Building Loyalty Through Innovation

There was a time not long ago when travel was on the forefront of digital innovation. Social media is a fantastic example. Travelers and the travel industry embraced the social channel long before Facebook was popular – even before “social media” was a common term (remember the early days of IGoUGo or Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree?). 

However, as a result of growth, consolidation, and commoditization, the pace of real innovation in travel has slowed considerably. In the digital realm, the user experience of travel has widely suffered as well. While the destinations we travel to are still awe-inspiring, the means by which we experience them often leave us wanting more. The end result is growing discontent among travelers – who are more enabled and more willing than ever before to share their discontent with their social contacts. 

There are great exceptions to the rule, though – companies that are not only changing the physical aspect of how we experience travel, but the digital experience as well. Two of the best exceptions were highlighted last month by Forrester’s James McQuivey, where he encouraged readers (of all industries) to follow the examples of Uber and AirBnB – two companies that are both “using cheap technology and existing resources to make their customer’s lives dramatically better, one positive experience at a time.” 



What Uber has done in particular is remarkable because it has taken a very basic service – drive me from Point A to Point B – and made it so easy and user-friendly that it has created an army of loyalists. The digital backbone of its customer experience is a case study on how cross-channel strategy should work: its mobile app sets your pickup location, SMS gives you your driver’s info, email provides your detailed receipt. While the real-world experience plays a big role in the love Uber gets from its customers, it’s arguably the digital experience that really sets them apart. 

Is it complex? Not really. It’s a model and a mindset that can easily be translated to other travel and transportation providers. The Ubers (and AirBnBs) of the world do have an advantage in that they don’t suffer the sacred cows that larger, more established companies often have to endure. But with a little time and effort, any company can learn from their success and craft a better experience.  Here are four ideas to get started. 

  • Think big. Strategize without constraints. With its vision, Uber knew that it would run afoul of established taxi services and laws in many cities as it scaled up – but with the help of loyal customers, it is fighting and winning its battles. 
  • Start small. Build a pilot with a core section of your audience – new customers, for example, or perhaps your most frequent customers. Make it small, keep it controlled, and test, scale, and apply tactics to drive the best results. 
  • User experience rules. It’s not always easy when you’ve got multiple organizational silos and KPIs to consider – but in order to build loyalty, you need to think like (and understand) your customers. Mapping the ideal user experience is absolutely essential – as is making sure customers are easily heard when things don’t go as planned. 
  • Go cross-channel. The Uber example would not work nearly as well if it was simply an app or SMS or email campaign. The combination of the three is what makes it unique. How can you maximize these channels – and potentially others – and use the relative strengths of each to provide a customer experience that no one else can? 

We’re incredibly fortunate in our industry to have customers who are eager to share their experiences – both good and bad – with their social contacts. As a result, it’s more critical today than ever before to deliver an intuitive user experience that understands what customers want and need. With the right strategy and a little guidance and inspiration, you can build an experience that they’re willing to share and repeat.

2 comments about "Building Loyalty Through Innovation".
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  1. Phil Rubin from rDialogue, July 8, 2013 at 12:33 p.m.

    Good post Todd and I'd add one more example to the list - though it's hospitality and not travel: OpenTable has totally changed the game of booking restaurant reservations. Like Uber and AirBNB, their model is good for the customer and good for the supplier.

  2. Todd Wilson from Salesforce , July 8, 2013 at 1:49 p.m.

    Thanks Phil. Excellent example!

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