Many businesses, particularly in the pandemically hard hit world of Travel, Tourism and Hospitality, (TT&H) have been hanging on by a thread since COVID-19 first knocked on their doors. After an initial panic stage, or an “it’s gonna pass quickly and we’ll get back to normal by summer” period of denial, many got down to the hard work of battening down the financial hatches and developing and implementing a siege-mentality strategy for survival. But it wasn’t – and still isn’t – easy.
The arrival of a variety of approved vaccines, coupled with the positive (not going to talk about the negatives, here!) effects of months of lockdowns, mask-wearing, and travel restrictions, has at last offered us a significant ray of hope. We are starting to believe that an end to the “worst of times” is in sight. Now what?
Many of those businesses who are slowly starting to emerge from their pandemic-inspired fortresses are weary of months of cost cutting, budget-slashing, furloughing and redundancy planning. They are poised on the starting block, raring to race for those revenues that have been dangerously reduced. But are they wearing blinders at that starting gate? Even if your business did relatively well – or even better – over the last year, are you sure you are not handicapping your potential success as the rest of the TT&H world gets back up to speed?
When the bookings, customers, guests, and users start trickling back in, it’s to be expected that many of the TT&H-ers are going to firmly focus on replenishing those depleted coffers as quickly as possible. We get it. It’s only natural to want to see that bank balance rise again and to refill the “rainy day” fund for whatever lies ahead. After all, without revenue, the wheels of your organization grind to a disastrous halt. But leaning into the “grab the gold” and away from User Experience/Guest Satisfaction puts you at risk of a pretty serious fall into the chasm of the “left behinds” of the COVID Recovery. So just how do you keep inching forward on that thin line to make it successfully to the other side – and prepare for the next leg of the journey? Here are five essential Tips, Takes, and Words of Warning to help you maintain your balance:
- Remember that successful hospitality and service businesses are based on Customer Satisfaction – probably yours, included. To depreciate satisfaction and User Experience is to snub what you have no doubt claimed to be your “Core Value.”
- Recognize that C-19 has also altered user expectations significantly. More and more of your users have upped their digital/virtual chops. Months of lockdowns and social distancing can turn even a Luddite into a rabid consumer of digital content. All that time spent Zooming, streaming, searching and purchasing online have resulted in at least two important changes to your users that you must consider:
- Trust, Transparency, and Reliability really are the new baselines, not just the old buzzwords. The businesses that came to the fore during lockdowns have fostered enhanced expectations regarding those new baselines, along with the speed, ease, and seamlessness of each transaction. The User of today is looking for all of that – and wanting it from the start of the transaction (i.e. the search, initial contact)) to the end of this engagement (product service/fulfilment to check-out or billing). If you had built a strong base of loyal customers and made a user-centric name for yourself before C-19 – now is not the time to ignore that achievement, or to rest on those laurels, thinking “Well, I had them already. Now they’re raring to come back,” because…
- All that time spent learning or enhancing digital skills also gave users the opportunity to find new vendors and service providers, and in some cases, give them a bit of a test run. Their horizons of choice have widened considerably. Recent stats from the US Census and business bureaus find that 75% of US consumers have tried different stores, websites or brands during the crisis! Maybe even more importantly, 60% expect to add them into their post COVID-19 lives! Is your enterprise one that has attracted new users – and will they stay around afterwards? Or could it be that the user has found other providers who better meet their changing needs? User satisfaction is the only way to insure that you’re in their mix and poised to hold a prominent place in their pyramid of choice. Pricing or novelty or just “business as usual” won’t do the trick with these more aware users.
- If you haven’t already been hard at work at the whiteboard during the worst of the crisis, now is the time to layer in User Centric Design (UCD) or at least review your current state of UC affairs in your organization. The team at The Adapters have written and spoken often about UCD as the first step when creating or updating your Business Architecture and Business Intelligence. We refer to it when advising on choosing the right tech stack for your business, or when determining if, when, and how an adaption or innovation should be brought to market or integrated into your operations. User Centric Design process is of equal value when considering the health of user satisfaction in your offering. It may take outside assistance to avoid internal “silo tunnel vision,” but however you choose to do so – you need to get acquainted with the post-pandemic user – quickly! – and rethink, retool, and retrain accordingly, which leads to the advice to…
- Embrace the technology – If anything has accelerated during the last 12 months, it has been the technology behind data capture and analysis. Don’t stop with “clicks” and “likes” or “footfall” or the traditional “customer profile.” There is so much more going on today in this realm that the Adapters team could write another whole book on the topic (Spoiler Alert?) Chas Kielt, Senior Director, Industry Solutions Marketing, Reltio wrote in a 2/17/21 article for Hospitality Technology, “Connected guest experiences must include every touchpoint, whether onsite, interacting with customer service or engaging on the website…T&H companies such as Marriott that are able to quickly pivot and adapt with a responsive data strategy have the ability to withstand economic pressure and impact their bottom line.” Again, do the research: test, test, and test your own services again and again. Network and seek professional assistance where appropriate and feasible.
- Keep the Users’ wellbeing in mind – and well advertised. Point in case – as of this writing, the state of Texas and others are pretty much lifting all of their COVID precautions, from mask requirements to venue capacity. Yet, a quick “call-around” survey to some residents of the Lone Star State (nope, not all friends and family of similar perspectives!) and a review of some “on the street” interviews by some Texas-based news stations, found the majority of those asked said they were still going to wear their masks, and that they would avoid places and services that did not advertise that safety measures were still in place, focusing on cleanliness and disinfection protocols, as well as contactless, or limited contact interaction wherever possible. Your customers/consumers/guests want to know that you are concerned about their welfare, not just your profits…and if you say it, you had better do it! When you put up your sign and make a promise – and then fail to deliver – Trust is not eroded; it’s destroyed (Think about those Customer Satisfaction guarantees or return policies that are filled with “But not in this case” clauses.)
In whatever financial shape your business enters the COVID recovery period, if your organization relies on guests/consumers/customers, then getting to know the post-pandemic user is critical, and a recommitment to guest/user satisfaction is the priority. Find your balance by user-centric design, stakeholder involvement and buy-in and the best and most reliable feedback systems that you can employ. You’ve come this far. Keep doing the work. Don’t risk it all by simply “Reacting.” Instead “respond” to the new reality and you will see that the tightrope is more akin to some fine balancing on terra-more-firma.
[Note: Businesses that were born or grew exponentially from pandemic necessity – you are not exempt from the user-centric foundation for success. We’re gathering our date and intel on you and preparing to share our insights. Stay tuned!]