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How to Innovate Customer Experience In Tours And Activities

First Published sept 2019 on Linkedin by Pete Syme

What is "Customer Experience"? I have asked a lot of T&A operators and a few hundred customers, and I never got the same answer twice!

 

People want experiences. We know that they value them higher than buying products. However, if we do not understand what an experience is from a customers perspective, then we are all going to spend a lot of time and money designing new products, services and businesses that will not deliver to customers expectations and not stand the test of time in your tour and activity business.

I need to point out at this stage that this article wanders from my usual focus on technology and digital transformation.

 

This article deals with discussing people and their emotions and feelings. Therefore before we use new technology or start digital transformation programs, we need to understand people and their feelings and have empathy with them. Those that know me well will be laughing at this point as I am about emotional as a wall and folks with my background are not known for our empathy and being in touch which our feelings. So please stick with me I have had to dig deep on this one.

 

So What Is An Experience?

 

Experience is the emotions and feelings that your customers get at every point of contact with your business. It is personal!

Below is from a previous article

Those in the industry that will thrive in the future will stop responding to the market as virtually all of us do now. They will thrive by changing how the market works. They will make the competition look like dinosaurs by changing the market from one market to millions of markets on-demand providing personalization at scale.

So if we think about that and if you agree with me, it is okay not to agree, you will be part of a large crowd, but if you do then:

 

 

Experience is the only thing that matters!

It is number Uno in life. Think about it; you are going to die; you are only here for a nanosecond in the life of the universe, think about your best and worst times in life they will all be around experiences both good and bad. Experiences are everything full stop!

So if experiences are everything, why do we in business, make the customer experience such a bad experience? The answer to this is pretty simple. We design our businesses and processes for our companies and not for our customers! We need to reverse this if we are going to survive and thrive.

 

At this point, I can hear all the tours and activities operators shouting at me. "Not us Pete, we have 5-star reviews our customers love their experience with us." Well folks time to wake up, we are lucky because of the nature of what we do we get away with a lot that other businesses in other sectors do not.

 

The ability to deliver 5-star experience at the point of delivery of the tour or the activity is the minimum entry-level to survival. What I am talking about is the customer experience in the discovery phase, in the communication pre-booking phase, in the delivery phase where many of you excel, in the post-delivery stage and in the future relationship phase. The customer experience begins before they discover you and after they leave you and we all need to pay attention to that.

I know my own operations only excel to a 5 star level at the delivery phase, and that has kept us in the game. We need to improve at all of the other stages.

 

The customers are changing, and unless we start to deliver across the whole customer journey at the same 5-star level, we are going not to give the holistic experience that the customer expects. It is often subconscious with the customers. They have had a fantastic experience with Airbnb, Uber or Apple or some other design-led organisation and then they start to expect the same level of service from all businesses that they engage with. When they do not get it, they look for someone else who can provide it.

 

Here is an example of a Travel Business that designs the customer experience for the business and not for the customer. Ryanair.

 

They are Europes biggest and one of the most profitable airlines in the World. I am not one of the millions of Ryanair haters. I am a fan and a heavy user and have been since they only had two old crap planes decades ago. I travel a lot of short-haul within Europe. They meet the standard of doing what they say of getting me to where I want to go safely and cheaply. Being a Scotsman, I would stand on the wing if I could pay less. I also know precisely what I am paying for, and I expect less. So I have never really been upset with them.

 

However, if you look at their business processes from website design, booking process, endless popups and switch sales, lack of contact methods, buy a seat, buy priority which is anything but and lack of ability to check-in until 48hrs before unless you pay extra it is all bollocks. They even make sure those travelling together get split up unless you pay to sit together. It is a customer-focused design at the very worst. It does not stop there as anyone who uses them will know the experience at boarding time is also designed to help the business processes and ignores the comfort and well being of their customers. All of the above I notice but it does not bother me, apparently according to my wife it is because "I am not normal" however Ryanair only get away with it because there are no longer many alternatives.

