Personalization Requires Identifying Signifiers About Your Visitors
In the travel industry, it's common for people to research before purchasing or researching travel for someone else, a group, or particular situations like weddings. This means that personalizing based on rules creates a customer experience that does not nurture the relationship.
Recently I was asked for advice on transportation from London Heathrow or London Gatwick to an area outside of Greater London. This traveler's pain point was traveling with two adults, two children, and numerous pieces of luggage. They wanted advice on options such as minicabs, taxis, buses, etc. Based on previous travels alone with an infant from south London to London Heathrow, I thought a particular service might be helpful: transporting luggage for an efficient fee while allowing you to take public transportation like trains more efficiently. If you haven't been to the UK, as this group hasn't, the distances are not apparent, nor are the vast numbers of stairs you might need to carry luggage on any public transport. I went to the website to gather information about transporting luggage in this scenario. I wanted to make sure the business was still in operation and see what service areas were offered.
This company had provided me with such an excellent service in the past that I hoped it would be a possible solution. I have always held this brand in high regard and hoped they would expand services. I hoped for this even though the second time I used this company turned into a bit of a fiasco on a day I was setting to move thousands of miles! The chaos wasn't the company's fault so much as it was the fault of the immigration, so the confusion didn't change my brand loyalty. But something did! An annoying digital experience.
The day after visiting the site, I received an email that made me grimace. The email explained that since travel was booming back, I'd better book my slot soon before they were all filled. There were a few thoughts that came to mind:
- When I visited the site, it didn't signal that slots were filling up.
- I did not interact with any content about a reservation or booking.
- It was the first time I'd visited the site in almost four years.
- The email wasnt personalized.
- How long will I continue getting emails?
None of my thoughts were positive. Nothing made me more inclined to use the service. But I did unsubscribe from their database. Will I return? Will I send anyone a link to the site?
Investing in the right tools but failing on the execution
Customer experience in digital channels typically lacks empathy. Companies acquire new platforms and configure them based on their intent. The problem is when their intent fails to be empathetic to visitors' needs. You might think the potential loss of sending an email is low. But if your emails cause someone to unsubscribe, you've lost your investment in acquiring their email. You've potentially lost the trust or interest in the brand you worked for. You may have lost the investment in building up knowledge of a service only to redirect your investment to a competitor who executes the digital experience better than you do. Digitizing customer experience has no meaning if brands are not infusing it with empathy to truly deliver a meaningful experience.
What would I recommend the company has done differently?
First thing first: understanding user intent
First, think about the reasons someone is going to the site. How can you distinguish between someone who is merely gathering information, someone researching for someone else, or someone that has booked travel and has a current need for this service?
Customers currently on Sitecore can use a tool like the Sitecore Path Analyzer to examine how people are navigating the site. For others, there are solutions such as the Sitecore CDP, which can help you hypothesize and experiment to identify the subsequent best actions. When hypothesizing, you might consider what information identifies severe consideration or a likely need. Perhaps there is a sequence of pages, a volume of pages, or the input of information such as a date. In this scenario, many might assume that using a booking tool with dates is a good trigger for follow-up emails. Is it? Is it possible that the following best action is nothing? Maybe it's a display ad? Perhaps the next best action is setting up a trigger to nudge that visitor within a few days of the travel dates they put in when gathering price information?
Using date from other sources for personalization
In this case, the service requires that the buyer purchase a ticket on only a few specific airlines in the One World Alliance. An obvious win could be setting up an API to be used during the booking process to streamline the booking of baggage pickup and delivery. But that might also be too soon. When it comes to bookings on the website itself, understanding if a ticket is purchased is one of the most critical information for setting up the right customer journey.
If you have a Customer Data Platform like Sitecore CDP, you could start using the decisioning engine to identify that a visitor is planning travel and considering ground transportation. Your CDP could provide a complete view of the customer and provide additional data such as when a customer travels when they're most likely to purchase, what could motivate them to complete a booking, and what has been ineffective.
Kimberly McCabe - Senior Director, Solutions and Sitecore Ambassador MVP 2020-2022