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Everybody is talking about customer driven travel planning. Tom Bacon shares tips on getting this right

Many travel merchandisers are striving to offer customised experiences – building personalisation into content, pricing, offers and the information provided. Factors considered include the traveller’s historic preferences, demographics, type of trip and others. Indeed, personalisation is a hot topic.

But, to be most effective and engaging, travel suppliers may need to ensure the customer is directly involved in the experience – not just rejecting or accepting offers defined by various algorithms. In fact, suppliers need to allow the customer to control the process:

  • To build/leverage his own experience – not just assume we know it

  • To offer clear choices where he sees how he is in control

  • To invite feedback

Travellers will certainly appreciate a customised offer – but potentially they will be more turned off by one that is misplaced (where the supplier pretends to know them) than by one that is more generic, and where the supplier makes no such assumptions. Customers will appreciate being directly involved in the process.

Personalisation still needs to present choice

So, personalisation still needs to present choice.  Here’s how:

  • Use analytics to develop multiple options.  Suppliers shouldn’t seek the ‘ideal’ offering but instead use the analytics to identify multiple ‘ideals’.  Suppliers can take comfort, actually, that, with multiple offerings, they can cover more of the expected universe of choices and they don’t have to – indeed, they shouldn’t – be focused on the ‘optimum’.

  • Develop a formatthat can highlight three to four such targeted options to make decision-making easy for the traveller. Note: Goal is to facilitate decision-making (‘choice’) not make the decision for them.

  • Select the options based on analysis of the customer needs/preferences not based on a sell-up algorithm. Behavioural science is advising merchandisers to offer three choices: a low-priced option, a high-priced option, and one in-between.  Such price anchors are important for all decision-making but a focus on sell-up can effectively eliminate the desired ‘choice’ aspect (manipulating the customer to one, ‘obvious’ choice).

  • Always offer easy ways to get more.  Rather than build all possible sell-up in the basic choices, always make sure it’s easy for a traveller to find more amenities/features beyond the base three to four.

  • Offer transparency in how the options are created, with the ability for the customer to modify the parameters himself.

  • In other words, he should be able to override or modify the algorithm that selects his choices, not just select the choices ‘the model’ designs for him.  This might actually be the ultimate in personalisation: for the customer to define the process not merely choose the outcome

  • Provide supplemental information to help the customer with choice

  • So, what information is necessary to decide among the given options?  Certainly, the additional amenities of certain fares or the restrictions of others need to be obvious.  Potentially, customers may also value information about how the fares may change over time or over flight dates.

  • Be dynamic. Update the preferences/algorithms based on each interaction

  • If the customer selected a less likely option, or chose a more difficult path, regularly re-evaluate – just as revenue management does today with fare class availability

  • Invite direct feedback

  • On a transaction basis (rate your experience; were these options useful?)

  • On a longer term relationship basis (we have changed our offering to you, does that makes sense to you?  Do you anticipate a change going forward?  Was your recent selection an aberration? Are we meeting your needs?)

Personalisation is not identifying the single perfect solution based on an algorithm.  Customers still want to control their travel planning process and personalisation needs to be designed to make the process itself easier – not take it over for the customer.  Suppliers need to ensure the planning process is engaging for the customer and that he remains involved experientially.

Tom Bacon has been in the airline business for 25 years. He is now an industry consultant in revenue optimisation. Questions? Email Tom or visit his website

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