 

They have the routes; they have the capacity; they can price supper cheap for a commodity product, so they are hugely profitable at the same time as ignoring customer experience. However, imagine if an Uber or an Airbnb style experience was available on the same air routes! Would I change airlines? Yes, I would, and I suspect so would their millions of other customers. We use them because they meet the minimum standard, and there are not many alternatives. Brand advocates, their customers are not! If anyone from Ryanair is reading this, my next flight is Edinburgh to Sofia in 2 weeks any chance of an upgrade to humanity? Also, your customer care charter is written in a font and size that makes me squint like a bulldog chewing a wasp, and I am ugly enough already. You may also want to look at your order of priorities. I always sort of assumed safety would be number one with an airline. Still, you made me laugh with number four. See you soon.

As tours and activity operators, you do not have the defensive moat around your business that Ryanair has built over the years. You are totally open to competition coming from so many directions that your head will be spinning 360 degrees and exceeding the speed limit at the same time. You, my friends, have to start to live and breath the customer experience from the customer's point of view including taking into account all their emotions and feelings and design your businesses, so it makes your customers talk about you and share you across the digital eco-systems.

 

If they are not talking about you and positively sharing about you, then you have an issue and one that is going to get a lot worse unless you take action.

 

Why You Should Study Your Customer Experience Journey From Start To Finish?

Three reasons

  1. I guarantee you that you will be able to improve it, and that means happier customers, and that means survival.
  2. You can charge more for your service and products — a lot more which means a happy tour and activity operator.
  3. You do not have a choice. I mean it you really do not have an option. Your customers are learning about what to expect from other experiences in their lives. As it becomes the norm, you have to be at that level, or your tour and activity operation will fail!

Business is tough always has been, I would argue it is getting much more challenging due to the many things I have written about it in the past but as those that have read my previous articles will know I also think there is more opportunity available for tours and activity businesses than ever before. You are in the right place at the right time you lucky people. However, the distance between what the customer not only expects but increasingly demands and what businesses deliver is getting wider.

I want to prompt and motivate you to think about designing everything you do from the customers perspective to close that gap from a chasm to a superglue tightness alignment with your guest's emotions, feelings and experience.

 

We all want to create experiences customers want and also want to share.

 

You all agree with the above; you are not getting to disagree on this one. If you do, it is time to think about a change of sector. I hear Ryanair are recruiting.

 

Any marketing or sales directors who are reading this you are going to have to open your minds a bit on the rest of this. You are very transactional-based, it is not your fault that is what you are paid to do. I tend to lean into being too transactional focused myself. Company owners and CEO's this is for you. You get paid to see the whole landscape and create strategies and oversee the implementation to everyone's satisfaction. You are mini Gods with small to large followings of devotees, and what are the expectations the followers of various God's have? Miracles that's what they expect.

 

If you have been the big boss for any length of time, you are probably short of miracles or even wholly run out, so let's keep the followers happy with a different approach.

In today's different digital business environment you the big boss should be thinking about three things.

  1. Renewal. How do we renew what we currently do to align with our customers
  2. Innovation. How do we ensure that what we renew is not just aligned with our customers but is innovative enough to create new value both for them and us
  3. Disruption. How do we disrupt our business and our competitions by doing things 100% aligned with our customers that make the old ways of doing things become mates with the horse and cart in the business graveyard. See previous ramblings at link https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/tour-activity-operators-you-need-disrupt-disrupted-peter-syme-/

So mini God's of tours and activities if you want to keep your followers happy and grow the flock you have to focus on just those three things. Of course, they each individually develop into many situations, but you have disciples to deal with the many details. You need to stay focused on these three things I hate to be the bringer of bad news but if you do not you are not going to have a flock for long as the new God's who understand the digital-era landscape and the new ways of doing things will steal your herd quicker than my cat can jump a fence. He is an Olympic standard fence jumper due to living with seven dogs, so he is quick!

 

More bad news, this stuff is really bloody hard. We have all been, well when I say we, all of us of a certain age have been programmed, taught, and experienced process first business, profit-first business, shareholder first business. We engineered the business to work for the company, and we squeezed the systems until they squeaked to deliver for the business. It no longer works; it is just managing decline.

Customers like the group above need to be this happy at every point of the experience not just the delivery of the service or product.

