Because of COVID-19, the travel industry is in a state of crisis. Of course, the current difficulties won’t last forever, and travel brands that take a savvy approach will emerge on the other side stronger than ever. However, in the present, as companies struggle for survival, it’s easy to overlook one of the most vital aspects of a travel brand’s success: customer satisfaction.
Even in these trying times, the customer must come first. And a focus on customer advocacy can ensure that you deliver the best possible experience to your customers. After all, overall experience is one of the most significant factors in customer satisfaction, set to overtake price and product as a key brand differentiator. Ultimately, a positive customer experience improves not only satisfaction levels, but also customer retention, as well as cross-selling and upselling rates.
Simply put, advocating for your customers can improve your brand’s image and ensure continued profitability. Putting your customers first will help you survive the difficult present and thrive in the booming future. Now, let’s take a deeper look at how customer advocacy will shape and rebuild the travel industry.
First, some definitions. A customer advocacy business model places a company’s focus on doing what is best for the customer as a decision-making principle. Adopting this kind of model means deploying customer-focused customer service and marketing techniques.
A vital part of any great customer advocacy business model is a customer advocacy programme, which incentivises your customers to refer your products or services to others. These programmes are essentially marketing initiatives that reward your customers when they become spokespeople for your brand, referring new customers. This strategy works: 81% of consumers trust the advice of friends and family over traditional marketing efforts. Customers who come to brands based on word-of-mouth marketing have nearly a 40% higher retention rate than those who don’t.
Tapping into future success
It’s worth remembering that travel brands have survived a few major crises in the past two decades, and pre-coronavirus indicators suggest boom times for travel in the near future. By 2024, the travel industry was predicted to reach a value of $3 trillion, and experts predicted that there will be 1.8 billion international arrivals by 2030. While these numbers may fluctuate due to the current circumstances, it’s likely that the industry will get back on track to these figures.
Travel is very much a customer-oriented industry, and so advocacy is about how to best tap into the prospect of future success. It follows, then, that customer advocacy strategies and programmes will play an integral role in post-pandemic recovery efforts. But it’s also something you can start doing now to build trust for the future. Let’s look at just one example…
Advocacy as a recovery strategy
In the face of lockdowns and travel restrictions, many travel brands are facing a deluge of booking cancellations. A customer advocacy business model would demand that you refund all of these cancelled trips, ideally with vouchers. Offering vouchers in place of cash means you can hang onto the money, which can help keep your business afloat during this uncertainty.
A successful voucher refund strategy means being flexible with the vouchers and allowing your customers to select dates in the far future — after all, none of us knows when it will be safe to travel again. Offering redeem-by dates well into the future gives customers some added reassurance.
However, some customers might prefer a full refund. In such cases, you should, of course, comply with their wishes. Not doing so, or making customers jump through hoops to get their money back, risks alienating them. This is already a stressful time for many people, and even in normal times, a negative customer experience makes customers much less likely to use your brand again. In fact, 33% of consumers will consider switching companies after just one bad experience. The principle here is simple: treat your customers how you’d want to be treated.
Whether you issue vouchers or refunds to individual customers, the point is that advocating for your customers now is key to your eventual bounce back. Customers will remember the way you treated them, so treat them well, and they’re much more likely to stick with you in the future — and recommend you to their friends.
Social media as a marketing tool
Another critical aspect of a successful customer advocacy strategy is tuning into the power of social media. Over the past decade, social media growth has pointed tourists towards new destinations and ways of travel. People see social media influencers travelling to far-flung, beautiful places and this drives them to want to visit these places as well. The ubiquity of social media also means that an increasing number of people are at least partially motivated to travel in order to make themselves look good online.
So what does this have to do with customer advocacy? Again, this approach is all about giving customers what they want. This means that in the recovery period when travellers are hungry for new destinations and travel inspiration, brands should embrace using social media more explicitly as a form of marketing. Some ways to do this include incentivising customers to refer others via a customer advocacy programme and partnering with influencers to reach a wider audience.
Harnessing the power of influencers
Once it’s safe to travel again, social media influencers will play a key role in inspiring others to get out and see the world. It’s worth considering the value of partnering with these influencers to refer targeted audiences to your brand and drive revenue.
Promo codes can help you make the most of marketing partnerships with influencers, and unique promo code generators will ensure that your promo codes don’t go viral. A savvy social media marketing strategy involves working with technology partners that help you generate unique, secure and single-use coupon codes for only specific, targeted audiences. Working with these technology partners will also enable you to track the success of campaigns and fine-tune your strategies to be more effective.
Harnessing the power of social media should be a vital component of every travel brand’s recovery strategy. The more people travel, the more people will post about their travels on social media, inspiring even more people to travel. It’s a positive feedback loop — and one you can’t afford to miss out on.
Before the current crisis, there were a few key areas for growth within the industry: emerging markets, new destinations and new modes of transport. Although our current situation has temporarily halted growth in these areas, these sectors are likely to continue their upward trend during the recovery period.
Giving your customers what they want is a vital part of customer advocacy. Here are some of the trends to keep an eye on:
Emerging markets: In the recovery period, there will be new customers eager to travel, including those from emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil. Catering your offerings specifically to these customers is an excellent way to grow your business into the future. It’s worth researching these customers now to better prepare to market to them in the future.
New destinations: For all customers, there will likely be an ongoing emphasis on fresh, new destinations. Post-pandemic, some experts predict that travel customers will gravitate towards sparsely populated, off-the-beaten-path destinations. Again, now is the time to begin researching these destinations and forging connections with local partners, including hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues.
New modes of transportation: New forms of transportation, including long-haul, twin-engine jets and high-speed rail lines will allow customers easier access to desirable destinations. Trends of growth are likely to continue for these modes of transport in the long-term. However, it’s worth pointing out that in the short-term, customers might be more likely to choose local destinations and those that enable them to travel by car. Plan accordingly.
To make the most of these trends, brands should consider the value of offering customised package deals. As you are putting these deals together, it might be worth considering that in the recovery period, customers will likely be more discerning about quality, cleanliness, safety and similar factors. And, of course, also remember that technology makes it much easier to personalise offerings based on individual customer requirements — and personalisation results in more sales. Again, promo codes, and especially those with advanced discounting capabilities, are a valuable tool here.
Recovery hinges on advocacy
For travel brands, the good news is that this current crisis will end. The recovery period is likely to be a fruitful time, and ongoing customer advocacy will be the key to a successful recovery. Brands that advocate for their customers through fair refund policies will retain customers in the long-term. Brands that deploy customer advocacy programmes via social media and tune into the changing demands of their customers will best set themselves up for continued success.
The future of the travel industry remains bright. And in the future, as in the present, the customer must come first. Only with a smart, customer-focused strategy will brands survive to thrive in the recovery period and beyond.
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