4 common misconceptions about digital travel companies
Digital transformation is a topic which is currently getting a lot of attention across a range of industries. With CIOs saying their key focus this year is driving business innovation, digital transformation is a way to achieve this goal. Digital transformation has become vital for businesses aiming to expand but also survive. The travel sector, in particular, needs to have digital transformation at the heart of its strategy - with companies such as Airbnb, Uber and Google leveraging data to disrupt this industry, the traditionally established hotels, airlines and travel agents can only thrive if they catch up - and fast.
Research shows 84 percent of travel businesses already have a digital transformation function in place within their company. However, this impressive figure has translated into digital transformation initiatives with varying degrees of success. With this in mind, what innovations should be adopted and how do these benefit both the business and the customer? With a variety of opportunities available, the travel sector needs to prioritise which innovations are more appropriate to their business, as tick box adoption will fail. After all, what is right for an airline, might not be fit for a metasearch group.
The first step towards a successful digital transformation strategy is to understand what digital transformation is and what it can achieve for each individual business. Unfortunately, this is a step which many companies ignore, especially as there are many different definitions of what digital transformation is. Worryingly, research shows only one quarter of the companies have a clear understanding of what digital transformation means.
Fundamentally, digital transformation is the process that realigns technology and business models so customers are effectively engaged at every touchpoint in their journey with the business.
What digital transformation isn’t
Given the current diversity in digital transformation initiatives, it is vital travel businesses understand just delivering the following doesn’t constitute successful digital transformation.
1. A website
More than ever, travel businesses are improving their online presence. However, even if a company implements a Facebook page, a Twitter account, an online chat function and a mobile app, that’s still not digital transformation. The missing ingredient here is the alignment between all these separate initiatives - the wire that binds them all together in a consistent, effective and seamless customer experience (CX). Additionally, all these elements have to be aligned with the business model and goals if digital transformation is to achieve growth for the company.
2. Exclusively online
Many companies focus on transforming their digital presence and creating an enjoyable and seamless experience online, but forget about their bricks and mortar presence. For example, a customer books their hotel online, has a brilliant experience on the hotelier’s website and gets all the information they need. However, they get to the hotel and realise there’s no Wi-Fi and need to queue to check-in, as the hotel doesn’t offer self-check-in kiosks. Is that really digital transformation?
3. Free Wi-Fi
Today’s customer is very tech-dependant and expect their chosen hotel, airline or travel agency to offer innovation they don’t have access to already. Offering free Wi-Fi in this day and age is like retailers offering free shipping. Research shows it’s expected and considered part of the standard package now, with in-flight Wi-Fi availability influencing the flight selection process for almost two in three fliers. Various airlines are starting to realise this, including Emirates, Norwegian and Air China, who provide free in-flight Wi-Fi. However, if a company offers free Wi-Fi and it turns out it's either poor quality and none of the staff know how to fix it, this can become counter-productive for the CX.
A good example of innovative use of technology is Virgin Atlantic trial of Sony’s Smartwatch 3 in the upper class lounges at London Heathrow airport, enabling staff to start the check-in process and update passengers on the latest flight information, weather and local events at their destination. By investing in wearable technology, these airlines have shown they understand customer needs and are experimenting with the technology available to provide users with the seamless customer experience they’re searching for.
4. Driving people apart
While many believe technology prevents human interaction, digital transformation is set to do the opposite as it must have the customer at its core. For travel businesses this means personalisation. Digital transformation should allow companies to collect more customer data than they could’ve ever hoped to gather previously. Digital transformation must then effectively use this data to personalise the CX, so users feel closer to that particular business, even if they’re 2,000 miles apart.
What digital transformation is
So what is the real meaning of digital transformation, and how can it be adopted to help travel businesses thrive?
Simply put, if digital transformation isn’t driven by a customer-centric approach, it will fail. All digital transformation strategies need to allow a business to create an extension of their brand with the help of technology, and this should be translated in a consistent seamless CX.
Too many companies see digital transformation’s main purpose as having a spectacular online presence. What companies need to focus on, is making digital transformation work in the background - collect data, manage it effectively and break down data silos to develop the most comprehensive, personalised experience possible for the travel customer.
Global resort Caesars is an example of this, with the hotelier using apps to empower customers during their stay. The myTR app allows Total Rewards members to manage reward points, check existing reservations, look at special offers and locate a Total Rewards casino anywhere across the country. The firm’s Las Vegas or Atlantic City apps also provide access to a mobile concierge, real-time event information, a room ordering service and even wake-up calls. Caesars loyalty program Total Rewards uses analytics to deliver a personalised experience for its customers, with plans to extend its data-driven approach with mobile technology. Through this, Caesars has created the ultimate CX, benefitting both the business and the end-user.
Digital transformation should streamline technology across all customer touch points so they have a consistent, high-quality interaction with the business, regardless of their preferred channel. Both physical and digital CX are vital for the travel and hospitality industries in differentiating from their competitors. With 47 per cent of people revealing virtual reality (VR) tours of holiday resorts would be appealing, travel companies need to utilise this technology in-store. It will increase holiday bookings by humanising the process. Instead of holiday makers anticipating what their hotel will be like, VR will provide the user with the information they need to make a decision on whether this is the right accommodation for them. Virgin Holidays are already utilising VR within its Bluewater store, by offering customers the chance to experience the holiday in-store. It is this type of activity which balances the digital and in-store CX, which is vital to successful digital transformation and offering a seamless travel experience.
To excel with digital transformation, it must be woven into all business aspects - from strategy to customer service, marketing, operations and IT. What then becomes crucial to the success of digital transformation in any company is that the strategy is devised with an inter-disciplinary focus in mind. Enlisting the help of experts, whether in-house or externally, will provide the consultancy and expertise to ensure businesses are utilising the tools available to them, and explain why it needs to occur. Having this knowledge will ensure the travel sector is doing more with digital transformation and excelling in this transition.
To ensure a successful digital transformation can occur, businesses must invest - in technology, as well as other resources which support this activity. Regardless of how this is achieved, travel businesses need to address how best to implement these strategies to ensure a successful digital transformation is implemented.
By Simon Jones, Co-founder and Head of Innovation at Black Pepper Software
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”