 

At this point, I just want to jump back into technology and data. I promise I will get back to the touchy-feely stuff quick smart. We all have access to fantastic technology at low prices that gives us lots of data thanks to the reservations systems and other technology providers in our sector. Thanks to any providers of those who are reading this. However, that data tends to be transactional, and it makes us think in logical ways and makes us tweak this and tweak that. Nothing wrong with this, and it helps our businesses. However, that data tells a story, and it takes a very different way of looking at it to see the story. Logical thinkers like myself are weak at this. Maybe it is time we had artists or storytellers look at our data and tell us what it means. Data is factual, but we all are making mistakes of not seeing what else it is trying to tell us beyond the hard facts. Is this the time of the Data Artist to be best pals with the Data Scientist?

 

Businesses that focus on customer experience outperform others that focus on profit and other metrics. What is your KPI dashboard? How many metrics on it relate to the customer experience? What is the order of importance of the metrics? If your dashboard is anything like mine, it will need a radical overhaul.

 

I hear you all saying our customer feedback surveys are great our NPS scores are high. I am not discounting them; however, they are processes led by the business.

 

Get out of the business and be a customer of the company at every touchpoint and find the speed bumps. Get a bunch of people of the street and watch their experience of interacting with your business. Do not delegate this. Being the Big Boss, you need to live the company from a customers perspective. I did some of this last week on my own business, and now I have more extensive than anticipated winter worklist. One danger in this is that it sucks us into just fixing and improving the things we find that are speed bumps. That is good, but it is only renewal. Remember from above 1. Renewal 2. Innovation 3. Disruption. Do not just fix the speedbumps. That smoothes the road someone else will be designing cars that do not need roads at the same time.

 

Before you, all runoff to find speedbumps. I want to refer to the past and now. In the past, when we tried to change our businesses to help the customer, we would have internal meetings, make plans and implement new programs and metrics. We may even have called in consultants to give us that outside perspective to make sure we're not missing anything. I am lucky that many tours and activity businesses and CEO's invite me into their personal journey of chaos and challenges. The digital-era needs more than this. The digital-era needs people who understand how other people, i.e. customers, are changing and changing they are. I lived worked and had fun around the World pre-mobile phone. How I live today is very different. How someone who was born into the mobile phone life lives is exceedingly different. Our sector of tours and activities has zero influence on these changes in people; even the whole travel industry has minimal impact. These are societal level changes at a human level, and we, as business owners and leaders, need to understand these changes.

 

Our addiction to mobile phones is re-programming how we interact with each other and hence with business. Customers are being trained by apps and companies and social media sites to get instant responses and instant gratification. We in our Tours and Activities bubble do not influence this, but these customers will increasingly expect us to act like Uber, Airbnb, Dating Apps, Just Eat, and so on. We are changing from one market to millions of markets of one demanding personalization and instant gratification.

 

Tours And Activities Leaders The Most Important Thing You Can Do Is Study How People Use Technology And Find Out What Their Expectations Are

 

Note: Watch what they do not what they say they do

 

I told you this stuff was hard; there are no easy answers here. We are dealing with emotions, feelings and experiences and changes to how human beings do what they do. It is time to have a break from technology developments, Api's, distribution, revenue management, and go and do a serious amount of people watching and talking to customers.

To add some more pain to this no matter how focused and motivated the leaders are on being customer-focused if you are not first and foremost employee-focused, you are wasting your time. After all, they are your most valuable customers; they show up at your business every day until they don't! If the culture is not right, all this is a waste of time and effort.

 

Summary

 

Everything I have written about and presented on about the Tours and Activities industry is secondary to what I am discussing here. Customer Experience at every single touchpoint is everything. The rest is what you can do if you get the Customer Experience right.

Remember your only strategic advantage in the digital-era is your customer relationship.

That's it nothing else, not money, not assets, not product, not the technology they can all be replicated at speed. Customer relationships are your route to significant growth and business, Ignore this, and you will become the same as the 50% plus of fortune 500 companies have that have died in the last 19 years. The digital-era will only allow companies to survive if they are aligned with and provide fantastic customer experience.

 

Many years ago, in my military life, I served to lead. Today getting the chance to serve the customer in the digital era means a radical redesign of how many of us do business. You do not have a choice. Design from the customer back at all points and that means understanding people emotions and feelings. Embrace it, and you will thrive. Ignore, and business death will come calling.

