I am sure this has happened to all of us. We get an invitation to connect to someone on LinkedIn, they say in their message that they think there are "synergies", and they offer platitudes as to why we should connect. Then, as soon as we hit the accept invitation tab, we start receiving a series of messages that explain how they can help us, why their company can fix all of the perceived problems they envision and attempts at scheduling a more meaningful discussion.
When we fail to respond the mood changes and they start blaming us for a "situation", we have not responded therefore perhaps we have forgotten, perhaps we are the wrong person, and they should talk to the right person (sometimes they mention a person they perceive to be your boss) and they start accusing you of being unprofessional. Crazy right? And they never assume your lack of response is the result of their approach, their misdiagnosis or their lack of understanding of your role and your needs.
Now I know 100% of you reading this find this approach irritating and problematic as do I. I can also guarantee that it never works 99% of the time. Why then do we see OTA's apparently attempting to so often use the same approach when dealing with a potential travel customer?
Here are some of the similarities that jump out at me:
- Like the egocentric LinkedIn spammer, OTA's believe they can successfully fit prospective customers into their pre-defined box of "personas". This so-called "personalization" is anything but, the way you are treated is not individualized, but rather based on how someone else (like you) responded previously.
- Like them, they feel that a certain interest or preclusion (your behavior online) means that you automatically want certain things from them.
- Like the spammer, they get irritated when someone falls out of the cart and then start treating the person as if it is their problem. People "fall out", "abandon their cart" and therefore they need to be "re-targeted". The assumption is that the customer is stupid and made a mistake. Does any of that sound customer-centric?
- They never take the time to get to know the person, instead like the spammer they base the conversation and interaction on a sequence of assumptions. In an age of extreme individualism, they irritate the potential buyer.
- Like the spammer, they rely far too much on what technology and algorithms tell them rather than really listening to the market and to their customers. Just try responding to an OTA chatbot or to a spammer and complain about their approach, their lack of insight, or their failure to understand the situation - the response is almost identical.
Why is any of this important? Because those of us in certain parts of the industry recognize that feedback and feelings of the travel consumer are different than the market at large. Purchases of vacations and holidays are interpreted differently by the purchaser than a typical retail purchase. Yet, with years of evidence and behavior that this is the case, most of the OTA's continue to focus, not on experience or customer interaction and satisfaction, they prefer to invest in more tech and attempt to build a better OTA mousetrap.
It is true that the travel industry has been behind with its adoption and use of technology. But it is also true that catching up or getting ahead should never abandon what we know about customers already.
We should always be a customer-first business. We need to go back in history and examine why they exist at all - if they did that and doubled down on those fundamental needs they would be growing beyond their expectations. However, in many cases, it is not travel experts that are at the helm, the accountants and the technophiles took over the asylum and we have what we see today.
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