By Mike McDonnell, Connexions Loyalty Group Vice President, Product
Major changes happened in the travel industry last year: brands got smarter about social media and online communication tools, loyalty programs focused on customer data and insights, and United Airlines, Delta and American Airlines rolled out revenue-based frequent flyer programs.
Based on what we’re hearing from partners and seeing from clients, 2016 looks to be another year of change, with the following travel trends shaping the loyalty landscape…and program managers should take note.
- Customers expect immediacy. In 2015, two-thirds of Americans owned a smartphone, a number that will undoubtedly grow this year. Smartphones and other mobile devices allow users to connect with anyone, anywhere, at any time. And consumers expect the same from brands: they want to get answers and resolve issues immediately. They expect to connect with someone at Delta to inquire about rewards miles while standing in line at the airport.
Loyalty programs that can provide real-time one-to-one communication will win. That means integrating communication channels, like app, mobile and desktop, and ensuring information on all devices is up-to-date. Also, empower all representatives to answer questions and resolve issues. That way, customers aren’t repeatedly passed from one rep to another until they find someone who can answer their question: that’s the opposite of immediacy.
- Low gas prices mean more disposable income for consumers. Low gas prices mean more money available for traveling. Consumers will likely continue to take more flights and road trips in 2016 as they feel the positive impact of prices at the pump.
What should loyalty programs do? Take advantage of the opportunity to communicate with members about the benefits of your products, services and travel-related rewards. Financial institutions: communicate with customers that you’re there for them on their road trips to remain “top of wallet.” Offer frequent fliers upgrades and actively promote add-ons like hotels, cars or adventures. Let consumers know you have valuable offers for them so they remember the value you bring to their lives.
- Make Millennials one of your pillars. Millennials, one of the largest generations, have specific travel goals brands should be addressing. Millennials want to travel to other countries and experience everyday life and culture. They value activities and experiences over tangible items and appreciate the sharing economy (think AirBnB, Home Away and Uber).
Loyalty program managers: If you’re not already, start collecting data on Millennial rewards members and look for trends. Develop programs targeted toward Millennials and offer experiential rewards and activities. And, if you’re considering participating in the sharing economy, really think about it before you jump right in. Make sure that experience fits with your brand and your customers’ expectations.
- Take advantage of big data. Customers generate tons of data. With every interaction, customers tell us a little bit more about themselves: their likes and dislikes, purchase patterns and online behaviors.
Loyalty programs should take advantage of big data, too. But, don’t just capture information; do something meaningful with it. Use data to segment reward offerings to different audiences based on common preferences or behaviors.
Use data to personalize loyalty member experiences. Deliver relevant information in an automated, but authentic, way. If you know Tom redeems 50,000 points every August for a trip to the Caribbean, consider providing Tom with valuable research prior to his redemption to discover new experiences. Or while he is on his trip you can provide him with activity suggestions.
- Keep up with changing regulations. Travel rules and regulations change frequently. Most recently, bans on e-cigarettes, rules for checking baggage, even the possibility of opening commercial flights to Cuba have made the news.
If your loyalty program offers travel rewards, keep up with these changes. Stay ahead of regulations to help customers avoid a travel mishap. Tell travelers what they need to know before they travel, so unexpected incidents – like having to unpack their bags or throw away their e-cigarettes – don’t ruin their trip.
Is the wifi slow? Suggest downloading movies to their tablet ahead of time. If you send out a regular newsletter, include checklists and tips. Put an FAQ section in their trip itinerary. Maybe you have a ticker on your travel booking site – upload the latest travel news there. Whichever communication channels you use, offer relevant, helpful information so their travel experience is a memorable one.
Loyal customers are what make a business profitable. Be sure your loyalty program is keeping up with what’s best for yours.