 

Regards

Pete

 

PS As always I hugely welcome feedback and comments on my ramblings both public on the articles and private on calls and messages. I do not have all the answers, but between us, with engagement and a bit of hard work, we call all make the customer experience in the tours and experiences sector better.

What is "Customer Experience"? I have asked a lot of T&A operators and a few hundred customers, and I never got the same answer twice!

People want experiences. We know that they value them higher than buying products. However, if we do not understand what an experience is from a customers perspective, then we are all going to spend a lot of time and money designing new products, services and businesses that will not deliver to customers expectations and not stand the test of time in your tour and activity business.

I need to point out at this stage that this article wanders from my usual focus on technology and digital transformation.

This article deals with discussing people and their emotions and feelings. Therefore before we use new technology or start digital transformation programs, we need to understand people and their feelings and have empathy with them. Those that know me well will be laughing at this point as I am about emotional as a wall and folks with my background are not known for our empathy and being in touch which our feelings. So please stick with me I have had to dig deep on this one.

So What Is An Experience?

Experience is the emotions and feelings that your customers get at every point of contact with your business. It is personal!

Below is from a previous article

Those in the industry that will thrive in the future will stop responding to the market as virtually all of us do now. They will thrive by changing how the market works. They will make the competition look like dinosaurs by changing the market from one market to millions of markets on-demand providing personalization at scale.

So if we think about that and if you agree with me, it is okay not to agree, you will be part of a large crowd, but if you do then:

Experience is the only thing that matters!

It is number Uno in life. Think about it; you are going to die; you are only here for a nanosecond in the life of the universe, think about your best and worst times in life they will all be around experiences both good and bad. Experiences are everything full stop!

So if experiences are everything, why do we in business, make the customer experience such a bad experience? The answer to this is pretty simple. We design our businesses and processes for our companies and not for our customers! We need to reverse this if we are going to survive and thrive.

At this point, I can hear all the tours and activities operators shouting at me. "Not us Pete, we have 5-star reviews our customers love their experience with us." Well folks time to wake up, we are lucky because of the nature of what we do we get away with a lot that other businesses in other sectors do not.

The ability to deliver 5-star experience at the point of delivery of the tour or the activity is the minimum entry-level to survival. What I am talking about is the customer experience in the discovery phase, in the communication pre-booking phase, in the delivery phase where many of you excel, in the post-delivery stage and in the future relationship phase. The customer experience begins before they discover you and after they leave you and we all need to pay attention to that.

I know my own operations only excel to a 5 star level at the delivery phase, and that has kept us in the game. We need to improve at all of the other stages.

The customers are changing, and unless we start to deliver across the whole customer journey at the same 5-star level, we are going not to give the holistic experience that the customer expects. It is often subconscious with the customers. They have had a fantastic experience with Airbnb, Uber or Apple or some other design-led organisation and then they start to expect the same level of service from all businesses that they engage with. When they do not get it, they look for someone else who can provide it.

Here is an example of a Travel Business that designs the customer experience for the business and not for the customer. Ryanair.

They are Europes biggest and one of the most profitable airlines in the World. I am not one of the millions of Ryanair haters. I am a fan and a heavy user and have been since they only had two old crap planes decades ago. I travel a lot of short-haul within Europe. They meet the standard of doing what they say of getting me to where I want to go safely and cheaply. Being a Scotsman, I would stand on the wing if I could pay less. I also know precisely what I am paying for, and I expect less. So I have never really been upset with them.

However, if you look at their business processes from website design, booking process, endless popups and switch sales, lack of contact methods, buy a seat, buy priority which is anything but and lack of ability to check-in until 48hrs before unless you pay extra it is all bollocks. They even make sure those travelling together get split up unless you pay to sit together. It is a customer-focused design at the very worst. It does not stop there as anyone who uses them will know the experience at boarding time is also designed to help the business processes and ignores the comfort and well being of their customers. All of the above I notice but it does not bother me, apparently according to my wife it is because "I am not normal" however Ryanair only get away with it because there are no longer many alternatives.

