The race is on. Travel and hospitality companies have to deliver better, more relevant, and more engaging customer experiences that keep customers coming back. Whether on a mobile device on the go or on a desktop computer in a hotel room, consumers have high expectations of their interactions with a brand. It’s critical to develop a deep understanding of customer behavior, attitudes, and intent — and it’s why user research is on the rise.
In this article, UserTesting, which works with a vast array of hotel chains, airlines and booking sites, discusses three key trends impacting the sector’s approach to user experience as well as strategies and recommendations to help organizations enlist first-hand user insights to tackle these challenges and win the Customer Experience (CX).
1. Immersive Brand Experiences
As more generations of consumers gain buying power, travel and hospitality companies are adapting their marketing and visual design strategies to attract the younger audiences who are less brand-loyal, value experiences over items, and are more likely to shop around for deals and rewards. As a result, your brand carries less weight than recommendations and reviews from peers, and if this segment feels you are not offering relevant and authentic information, they will quickly click away to a competitor.
It’s not easy to turn these fickle customers into a captive audience and keep them engaged. In turn, companies like Marriott and Hyatt are actively sponsoring locally-organized events and strategies to incorporate the local community into their guest experience. These strategies can pay huge dividends, but promoting them to millennials without losing authenticity is tough. As soon as guests suspect the events to be top-down corporate initiatives, they will lose interest.
Strategies: Researching brand impressions can be less straightforward than measuring usability. It’s critical to ask each test participant the right questions to avoid creating bias or gathering non-actionable data. For instance:
- Steer clear of superficial questions such as, “Do you like or dislike this experience?” Instead, focus on questions that require test participants to describe an experience using their own words.
- Use open-ended questions to get to the more meaningful insights, such as how customers feel about your brand and whether they feel you’ve aligned with their needs.
#2) Self-Service Mobile Interactions
Customer demand is growing for mobile products that put information and control directly into the hands of guests. Several hotel chains have launched payment apps where guests can purchase food and drinks using loyalty points. A recent Hotels.com Mobile Travel Tracker survey of 9,200 travelers worldwide found that the most commonly mentioned location (27%) from where people booked their stay was while in bed with their partner. This mobile mind shift raises guest expectations across the board. Information must be relevant and timely, and user interfaces must be intuitive and convenient in a variety of settings—with readily available help.
Forward-thinking companies are adjusting to this expectation by systematically replacing traditional processes and information flows with easy mobile-enabled solutions. They recognize that user research must take into account the many situations in which consumers interact with their brand. These innovations are driving a competitive race to make the customer journey smoother, eliminate hassle, and reduce unnecessary (and costly) customer service interactions.
Strategies: Conduct exploratory research with travelers to uncover opportunities for new mobile solutions. Once a solution is developed, internal teams can user test interactions in the wild by observing users in person or by using a remote user research tool. Alternatively, stage mock scenarios (in person or remotely) where users go through the mobile workflow while imagining themselves in the specific setting. Get answers to questions such as:
- Which interactions do you currently find clunky or time-consuming?
- At what point in your journey do you feel the need to use a desktop computer, pick up the telephone, or interact with a customer service representative face-to-face?
- How much time, cost, and hassle can be saved replacing interactions with mobile ones?
#3) Guest Loyalty and Repeat Bookings
Many factors can drive a customer to abandon a brand’s website or mobile app and opt for a booking site instead, resulting in potentially lost business or higher distribution costs. The challenge for hospitality brands is to create experiences that drive customers to want to be loyal. Brands are finding new ways to reward their loyal customers for booking direct, such as offering special pricing or preferred access to upgrades. These tactics hinge on making sure logged-in experiences are smooth and managing point balances and redemption is easy and intuitive.
Strategies: While research methods such as Net Promoter Score can be beneficial for measuring customer sentiment, they aren’t always a reliable indicator of whether customers will actually remain loyal. After all, what people say and what they actually do can be quite different.
- Don’t focus on whether customers expect to be loyal. Instead, try to identify factors that could cause them to leave your site for a competitor’s.
- Interview your target market (in person or using a remote user research tool) about the triggers that may lead them to choose one brand or booking site over another.
- Ask users to share experiences that led to switching, such as poor experience with the original site, a more enticing offer from a competitor, or something else entirely.
Best-in-class travel and hospitality companies know that the key to continuously improving the guest experience is continuously gaining insights from their target market. There’s no substitute for developing a deep, organization-wide understanding of your customers’ interactions with your brand. Researching the CX across all touchpoints will equip your team with the knowledge needed to drive innovative customer-centric solutions that maintain a competitive edge.