The amount of personalisation that customers receive in their communications from travel brands doesn't really justify the amount of time they spend filling out detailed forms, according to Katharine Hulls, VP Marketing for Celebrus Technologies, who here explains how airlines and hotel chains could be much more effective when it comes to email marketing, retargeting, mobile optimisation and apps.
The company recently studied the levels of personalisation that some of the largest UK and US airlines and hotel chains include in their marketing communications with customers, with ten of the UK's largest airlines and twelve of the US's largest airlines being included in the research, along with thirteen UK and sixteen US hotel chains. And the findings came as quite a surprise.
What was offered?
"It was encouraging to see that on almost all of the websites we visited as part of our research, it was possible to sign-up for email newsletters, typically found on the home page," noted Hulls. All of the US airlines and hotel chains offered this service. The same was true for all the UK hotel chains examined. Surprisingly, however, only 89% of UK airlines offer visitors an email newsletter - and are therefore missing out on gathering valuable customer information that can be used to deliver highly targeted marketing campaigns.
When comparing the sign-up process and the amount of personal information that was being asked for, it is interesting that the US brands typically had longer forms and required more details than the UK brands. Whilst there is an argument to say that these brands have embraced the concept of personalisation, the use of forms needs to be handled carefully.
During the research testing, behaving as a typical consumer would do, the results suggested that some of the US forms were lengthy and could act as block to the customer journey. A delicate balance needs to be found to ensure that enough information is gathered, but that the customer doesn't get frustrated and ends up leaving the web page without completing the form or making a booking.
What was delivered in return?
Having diligently entered all the details requested by each company, it was only natural to expect that the brand would send a welcome email. With all the hotels in our research offering newsletter sign-up options it is surprising that only around half (54% of UK and 61% of US) sent welcome emails thanking the recipient for their details and providing useful, interesting ways for the recipient to re-engage with the brand.
Some of the better examples used the email to promote deals, special savings plus information about social media channels and mobile apps available. The airlines actually fared much better in comparison to the hotels, with the majority of brands (88% UK and 91% US) sending a welcome email.
Disappointingly, though, follow-up correspondence was also poorly personalised, with just over half of all UK and US airlines and exactly 50% of UK hotels sending further personalised emails. In addition, only 8% of the US hotels actually sent follow-up correspondence - but each one was personalised.
"Monarch is one example of an airline that seems to be getting it right. Having provided a reasonable amount of personal details, the follow-up correspondence has been well balanced, impactful and personalised," said Hulls. "The emails contained useful information on places of interest relevant to the flight details originally searched and details on special deals to other similar destinations. It was encouraging to see them getting it so right."
The study concluded that the majority of airlines and hotels are doing the right thing by gathering consumer details and personalising their communications. However, brands still need to step up their game by providing an enhanced level of personalised communication that is equal to the amount of data that consumers are providing.
By rethinking and reworking long and complex forms, and using the data proffered to deliver highly relevant, personalised communications, airlines and hotels in both the UK and US will drive greater customer loyalty, improve the overall customer experience and ultimately increase sales.