They have the routes; they have the capacity; they can price supper cheap for a commodity product, so they are hugely profitable at the same time as ignoring customer experience. However, imagine if an Uber or an Airbnb style experience was available on the same air routes! Would I change airlines? Yes, I would, and I suspect so would their millions of other customers. We use them because they meet the minimum standard, and there are not many alternatives. Brand advocates, their customers are not! If anyone from Ryanair is reading this, my next flight is Edinburgh to Sofia in 2 weeks any chance of an upgrade to humanity? Also, your customer care charter is written in a font and size that makes me squint like a bulldog chewing a wasp, and I am ugly enough already. You may also want to look at your order of priorities. I always sort of assumed safety would be number one with an airline. Still, you made me laugh with number four. See you soon.

As tours and activity operators, you do not have the defensive moat around your business that Ryanair has built over the years. You are totally open to competition coming from so many directions that your head will be spinning 360 degrees and exceeding the speed limit at the same time. You, my friends, have to start to live and breath the customer experience from the customer's point of view including taking into account all their emotions and feelings and design your businesses, so it makes your customers talk about you and share you across the digital eco-systems.

If they are not talking about you and positively sharing about you, then you have an issue and one that is going to get a lot worse unless you take action.

Why You Should Study Your Customer Experience Journey From Start To Finish?

Three reasons

  1. I guarantee you that you will be able to improve it, and that means happier customers, and that means survival.
  2. You can charge more for your service and products — a lot more which means a happy tour and activity operator.
  3. You do not have a choice. I mean it you really do not have an option. Your customers are learning about what to expect from other experiences in their lives. As it becomes the norm, you have to be at that level, or your tour and activity operation will fail!

Business is tough always has been, I would argue it is getting much more challenging due to the many things I have written about it in the past but as those that have read my previous articles will know I also think there is more opportunity available for tours and activity businesses than ever before. You are in the right place at the right time you lucky people. However, the distance between what the customer not only expects but increasingly demands and what businesses deliver is getting wider.

I want to prompt and motivate you to think about designing everything you do from the customers perspective to close that gap from a chasm to a superglue tightness alignment with your guest's emotions, feelings and experience.

We all want to create experiences customers want and also want to share.

You all agree with the above; you are not getting to disagree on this one. If you do, it is time to think about a change of sector. I hear Ryanair are recruiting.

Any marketing or sales directors who are reading this you are going to have to open your minds a bit on the rest of this. You are very transactional-based, it is not your fault that is what you are paid to do. I tend to lean into being too transactional focused myself. Company owners and CEO's this is for you. You get paid to see the whole landscape and create strategies and oversee the implementation to everyone's satisfaction. You are mini Gods with small to large followings of devotees, and what are the expectations the followers of various God's have? Miracles that's what they expect.

If you have been the big boss for any length of time, you are probably short of miracles or even wholly run out, so let's keep the followers happy with a different approach.

In today's different digital business environment you the big boss should be thinking about three things.

  1. Renewal. How do we renew what we currently do to align with our customers
  2. Innovation. How do we ensure that what we renew is not just aligned with our customers but is innovative enough to create new value both for them and us
  3. Disruption. How do we disrupt our business and our competitions by doing things 100% aligned with our customers that make the old ways of doing things become mates with the horse and cart in the business graveyard. See previous ramblings at link https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/tour-activity-operators-you-need-disrupt-disrupted-peter-syme-/

So mini God's of tours and activities if you want to keep your followers happy and grow the flock you have to focus on just those three things. Of course, they each individually develop into many situations, but you have disciples to deal with the many details. You need to stay focused on these three things I hate to be the bringer of bad news but if you do not you are not going to have a flock for long as the new God's who understand the digital-era landscape and the new ways of doing things will steal your herd quicker than my cat can jump a fence. He is an Olympic standard fence jumper due to living with seven dogs, so he is quick!

More bad news, this stuff is really bloody hard. We have all been, well when I say we, all of us of a certain age have been programmed, taught, and experienced process first business, profit-first business, shareholder first business. We engineered the business to work for the company, and we squeezed the systems until they squeaked to deliver for the business. It no longer works; it is just managing decline.

Customers like the group above need to be this happy at every point of the experience not just the delivery of the service or product.

