November 12, 2021 | 8 min read

Using Customer Data to Deliver Five-star Travel Services

The pandemic has changed everything the travel industry knows about its travelers. Customer data can help them get to know each other again.

Illustration of airplane wing and sun at sunset

We have all witnessed how the pandemic has dramatically accelerated digital adoption. The lines between online and offline channels have blurred. The baseline of what customers expect from digital experiences with a brand has permanently shifted, and post-crisis it is only going to rise. For the travel and hospitality industry, where customer loyalty often hinges on in-person experiences and loyalty-based programs, this has huge implications. 

Read on for a high level view of the trends, an outline of the challenges to wrangling and using the data, and the capabilities needed to transform customer data into better customer experiences and stronger business results. 

Engaging the digital traveler 

Travelers are engaging with travel brands using more channels and touchpoints than before. New preferences for contactless interactions are only going to accelerate this behavior. From making a booking on a mobile app to self-service check-ins to speaking with customer service, travel brands need to deliver a seamless and holistic experience throughout — or risk losing customers to savvier competitors. 

Next, trend watchers are predicting that people are likely to travel less frequently, spending more time away from airlines and hotels as a result. If travel brands want to remain top-of-mind with their travelers, they have to reach out and engage them wherever they are, and not just when they’re around.

Lastly, as travelers return, they’re coming back with new preferences, mindsets, and priorities. It’s paramount that travel brands stay in tune with their changing needs in order to deliver timely and relevant messages to them.

Read: How Alaska Airlines and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts used customer data to engage their audiences.

The significance of customer data

To deliver all that, travel brands need to rely on powerful data and analytics capabilities in order to deliver the personalization customers want and the five-star service they expect at every step of their journey.  

First-party silver lining

The good thing is, this new digital-centric behavior has fueled an increase in volume, velocity, depth and variety of first-party customer data across all channels. 

Since a majority of travelers are willing to share their personal data in return for personalized services, there is no better time than now for brands to build their library of first-party data as they prepare for an increasingly complex world of privacy regulations and diminishing third-party cookies

But this also highlights the data challenge.

New opportunities, old challenges 

Managing customer data is not a new problem. Many travel brands were already trying to piece data together long before the pandemic — but without common linking keys to connect data points from multiple sources, they couldn’t get a clear view of their customers or personalize services and experiences. For companies that were struggling before, this deluge of new data is simply pushing them further into the data abyss. 

The problem with data silos 

Each day, huge amounts of customer data come through a plethora of online and offline sources. But they are stuck in disparate systems and applications that weren’t designed to talk to one another.

Traditional data integration tools like Master Data Management systems (MDMs) are either time-consuming, laborious, or unable to keep up with the scale and speed that’s required today. And after all that, brands are still left with much data locked away in silos. 

Fractured identities

Next, customers share inconsistent and diverse identifiers (like emails, phone numbers, zip codes, usernames) as they interact with brands from different channels, touchpoints and devices. The more a customer interacts, the more fragmented that identity becomes. 

Systems that aren’t equipped with the right intelligence will fail to identify the fact that Business Traveler Joe and Vacation Joe are the same person with different loyalty accounts. Without an accurate, single view of the customer, brands run into downstream problems like poor personalization and inaccurate insights.

Travel brands that are able to build a new playbook around customer-centric strategies will find themselves in pole position as the industry starts anew.

An urgent need for data intelligence

In a post-pandemic environment where customer loyalty is up for grabs, travel brands don’t have the luxury of time to deal with legacy issues. They need fast, powerful and flexible Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) that can transform their end-to-end data management process in three major ways:

  1. Fast and powerful identity resolution 

  2. Real-time access to 360-degree customer profiles

  3. Data intelligence and campaign orchestration

Fast and powerful identity resolution

Identity resolution is the a crucial step in using customer data. All the other elements of personalizing marketing and service depend on first having a clear, coherent record for each customer.  

