build It.
And this is the challenge for travel providers. How far can you realistically go as an airline, hotel, cruise line, or retailer to personalise my experience? Is a [Insert guest name] welcome message on my hotel room TV, or personalised stationery in my balcony cabin enough? Does it have to be expensive? Or just quirky? It's what Virgin Atlantic calls Brilliant Basics and Magic Touches. It can be as simple as a crew member topping up a water bottle whilst you tip-toe down the aisle for a midnight mid-flight toilet stop, even opening the door for you as you get there. Or it can be as high-touch and targeted as KLM's Surprise extravagance. Notably, KLM now has a team of 130 social media agents handling about 35,000 queries on Facebook and Twitter every week.

Personally, I like it simple and genuine. But as service providers and travel suppliers compete for your attention with a personalisation arms race, things are bound to get interesting. Not only will you be surprised and delighted, but you'll very likely talk/tweet/post about it. Seems like a fair return for their efforts, right? Woodland's Resort near Houston certainly reaped some reward for responding to a guest's casual but unusual request recently. Good for them.

Now, not everyone has the resources of KLM, nor is as nimble as Woodland's Resort appears to be, so where's the personalisation sweet spot? What can supplier's sustainably deliver? What can they afford to give away? And what will we as customers accept as sufficient?

For mine, it might just be the travel equivalent of a customised Facebook cover image. But the question is: For a travel business, what on earth does that look like?

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