At this point, I just want to jump back into technology and data. I promise I will get back to the touchy-feely stuff quick smart. We all have access to fantastic technology at low prices that gives us lots of data thanks to the reservations systems and other technology providers in our sector. Thanks to any providers of those who are reading this. However, that data tends to be transactional, and it makes us think in logical ways and makes us tweak this and tweak that. Nothing wrong with this, and it helps our businesses. However, that data tells a story, and it takes a very different way of looking at it to see the story. Logical thinkers like myself are weak at this. Maybe it is time we had artists or storytellers look at our data and tell us what it means. Data is factual, but we all are making mistakes of not seeing what else it is trying to tell us beyond the hard facts. Is this the time of the Data Artist to be best pals with the Data Scientist?

Businesses that focus on customer experience outperform others that focus on profit and other metrics. What is your KPI dashboard? How many metrics on it relate to the customer experience? What is the order of importance of the metrics? If your dashboard is anything like mine, it will need a radical overhaul.

I hear you all saying our customer feedback surveys are great our NPS scores are high. I am not discounting them; however, they are processes led by the business.

Get out of the business and be a customer of the company at every touchpoint and find the speed bumps. Get a bunch of people of the street and watch their experience of interacting with your business. Do not delegate this. Being the Big Boss, you need to live the company from a customers perspective. I did some of this last week on my own business, and now I have more extensive than anticipated winter worklist. One danger in this is that it sucks us into just fixing and improving the things we find that are speed bumps. That is good, but it is only renewal. Remember from above 1. Renewal 2. Innovation 3. Disruption. Do not just fix the speedbumps. That smoothes the road someone else will be designing cars that do not need roads at the same time.

Before you, all runoff to find speedbumps. I want to refer to the past and now. In the past, when we tried to change our businesses to help the customer, we would have internal meetings, make plans and implement new programs and metrics. We may even have called in consultants to give us that outside perspective to make sure we're not missing anything. I am lucky that many tours and activity businesses and CEO's invite me into their personal journey of chaos and challenges. The digital-era needs more than this. The digital-era needs people who understand how other people, i.e. customers, are changing and changing they are. I lived worked and had fun around the World pre-mobile phone. How I live today is very different. How someone who was born into the mobile phone life lives is exceedingly different. Our sector of tours and activities has zero influence on these changes in people; even the whole travel industry has minimal impact. These are societal level changes at a human level, and we, as business owners and leaders, need to understand these changes.

Our addiction to mobile phones is re-programming how we interact with each other and hence with business. Customers are being trained by apps and companies and social media sites to get instant responses and instant gratification. We in our Tours and Activities bubble do not influence this, but these customers will increasingly expect us to act like Uber, Airbnb, Dating Apps, Just Eat, and so on. We are changing from one market to millions of markets of one demanding personalization and instant gratification.

Tours And Activities Leaders The Most Important Thing You Can Do Is Study How People Use Technology And Find Out What Their Expectations Are

Note: Watch what they do not what they say they do

I told you this stuff was hard; there are no easy answers here. We are dealing with emotions, feelings and experiences and changes to how human beings do what they do. It is time to have a break from technology developments, Api's, distribution, revenue management, and go and do a serious amount of people watching and talking to customers.

To add some more pain to this no matter how focused and motivated the leaders are on being customer-focused if you are not first and foremost employee-focused, you are wasting your time. After all, they are your most valuable customers; they show up at your business every day until they don't! If the culture is not right, all this is a waste of time and effort.

Summary

Everything I have written about and presented on about the Tours and Activities industry is secondary to what I am discussing here. Customer Experience at every single touchpoint is everything. The rest is what you can do if you get the Customer Experience right.

Remember your only strategic advantage in the digital-era is your customer relationship.

That's it nothing else, not money, not assets, not product, not the technology they can all be replicated at speed. Customer relationships are your route to significant growth and business, Ignore this, and you will become the same as the 50% plus of fortune 500 companies have that have died in the last 19 years. The digital-era will only allow companies to survive if they are aligned with and provide fantastic customer experience.

Many years ago, in my military life, I served to lead. Today getting the chance to serve the customer in the digital era means a radical redesign of how many of us do business. You do not have a choice. Design from the customer back at all points and that means understanding people emotions and feelings. Embrace it, and you will thrive. Ignore, and business death will come calling.

Regards

Pete

PS As always I hugely welcome feedback and comments on my ramblings both public on the articles and private on calls and messages. I do not have all the answers, but between us, with engagement and a bit of hard work, we call all make the customer experience in the tours and experiences sector better.

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