So what sets apart an intelligent identity solution? There are three factors:  1. Complete data collection. Powerful identity platforms have the ability to ingest customer data in their raw, native formats; no matter where they come from. This eliminates the problem of data silos and the unnecessary need for reformatting and conversion, allowing brands to preserve the richness of their data right from the source.

2. Flexible probabilistic identity resolution. Probabilistic identity resolution harnesses AI-powered algorithms to establish identity matches by making intelligent judgements and drawing probable links between seemingly unrelated data sets and identifiers - just like how a human would.

Unlike traditional rules-based or deterministic approaches (i.e. based on exact matches) that tend to be rigid and limiting, probabilistic platforms allow brands to resolve identities at a much larger scale, with the flexibility to update and adapt each time new data enters the system. 3. Massive computing power. Petabytes of data come through identity systems each day. Platforms must be built on a robust infrastructure so brands can have the freedom to scale up or down according to their business needs.

Real-time access to a Customer 360

With data integration complete, travel brands will want to have real-time access to the most up-to-date customer profiles. CDPs do that by providing them with an always-on Customer 360 where users can easily retrieve the information they need.

Good Customer 360 databases also break departmental silos. They should come with the ability to power disparate use cases for every team and department in the organization - from marketing to IT to analytics to customer service to compliance and finance. 

A consumer survey by McKinsey notes that a customer’s perception of a travel company can be degraded if even one pain point in the customer journey is not satisfactorily resolved. Having the same centralized access to a Customer 360 can avoid that by streamlining communications between departments, improving employee experience (especially when they’re also facing disruptions in their own course of work) and in turn, provide a holistic and seamless experience at every step of a customer’s journey. 

Case study: How Alaska Airlines elevated their customer experience

Like many travel brands, Alaska Airlines had a problem unifying customer data that were siloed in systems for reservations, loyalty and their mobile app. As a result they had issues personalizing messages to drive pre-trip product adoption. 

With the help of a CDP, they were finally able to pull all their data together for the very first time. From there, they segmented their audiences based on attributes like route, aircraft type and cabin seating. That enabled them to create a dynamic pre-trip journey orchestration, triggering up to four personalized messages per guest. 

For Alaska Airlines, having a CDP in place allowed them to deliver customer-centric journeys from pre-flight onwards, improving loyalty, retention and revenue growth as a result. 

Data intelligence and campaign orchestration

With good data comes the ability to deliver great campaigns.

Modern CDPs are set up to provide marketers with the tools and applications - like customer insights, campaign metrics, predictive analysis, smart segmentation - to orchestrate targeted omnichannel campaigns to maximize ROI and drive revenue growth.

Platforms should also be able to automate and syndicate marketing-ready data to external advertising, marketing, customer experience, and attribution tools and channels. That way, marketers have the freedom to deploy any campaign application without having to worry about data incompatibility. 

Case study: How Wyndham Hotels & Resorts orchestrated successful media campaigns to improve their return on ad spend (ROAS)

When Wyndham Hotels & Resorts first deployed their CDP, they were surprised at how fast the system got up and running and started showing results.

In under three weeks, the hospitality brand had already gotten their marketing destinations set up, created their audience segments, and applied them to their media strategies. 

In some cases, the results were almost immediate. With accurate first-party data, they saw significant improvements in areas of lookalike audience and audience suppression, garnering double-digit increases in ROAS, click-through and conversion rates. 

Five-star customer experience in the digital world

The travel industry took an exceptionally hard hit during the pandemic. But with every disruption, there’s always change and opportunity. Travel brands that are able to build a new playbook around customer-centric strategies will find themselves in pole position as the industry starts anew. 

Customer service is important for every industry, but it’s a particular focus for the airline and hospitality industry. As travel brands regain clarity and control over their customer data, they are primed to extend their hospitality gold standard to the world of digital experience. We’re excited to see what kinds of magic they can create.

If you're interested in learning more about tailoring your customer experiences, check out our personalization guide.