Travel Companies Grapple With Customer Data and the Creep Factor

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Travel Companies Grapple With Customer Data and the Creep Factor


With data breaches increasingly in the news and customers less trusting than ever, is the travel industry’s ‘new gold’ too much like hard work? Derek Walter has been finding out

Just about every company in the travel space is swimming in a sea of customer data. Navigating through this is an even more delicate challenge than it once was – customers want useful and personalised experiences, but they don’t want to feel companies are creepy in how much they collect and know.

This was an essential question on day one of EyeforTravel San Francisco, its digtal summit taking place this week. Here, leaders from major travel brands offered and sought guidance for how to better understand and use their data to create personalised and valuable experiences. But with Facebook’s controversy and other daily concerns in the news surrounding data privacy, there were no easy answers.

Listening to feedback

Michelle Gilman Jasen, the regional director of sales and marketing for Accor Hotels, said balancing privacy and personalisation is an issue that gets a lot of attention. Tackling it means doing as much listening to humans as diving into what the data says.

“How do you draw those lines? Frankly right now it is with a lot of customer feedback,” she said. “We sit through a lot of customer advisory sessions and ask how much do you want us to take that into consideration? We don’t want to let you down, but we also don’t like to overstep.”

For example, she said that travel brands need to understand that consumers are, “no longer bucket-able”. While it’s often useful to create profiles and spot general trends, data needs to be used to make the type of product offerings hit the right note. Customers want to feel there is a worthy payoff in how their data is used.

There’s another side to the equation when it comes to data – that there’s still massive, untapped potential when it comes to turning information into useful insights. Stuart Greif, the practice lead of travel and hospitality for Amperity, said many companies have what amounts to an excessively long production time in turning information into actionable insights. And what they have isn’t doing nearly enough to give an experience that customers will want.

“They have the data, but they just can’t connect the dots,” he said. According to Greif, 41% of customers dropped a brand last year due to poor personalisation, and only 6% have a single view of the customer, despite 90% reporting it’s a top priority.”

When data is optimised and delivers the right level of enjoyment for the traveller, there are less likely to be as many worries about the value of what information is collected.

Keeping data safe

Kevin Lee, the Trust and Safety Architect for Sift Science, said the security landscape is still challenging, with nearly daily news accounts of breaches and compromised information. Earning user trust involves applying security practices and where to trust data.

“It doesn’t matter how strong your password is or your password hygiene, your data is out here in some way, shape or form,” he said.

Users are still, “not quite sure who to trust,” and the number of breaches only makes it harder for companies that want to make data a core part of their strategy.

This challenge is compounded by the fact that companies must hit multiple touch points with customers otherwise their experience will be too jagged, according to Keith Wallis, Director of Global Product Distribution, Air Canada.

“If we’re going to be the kind of retailers we want to be, it’s important that we interact with [the customer] during multiple touch points, not just as the final point when you interact with us on our website,” he said.

There are many moving pieces when it comes to trying to finish the puzzle of using customer data, ensuring its secure, and not making customers feel like they’re being constantly monitored.

Missed EyeforTravel’s San Francisco summit, which continues today (April 10)? Why not join us at one of our upcoming shows to hear more about the fast-moving travel industry from the world’s leading brands and innovators

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