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The Keys To Exceptional Customer Experience, From Visionary CMOs Of Travel

Connectivity has transformed the travel experience. Bruce Speechley, a leader in IBM’s travel industry practice recently summed it up for me, “Technology is now enabling people to experience the vacation before they arrive”. I wondered how the leaders of this new world of travel developed customer strategy to create loyalty, engage the Millennial Generation, utilize data, and prepare for the future.  So I assembled the heads of marketing for three travel companies best known for top service in sea, land, and air:

- Carol Schuster, SVP Marketing, Royal Caribbean International, which has 22 ships and about 100,000 employees.

- Edward French, CMO, Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, which was the first service organization to win the Malcolm Baldrige Award twice.

- Tim Mapes, SVP Marketing, Delta, which serves nearly 165 million customers each year.

Robert Reiss: What one word describes the your organization’s customer experience?

Tim Mapes, Delta: “Thoughtful.”

Edward French, Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company: “Authentic.”

Carol Schuster, Royal Caribbean International: “Wow.”

Reiss: What’s a recent customer loyalty initiative you implemented?

Mapes, Delta: “Through an exhaustive customer segmentation analysis, we identified 5% of Delta’s customers who accounted for 26% of revenue. We then went about what I call listen/respond/listen. Listen to what it was that 5% of customers wanted, respond with products and services that better address their needs, and then listen again, in the form of how they are seeing value in Delta’s actions. We’ve also used ethnographic research, where you place monitors on people through a travel experience and determine what is causing increases in their heart rate and stress levels. Instead of topping off the highs, we try to address the lows, and through that, elevate the brand experience.”

Schuster, Royal Caribbean International: “We spend a lot of time making sure that our loyal guests, in particular, are the first to know about new deployments and new programs. We give them exclusive access to new itineraries, as well as important changes to our cruise experience. With the arrival of a brand-new ship, Quantum of the Seas, which will be coming to the New York area in November, we also announced a new dining experience, which we’re calling Dynamic Dining. And so, what we did was, in order to engage them in part of this change, we gave them an exclusive event in New York City before we even shared it with the press. We followed that up the next day with a first industrywide Google hang out, which was hosted by CEO Adam Goldstein. Not only did we have trade, we actually then also reached a broader base of our loyal guests, who could not make it to the event.”

French, Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company: “We are doing things in terms of managing our customer database centrally, including using predictive modeling and purchasing third-party data, helping us to understand what we think customers will do next and how we can put the right message in front of them at the right time and ensure they are receiving the personalized service we promise. For example, the housekeeper can note which side of the bed a business traveler sleeps on, making sure to turn down the bed in the daily turndown service on that side of the bed. We share that information so that it’s housed centrally, from for the next hotel all the way to an interaction with, say, a restaurant server who inquires why a couple is staying at the hotel in a conversation, finds out it’s a special occasion for them and then, behind the scenes, makes something special happen that’s special for them.”

Reiss: How do you best engage the Millennial generation?

French, Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company: “There is a large focus for us in making sure that the way we think about the our guests and the customers applies to the bulk of guests in our hotels in over the next ten years or so, because that Millennial tidal wave is coming very quickly, in terms of that group of Millennials being the majority of our guests. One thing is we’ve just got to make sure that we understand them today, out there in our hotels, and as they’re interacting with us and so much of our consumer insight work is focused on that group of customers. Furthermore, I think that idea of having an authentic experience to the location that they’re in is important to everyone, but it is more important to that generation.  We are also active in 12 social media channels globally as we know this is a great way to engage with these guests.”

Mapes, Delta: “In order to engage the Millennial generation and to build upon it upstream, earlier in the channel, you must use many of the tools we’re talking about with data and predictive modeling—based on the school, based on the city, based on the degree program the person happens to be in, based on, arguably, the family that they’ve come from, and even charge behavior in the credit card space. As a result, you can get quite confident about the people you should most likely be investing in.”

Schuster, Royal Caribbean International: “When you’re at sea, you were historically very much disconnected. And as we know, Millennials in particular are always on and connectivity is an incredibly important part of their lifestyle. One of the things we’ve done is we’ve actually invested in technology that will allow our ships to have more connectivity than the entire cruise industry combined. We’ve purchased technology called O3B (Other 3 Billion). And so, we are already in test mode on our ships in the Caribbean, and we will soon have it expanded beyond that. People are inclined, at all ages, to want to share their experiences, not after they get home, but real-time. That is just human nature now, because we have social media.”

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