Making the return to travel memorable and delivering on rising expectations post-pandemic
The pandemic forced brands to shift how they deliver products and services to customers, resulting in ever-increasing expectations for consumers on their experiences with brands. Meeting those expectations within a loyalty program and beyond starts with understanding customer needs. How can your brand provide value to customers while meeting them where they are? For travel and hospitality brands, that means increased access to online information and bookings, no contact check-ins, and flexible stay and cancellation options.
Within formal loyalty programs, brands should identify opportunities where customers may be looking for value in ways they hadn’t before. This could include offering earning or redemption opportunities that provide reciprocity for the customer during times when previous levels of travel may be unattainable or maintaining a tier level status that may be out of reach due to pandemic related reductions in travel for work and leisure.
Elevated, personalized experiences that honor customer privacy concerns
The pandemic accelerated the recent trend of digital transformation and continues to reshape the market ecosystem and heighten consumer expectations for personalized experiences. Those experiences, powered by the data brands collect, are only possible when brands and their partners leverage customer data the right way, exhibiting good stewardship and actioning on that data to power individualized experiences that merit the data being shared. Whether it’s data collected on purchases, visits (online and on-premises), behavioral data from digital encounters, or even responses to quizzes or other gamified interactions—customers are looking for the right value exchange.
Delivering on this successfully requires a robust opt-in program and high levels of transparency. Brands should look beyond a simple yes or no to receiving emails and work to establish preferences for channels used, cadence, and more. Maintaining transparency by allowing customers to choose if, how, and when their data is shared can also provide the framework needed for your brand’s targeting efforts, with customer preferences as a core consideration. A foundation of trust is established when customers witness your brand operating as a good steward of their data.
Connecting with customers on a deeper level through purpose
Providing good products and services that differentiate from the competitive set is table stakes. But connecting on an emotional, purpose-driven level is of equal importance. For example, identifying a charity or a cause that resonates well with both the customer and brand, and elevating messaging and offers with that in mind. For travel and hospitality brands, this could be achieved within the context of a loyalty program by leveraging partnerships to offer the option of donating earned program value—points, miles, etc.
We recommend brands get even more targeted—thinking locally—and look to charities they can partner with in customers’ communities, or the local community of the hotel. Encouraging engagement with the brand in ways that give back locally works to establish a connection between the brand and consumer that resonates on a deeper level and transcends mere points and purchases.
Providing highly personalized experiences that also integrate purpose can make travel more memorable and increase loyalty to a brand. Of course, it’s important to pursue these efforts in an authentic way, with a deep understanding of the customer’s preferences—driven by data. Knowing that one charity or purpose may be right for one customer segment but may not be right for the rest of the customer base is crucial. This requires a holistic understanding of what is meaningful for different segments.
Personalization is going to mean different charities and purposes for each individual. That’s impossible to do on an open-ended scope, so breaking it down to a manageable number of options will be necessary to executing successfully.
Ensuring loyalty program longevity post pandemic
Delivering value at every step of the customer journey is always key. Many airlines did this during the pandemic by keeping change fees minimal or eliminating them altogether for members—a recognition that things change, sometimes very quickly, and that as brands they were prioritizing empathy. When customers feel seen, heard, and known by a brand, their perception of that brand can improve dramatically. Brands practicing this kind of customer-centric approach differentiate themselves in big ways with consumers by establishing or deepening emotional connectedness and engendering long term loyalty.
Many loyalty programs also extended their tier benefits in response to the pandemic—a significant number “gracing” members into 2022, and even some into 2023. Brands also looked to new ways for elite members to maintain their program tier status through non-travel engagement when shutdowns occurred and as business travel has been slow to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Brands are benefiting from leveraging partnerships to build loyalty and help them continue engaging with customers to grow their tier status. Ultimately, loyalty programs are marketing programs, intended to engage customers to purchase more of your goods and services—fly your airline, stay with your hotel, etc. But amid the pandemic, those opportunities have been significantly impacted. Finding other ways your brand can remain relevant is imperative in times of disruption, and partnerships can help drive that connection.
The importance of investing in securing customer data
Investing in AI and machine learning based segmentation can improve the speed and relevancy of personalization, elevating the customer experience. Prioritizing data governance—having clean and accurate data—and automation can also improve the timeliness and accuracy of targeted messaging, which should be a key component of any brand’s personalization strategy.
But the importance of investing in securing customer data can't be undersold. As data breaches and ransom attacks continue to be a challenge, brands must continuously invest in ensuring data is secure and compliant across every touchpoint. If you don't have a secure set of data, your customers are not going to trust your brand. At the end of the day, securing data provides the foundational trust needed to execute on personalized, relevant experiences that provide the reciprocity your customers expect.
Listening and responding to increase participation
The more you can provide value to the end customer, especially within the context of a loyalty program, the more you're going to be able to increase their level of participation with your brand and move toward becoming a part of their overall consumer identity. For starters, it comes down to listening to customers, hearing their needs, and responding with the products and services they are seeking. But it doesn’t stop there.
To deliver on elevated expectations, brands should look for ways their loyalty program can affect customers’ lives in other ways—offering simplicity, making them feel important, and providing personalized suggestions that increase the value gained from the program. The more you can show customers there's a purpose for, and a value derived from, sharing their data and that it's being used in the right way, the more they're going to identify with and advocate for your brand.
To read more about the current state of travel and how to leverage the return to travel, read our newest white paper here.