Seize new technologies today for an unforgettable omnichannel experience

Delivering a customer experience that targets the always-online consumer in a way that drives loyalty is the ultimate goal for travel companies. The way technology is evolving today means that is increasingly possible, if you choose wisely.

Today the Travel Distribution Summit kicks off in London. Ahead of the event we spoke to Dinesh Ramachandran Head of Corporate Business Development at Sonata Software, a speaker and sponsor of the event. Here he shares some of the trends and challenges facing travel brands as they look to enter an increasingly omnichannel world.

EFT: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing travel firms today?

DR: The challenges come from many places. From the customer perspective, it is being able to find the right product at a minimum cost, having a lot more choice, convenience in the entire travel process and the ability to enjoy yourself.

From a technology perspective, there is the unrelenting march of new technologies and their potential to shake up the existing processes and models in the travel world. Mobile, social, cloud, big data are all having an impact.

Consumers are always online whether at work or on vacations. So the need for continuous interaction through different channels and devices is rapidly gaining momentum. Today’s customers are spoilt for choice in all areas of merchandise, and they expect the same from travel too. The attention spans have decreased and the availability of ways and means to sift through information would only make things worse for travel firms which don’t grab your attention. There is a need to understand customer behavior and provide targeted and differentiated content for acquiring and retaining customers.

The need to reduce the costs of transactions and ability to win new business by attracting more travellers would be on the top of the travel firms.

EFT: How should firms be addressing these challenges?

DR: Firms should have a customer centric view of their business, which should be supported by advances in technology and innovation. Shifting from retail to online selling creates new opportunities, an increased level of independence and margins. Integrating multiple channels – retail, web, mobile, social, print, phone – a seamless booking experience across all touch points, channels, devices and a single view of the brand is essential to customers.

By optimising customer interaction one can enable a personalised booking experience and provide targeted content. Even as the traditional channels continue to be highly frequented, mobile and social media are rapidly being adopted. Providing an environment of continuous interaction and sales through mobile and social media would be the right step towards satisfying the always-connected traveller. Offering an inspired customer experience through all the stages of the customer journey would likely result in travellers returning to book in the future. To capture and maintain market share, it is important to continuously learn about traveller behavior and design and sell unique products and services. If travel firms are saddled with dated technologies, they should hasten the process of transformation as well as upgrade initiatives.

EFT: What trends do you see emerging in the travel space and how can firms best capitalise on these?

DA:  As has been noted in numerous research documents from multiple sources, the immense computing power that is being encapsulated in the smartphones and tablets, along with sensors is providing lot of opportunities to travel firms for providing more immersive experiences as well as providing unmatched convenience for information provision, information search and information sharing on the go.

NFC and big-data, which are maturing by the day will also have a big impact on the travel industry; and firms should seize this opportunity to reap the benefits. Right now there are only a few green field implementations, and we can expect more in this space. We can expect to see travel firms seized by the question of providing a seamless multichannel experience to the travellers in the coming omnichannel era.

Companies which focus on these and have a roadmap to implement these solutions to offer the best kind of service to the customers will stand to gain. At the same time, customer service and retaining the human touch, without getting drowned in this sea of technologies would be of paramount importance.

EFT: Talk me through some of the innovative solutions you have developed and why these matter? It would be helpful if you could share some success stories that you can share?

DR: Our approach has been to set up customer-centric Centers of Excellence (CoE) which goes beyond merely setting up a development and test team for delivering work to the customers. With the CoEs, we track many parameters for excelling in performance, including innovation.

Some of the innovations and best practices we had worked include:

·         Integration with social sites to get review information for providing data analysis and ranking dashboard for the B2C sales channel

·         Improvised information system to enable suppliers to integrate with the sales system and manage the occupancy of their inventories for better returns

·         Optimised system for destination company managers for comprehensive information management and analysis to provide better support for travellers at the destination

Some of the solution accelerators we have developed are listed here:

·          GDS Connect, which ensures hassle free connection to the inventories and improves productivity

·          A travel web analytics framework which maps KPIs for tracking

·         A comprehensive ecommerce site evaluation methodology based on best practices

EFT: How do these help in improve the productivity and quality?

DA: As noted above, shifting customer behavior and technology trends have an impact on travel too and we have invested in capability, solutions and alliances around these. We have been working with leaders in the travel industry to implement next-generation multi-channel commerce platforms with advanced search, mobile and social media capabilities. We have been building solutions that leverage big data and analytics, to help travel companies capture and derive deep customer insights from social media and the Internet, for personalised marketing campaigns and measuring customer sentiment.

To find out more about Sonata-Software’s innovative solutions see them at their stand at the Travel Distribution Summit Europe which kicks off in London today

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