Post-purchase care won’t save you
Both Google and Bing take travel seriously. Google has released products like Hotel Finder and a flight search feature and Bing Travel is continually featured in the search engine’s official blog. Even as both major search engines show more and more portal-like tendencies, there is a large number of other sites providing reviews and information and hosting communities of travellers or travel blogs. Travel is a big business, and one where the market has an insatiable desire for information, especially for the longer, more expensive trips.
A massive trip that involves putting career or study on hold and blowing thousands of dollars is a big investment. There are choices to be made (visiting Rome means missing out on Burning Man, and even on a clear day you cannot see the Andes from Japan) and risks to manage (how likely is it that a flood will cancel your booked tours, or an airline strike cut you off). Experience might be the best way to cope with these uncertainties but information has to be the next best thing.
The internet makes it easy to find more information than friends, travel companies and publications could provide. Service providers like tour operators, hostels and local travel companies are easier to find and connect with due to search engines and social media. The same tools that make it easier for businesses to be noticed also enable communities of travellers to form and individuals to publish their own experiences, and often it won’t be a blog.
Word of mouth isn’t just a post-purchase behaviour
From sharing and discussing stuff found online while researching options to posting photos, video and status updates during travel and upon the return home, word of mouth information can potentially spread on dozens of sites. With smartphones, almost ubiquitous internet access and free, easy-to-use platforms like Facebook, documenting and sharing experiences is effortless. This isn’t limited to expensive or engaging purchases like travel documented on travel blogs. There are unboxing videos for cool electronics and haul videos for clothes. Almost every transaction or experience worth talking about will leave shareable, easy to find, digital footprints.
Customer service in public
On the internet friends, fans and followers can watch and participate in the entire purchase decision process as their network acquires experiences and things, and add their own consumption and commentary to the mix. This also means that any part of the process can spread. Now a comment about a booking form that doesn’t work, call centre where the wait is too long or a promotion that isn’t as good as it seems can all become the most visible part of the purchase, even if the customer is ultimately satisfied. Long after the customer has forgotten about the issue, their frustration is still there, recorded online.
Customer care can’t be limited to phone calls and emails. The fractured nature of live-streamed narratives means that it doesn’t matter if the customer ended up having a great time once they waited an hour to get in, or that they loved the personalised email and refund they received the week after their tour was cancelled. The response needs to come soon, and appear as an active part of the story. It needs to be linked to the narrative as it is created, as much for the unhappy customer as for their audience, in real time and later in the future.
You are in social media, now, everywhere
Travel is an important experience that has potential to generate interesting content and stories that people love to share. This live stream extends beyond just the experience, and can include what was researched, the customer’s evaluation and discussion of their options during the purchasing experience and their post-purchase assessment. Travel isn’t the only place where this happens. From a single tweet to a full blog, products and services such as electronics, t-shirts and coffee have all accumulated gigabytes of opinion and experiences online.
This behaviour means that every stage has a significant marketing implication. Focusing solely on the positive post-purchase experience is not going to guarantee great word of mouth. Every point leading up to it can potentially be recorded, documenting all misgivings, questions and unresolved conflicts or negative interactions regardless of how the customer feels at the end of the process. All of which is more or less happening in public.
Front page image courtesy of Samuel P.