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How to Design Digital Customer Experiences That Enable a Path Forward for Travel and Hospitality Brands

The latest in digital technology and experience design offers companies an opportunity to get customer experience right by making travel and dining safer, more convenient, and less stressful.
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As airlines, hotels, and restaurants cope with the latest changes wrought by variants of COVID-19, it’s clearer than ever that well-designed, agile digital customer experience (CX) programs are the key to brands’ survival, now and over the long term. Even with travel safety guidance rapidly evolving and many brands coping with staffing issues, the latest in digital technology and experience design offers companies an opportunity to get customer experience right by making travel and dining safer, more convenient, and less stressful.

Forrester recommends digitizing the entire end-to-end customer experience to enhance engagement and make things simpler for travelers before their trips, in transit, and at their destinations. Agility is necessary, because “the absorption of public health- and safety-related rules into the overall travel experience is introducing new practices, along with the inherent challenges and opportunities.” A well-designed experience will start with accurate pre-trip safety information, provide exceptional convenience, and create opportunities to strengthen customer loyalty. 


Digital CX for Safety 

As we’ve seen recently, health and safety guidelines can change quickly, and those changes can create confusion that leads to less-safe behaviors and a more stressful dining or travel experience for customers as well as for employees. When brands can design and incorporate the latest guidelines into their customer journey and communicate that information digitally and in real-time, passengers and guests can worry less about their safety and have a better experience. For example, some airlines have designed apps that show travelers the latest restrictions and health guidelines at their destinations and let them download any required forms for their trips.

Designing this kind of digital experience “involves several new digital touchpoints and requires additional data collected from customers,” claims Forrester. It also requires that hospitality brands “stop for a quick CX reality check to ensure a smooth and scalable transition” as they design and roll out their new initiatives. That’s because the digital experience should be designed to be convenient and seamless as well as informative. 


Digital CX for Convenience 

Some digital CX features designed to promote safety can also improve convenience for customers and reduce the employee workload in a currently understaffed industry. For example, some restaurants let diners join their waitlist via an app, without having to stand in line or interact with a host, and many hotel apps enable contactless check in and check out. These tools reduce close contact between guests and staff, save guests time waiting in lines, and free employees to focus on other tasks to make the guest experience more enjoyable.

However, digital convenience features also need the kind of CX check that Forrester recommends for health and safety features. For example, if a hotel offers digital check in but not keyless room access via their app, guests will still have to go to the front desk for a physical key—undoing all the safety and convenience benefits of contactless check in. Before designing and adding new convenience features, it’s important to place them in the context of the entire customer journey to see if they add consistency or create friction. 


Creating End-to-End Digital CX 

Designing and integrating digital experiences effectively into the entire customer journey requires looking at the entire journey and each step along the way. For example, a hotel brand’s journey starts with the booking process. It includes check in, each day of the stay, and check out. The corresponding digital experience could start with room recommendations and safety updates, continue through contactless check in and keyless room access, offering service bookings through the app like spa treatments and room service, and contactless check out.

This approach adds upsell capabilities to the digital experience, personalized for the guest’s profile and preferences. These upsells, and the boost in loyalty that a great experience can generate, can increase the lifetime value of each customer – and that’s something that will continue to matter even after the urgent health and safety concerns of the pandemic recede.  


Connecting Customers to the Digital Experience 

An end-to-end digital experience that increases convenience, safety, and peace of mind is only effective if customers engage with it. In addition to communicating the value of the brand’s app to customers, it may be necessary to speed up adoption by offering one-time incentives for customers who download and use the app. The rationale behind incentives is that it’s in the brand’s best interest to quickly steer customers toward the channel that supports an optimal experience, promotes safety, and delivers messaging and offers that enhance loyalty.

To better identify what’s working and improve what’s not, review customer data to see how effectively they’re engaging with the app. As hospitality brands design and build their digital experiences, it’s important to keep in mind that customers will reward them for trying. It’s impossible to completely guarantee safety or a totally frictionless experience, but when brands show they’re trying to serve customers in a personalized way and accompany them digitally on their journey, it builds loyalty that can last beyond the current crisis, converting loyal customers into brand advocates.  



Mike Davidson is Executive Creative Director at Capgemini’s DCX NA Practice. Mike's experience as a designer spans two decades, including marketing, enterprise, retail, mobile, and websites of all kinds. He leads teams of creatives, technologists, and user experience designers to deliver the ever-evolving digital experience. Mike frequently speaks on the future of the digital experience, on the topics of how contemporary interactions, emerging technologies, and new expectations are driving the future of digital marketing and commerce.

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