No matter how exotic the location, be it the Bahamas, Brazil, Bangkok or Belgrade, whenever James Bond walks into a hotel, the first thing the front desk clerk says is: “Ah Mr. Bond, welcome back! Will you be requiring your usual room?”

Yet, even though Bond films are fictional, the travel and tourism industry as a whole has realized personalization is the future of their industry – and they are working frantically to make this level of customer experience (CX) a reality.

Personalization is impossible until you know your customer

“A complete view of the customer has become the holy grail for this sector,” begins Joe Reynolds VP Business Development at Sitel Group. “Understanding likes, dislikes and preferences streamlines the path to purchase, optimizes the products and services on offer and ultimately builds loyalty. Once you know your customers, you can be proactive – offering things they want, before they ask for them.”

This is why in recent years, hoteliers and airlines have backed away from traditional rewards programs and moved toward a differentiated CX. A service that keeps you coming back, even as competition increases, is the best type of loyalty program.

“Regardless of vertical, CX is the absolute differentiator,” says Reynolds. “However, as the travel and tourism industry clearly understands, there are more and more challenges when it comes to gaining a full view of their customers and of preventing disintermediation.”

How can you build a better picture of your customer without more touch points?

Although this industry is built on managing emotions, experience and expectation, it also has relatively little recurring contact with customers. Very few people book an identical vacation every year. As a result, as we move toward a digital future, travel and tourism companies must find new and ingenious ways of filling in the blanks in terms of customer understanding.

“[If]I want to make sure Accor will be in your everyday life, I need to provide you more than a hotel room because I’m only going to see you in our hotel room three or four times a year,” said Sébastien Bazin, CEO of AccorHotels Group during the Skift Forum Europe in April. “I need to have touch points and contact with you when you’re not traveling.”

Discussing the challenges of building relationships with customers in the age of Google and social media, he also explained, the future for his company would be in continuing to build its ecosystem of products and services alongside its core accommodation business to, as he describes it “enlarge the net.”

Accor is not alone in casting the net wider. A host of airlines are building out ancillary services such as car rentals and accommodation – either via partnerships or completely in-house – so they become vacation platforms rather than only service providers.

“Every time a brand interacts with a customer, it’s an opportunity to get closer and to gather potentially valuable insight,” explains Reynolds. “But only if you are in complete control of your data, whether it is structured or unstructured.”

Why it’s time to tap into social media as a valuable data source

Unstructured data – call center agents’ notes, customers’ opinions and, crucially, social media activity, is a potential goldmine of actionable information. Facebook and Instagram are the electronic destinations for anyone looking for vacation inspiration and advice and are also the first ports of call for sharing what they get up to while away. Likewise, Twitter is now the channel for complaining about or commending the individual elements of the experience from in-flight service to the cleanliness of the hotel.

“Being able to pull this sort of data into your business and stitch it together with your own in-house data gives you the greatest possible data ‘landscape’ from which you can draw better and better insights,” Reynolds points out. “This is the move from small data to big data to smart data. It’s also making use of data that already exists without having to look to inventive ways of generating even more data through marketing or creating further touch points that could become friction points.”

Understanding your customer to understand customer data

However, getting different types of data to flow through an organization and to work in tandem with each other is just one hurdle. Unless it is viewed and analyzed from the customer’s perspective, its usefulness is limited.

And, as with all other business sectors, different brands within the travel and tourism industry are at very different points on the journey toward gathering and analyzing data for better customer insights.

Still, as a vertical that has demonstrated its ability to deliver emotional experiences and deliver on customer expectations (since the term jet-set was coined in the 1950s) to describe travel as an adventure rather than a necessity, it has a greater sensitivity and understanding than most when it comes to analyzing this sort of data for boosting CX.

But even with this head start, if they want to boost their performance to James Bond’s expectation levels, they are going to need to get to grips with all types of data from all available sources and make certain it is treated in the right way. “Because, ultimately this is the key,” explains Subhendu Mandal, Global Head of Sitel Insights. “There has never been such an abundance of data available. But it’s not enough to know how to treat it so that the meaningful data expands in size. Unless you can look at this data from the customer’s perspective, you will never be able to dig deeply into it and truly gain insights – you’ll only ever scratch the surface.”

That why Sitel Group has a dedicated business unit devoted to partnering with clients to make sure this most valuable of business resources is never wasted. From extracting and preparing data – from both structured and unstructured sources – to visualizing business insights and developing analytics models for helping in the delivery of a proactive CX, Sitel Insights can help brands in all consumer-facing verticals to seize the opportunities big data provides for getting even closer to their customers.

Are you interested in learning more about customer touch points in the era of Mobile? Read our article Chatbots: A Smarter Way to Connect with Tourists and Travelers

Sitel Group