The customer experience is the brand – and your competitive edge

competitive edge
Image credit: Lightspring | shutterstock.com

The traditional customer purchase journey – impersonal and linear – has radically changed. Today, the customer experience of brand and channels is dynamic, contextualised and, more importantly, personalised.

To today’s customers, the brand is the experience, and the experience is the brand. There’s no distinction. And a good customer experience leaves consumers feeling heard, seen and appreciated. More than just a feel-good factor, it has a tangible impact that can be measured in dollars and cents.

How do brands get to that point?

At the highest level, it means using your data and analytics to understand what matters most to the people you want to reach and why, then identifying pockets of opportunity.

Analytics has become one of the most important tools at an organisation’s disposal. When data and analytics work in tandem, the benefits become obvious. Companies can leverage data to improve cost savings, redefine processes, drive market strategy, establish competitive differentiators and – most importantly – build an exceptional and truly personalised customer experience.

Tourism is a major contributor to Hong Kong’s economy

One sector in which this personalisation is particularly important – and productive – is the travel and tourism industry. Travellers are expecting more in terms of personalisation, choice and responsiveness, and the judicious application of data analytics can provide the critical insights that will foster travel industry players’ competitive edge.

The tourism industry is an important pillar of Hong Kong’s economy. The direct contribution of travel & tourism to the SAR’s GDP in 2018 was HK$495.88 billion (17.4 percent of the total economy).  This performance reflects the economic activity generated by industries such as hotels, travel agents, airlines, and other passenger transportation services as well as the activities of the restaurant and leisure industries directly supported by tourists.

The forecast growth in the industry, lifting it to new heights in 2019 and beyond, will inevitably be fuelled by the insights derived from data analysis.

Without such a data-driven approach, the opportunities for personalisation that will underpin industry growth could easily get missed. For instance, hotels cater to millions of travellers every day – manually recording, aggregating, and analysing the vast volume of associated transactions would clearly be completely impossible.

Thus, while the outlook for the hotel industry is generally positive, brands that fail to innovate risk losing market share.

Connected intelligence – harnessing data and gaining insights

Every area in every business, from supply chain efficiency, to overall technology innovation, can be improved through smart use of data and analytics. Analytics and cognitive capabilities refine the context of customers’ needs and desires, and determine the optimal way to engage with them.

Airlines are a perfect example. Million of people take to the skies, for example, to travel home for the holidays. By deploying an AI and data analytics platform, airlines will be better able to understand and optimise their customers’ experience, by providing insight and visualising real-time flight and passenger information.

This would help the carrier to accommodate all their customer needs such as special meal requests and disabled access. It would enable the airline to surface crucial, real-time data to the in-flight crew, airports, and business partners at just the right time, for example in the event of delayed or cancelled flights.

What to do with all the data?

Organisations must be relentless at investing in high-scale technologies and development resources that will outpace their competitors’ ability to handle high-transaction volumes in real time.

The key to personalisation in the hospitality industry – the step-change that will take the sector to the next level – is a platform that can integrate property management systems across the complete hotel portfolio of properties, brands, and geographies, together with back-end connectivity to customer relationship management systems and loyalty programmes.

Without the ability to capture and learn from all the clues a guest is likely to leave as to his or her preferences, hotel marketing staff would not be able, for example, to reach out to a potential high-spending guest with a complimentary spa treatment, even when that same guest may frequent the spa at a sister property or brand. Such a siloed approach inhibits hoteliers from extending their hospitality into the digital realm with data-driven and profit-generating intervention programs.

In addition, as omnichannel distribution in the travel industry becomes increasingly part of the new world order, it is critical for large enterprises to keep a solid grasp on customers and maintain reach across travel sites and channels to provide better experiences.

API management for omnichannel

Like travel, shopping has become more omnichannel, so to stay ahead of the competition it’s crucial for retailers to provide shoppers with a stellar customer experience on whatever platform they choose to shop.

An API management solution could help in getting relevant product data to customers quickly, to help them find what they want right away. APIs are everywhere. Initially used to enable more rapid application development and simplify complex integrations, APIs today are a key enabler to digital transformation.

So how might adding an API management solution to your data virtualization foundation deliver additional value?

For example, old-established department store Macy’s is using API management to optimise their APIs and gain market share and awareness among the millennial market. This has improved Macy’s mobile app, which has the highest traffic and is where customers are spending most of their time. Macy’s has also seen an increase in conversion rates through the new and improved mobile app.

A great API is also great for business. It can improve customer loyalty by bringing together multiple services into one experience, expand a company’s web of influence, and bring in new revenue.

Customer experience will always be key

The personalisation of the customer experience is not confined to the travel and retail industries – the applications are virtually unlimited, although acceptance differs from market to market. Non-US consumers, for example, have more of an appetite for their customer experience to be digitised for tasks such as scheduling doctor’s appointments, making hotel reservations and getting tech support.

Generally speaking, most people have traditionally experienced business as pretty transactional and impersonal. But today people expect businesses to behave the way friends do—like they trust and care about each other.

The driving perception behind the personalisation of the customer experience is this – give customers a great experience and they’ll buy more, be more loyal and share their experience with friends.

     Erich Gerber, TIBCO’s SVP EMEA & APJ
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