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Friday, 15 September, 2017, 18 : 26 PM [IST]

When sky is the limit for consumers, it’s survival of the fittest for companies

It has been my pleasure to be associated with TravelBiz Monitor for several years. The magazine has distinguished itself as a credible voice for the travel trade in India, by highlighting important issues and events with independence and depth. I congratulate TravelBiz Monitor on reaching the 10-year milestone and wish the team every success for the future
If there’s one principle that has outlasted the sweeping technological changes of our times, it is this: that the Customer is still King… and a much more aware, sophisticated and demanding one at that.

The rapid evolution in consumer behaviour, coupled with almost endless possibilities in product, packaging and delivery, can unsettle even the most well-thought out business strategies. Fundamentally though, some things remain the same. Such as the question: ‘what does my customer want?’ Nowadays, it’s also important to modify that to: ‘Will he still want it two to five years from now?’ Working towards creating a solution that is the perfect fit for a present or future requirement, even if it means disrupting your own business at times, is a cost that must be incurred if you want to survive.

The travel business is no different. In an age when buying decisions can change faster than the speed of light, the best and fastest solutions in a crowded marketplace will stand out. For everything from hotels, to flights, to visas, in the past, the customer would visit the shop to purchase products; today, the shop visits the customer: either by being available on his smartphone, or online, or at his doorstep.

For companies to stand out from the clutter, they must offer what no one else is, or at the very least, offer a better version of what everyone else has. That means tailor-making their services to unique customer requirements.

Personalisation in product and service, easiest enabled by technology, is not just an option, it has become a necessity in every consumer-facing sector, including travel. The success of now-famous and highly disruptive travel startup models (like AirBnB, for instance) lie in their ability to wrap themselves around the customer, so that he or she is engaged actively with the platform for their requirements, irrespective of location or demographics.

Personalised services can sometimes be a tall order, but the flipside is by not incorporating them in your offerings, you may risk losing revenue and customer loyalty. Deloitte’s Consumer Review of 2015 focused on this very rise of mass personalization (an outcome of mass consumerism), observing that not only would the majority of consumers be willing to pay more for a customised product or service, they would also like to be actively involved in the process. The popularity of made-to-order holidays, or personalised experiences in even the closely regulated visa application process, reflects these new trends.

As crucial as customer centricity is for bottomline growth, so is operational excellence at every stage of offering services. Improving customer satisfaction at every touch point of engagement and maintaining excellence in service quality should be an ongoing process that must be closely monitored at every level. This may seem obvious, but for many large companies, the attention to detail required at the front-end of service delivery tends to become an Achilles Heel, sometimes because of the very size of these companies.

As challenging as it is, we must keep in mind that in an age of ‘heightened transparency’, where every customer feedback makes its way to a global audience via social media platforms, companies cannot afford to ignore even the smallest gaps in operational or service quality. Long after the service is delivered, being present, alert and engaging on the social media platforms where customers are providing feedback on the service, has also become a part and parcel of service delivery. Social media monitoring and engagement, if harnessed properly, can offer real time insights into customer feedback and company performance, all important to answer that fundamental question raised earlier: what does the customer want?

Customers know and notice the smallest details – this should compel us to push the boundaries of service excellence, no matter which sector we are in. Sensitivity and understanding of client needs, and using that knowledge to offer clutter-breaking services, can become key differentiators for companies, ensuring they are remembered, and make the Customer truly feel like a King.

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