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2020: a year of crisis or opportunity for the travel and transport industry?

Craig Strudley Director 17/07/2020

OK, perhaps this is a trick question. Of course, it’s been a year of crisis. Businesses going under and huge job losses across many sectors related to travel and transport mean that there has been very little to cheer. But, despite that, the industry will persevere and there are opportunities out there.

So much will have to change over the next few years and indeed, so much already has. But it’s not just about being reactive to the challenges of COVID-19.

So much will have to change over the next few years and indeed, so much already has. But it’s not just about being reactive to the challenges of COVID-19. Now is the time to implement initiatives that will benefit passengers/ customers for years to come. We can use the crisis to accelerate improvements to the customer experience that have been on the horizon for some time. So, yes, 2020 has been a year of crisis but, if the right steps are taken, it can also be a year of opportunity.

2019 BC (Before Covid): Is the past still relevant?

We have been conducting research extensively with travel and transport clients over the last 20+ years, to help them gain an understanding of what customers/ passengers really want and why. Over that time there has been a huge change in the transport landscape. Pre-dating the pandemic, and at the heart of many of these changes, there has been a growing understanding that focussing on passengers’ needs, expectations and experiences is core to delivering a successful service.

Key challenges identified pre-2020 included:

  1. Technology and ever-increasing customer expectations

Technological advances across many non-transport sectors, and a shift to digital, led to the creation of a more personalised relationship and customer experience. This in turn had led to increased expectations for travel and transport too, for example, passengers were increasingly looking for personalisation in terms of ticketing (purchase and delivery), information provision and in-journey experience.

  1. Having a relationship with customers who leave no digital footprint

A lack of digital data continued to provide a challenge to some transport providers with walk-up fares and paper ticketing often failing to fully convey who passengers were and exactly how they were travelling. As well as the obvious difficulties linked to personalisation, this lack of digital footprint made it so much harder for businesses to take advantage of the analytical possibilities that big data affords to many other sectors.

  1. Embedding customer experience (CX) across the business

Front line staff are fundamental to implementing any CX strategy. Fostering a customer service ethos amongst all customer facing staff was a goal for many providers.

  1. Minimising environmental impact

It wasn’t so long ago that this was the topic on everybody’s lips. We may have stopped talking about it for a while, but it hasn’t gone away. Of course, it’s now clear that an even bigger and more important challenge has overtaken everything in the form of  health and safety. But does that mean the challenges above are no longer relevant? The answer is a resounding no and this is where the opportunity comes in. Operators should focus on more than making their offering safe and providing simple reassurance.

Health and cleanliness measures have already become a hygiene factor

Perhaps an obvious pun but it’s true. Simply saying that it’s safe to travel with your company is not going to set you apart. The challenges above are still relevant and where the opportunities for differentiation continue to reside. And, in some cases, there is a possible tie up between the new challenges and the old. For example:

  • We know that safety is the top priority and we can surmise that travelling in the new world is likely to cause increased inconvenience and worry. Previously we were looking at how technology can elevate the customer experience and improve personalisation. So why not tie the two up together? Continue to develop new technology and make health and safety part of a personal experience. Individually tailored information is just one way of achieving this.
  • Technology can also be used to give individuals greater control. Previously the emphasis may have been on making it easier for customers to research and book their itineraries. Now, this might well be about making it easier to modify or cancel their plans quickly and without penalty.
  • For operators that have the challenge of the ‘unknown customer’, take this opportunity to push digitalisation. Contactless transactions are now more desirable; they are safer but also result in a digital record of that transaction. There are benefits to the passenger as well as the operator if they know who you are. Even the most cynical will understand the potential upside of being identifiable – up-to-date communication (including health and safety information), track and trace possibilities etc.

Research for investment decisions 

Of course, there is one hitch. Technological advances (as with any new initiatives) come with a cost. If this expense can’t somehow be passed on to the customer, will progress be viable?

This is where we come in – it is now more important than ever to rigorously test all new ideas with customers before committing to a big and expensive launch. Operators have had to react fast, and so mistakes are understandable in the short term. Longer term, there is no real excuse not to consult with customers to help prioritise actions and investment decisions. This doesn’t have to be expensive – agencies such as ours offer many agile, inexpensive research solutions as well as more in-depth methodologies.

Ultimately, despite the crisis we are living through, there are still opportunities out there and we need to look beyond health and safety. Get this right and operators may eventually emerge stronger than ever.

For more information on how we can help you successfully navigate the future please please get in touch.

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