How Travelport is Recoding the Rules of Customer Experience

The below is based on an episode of the Outside In podcast, which you can listen to here.

I remember the days of having to call an airline or the hotel to book a reservation. Sometimes it would take 30 minutes or more to make my reservation, and I wouldn’t necessarily get the best deal.

Those days are long gone. A business trip to New York City or a Swiss ski adventure are just a few clicks away. I can Google the best deals, search all my options, and customize my travel plans to fit my needs.

At the forefront of this digital travel frontier is a company called Travelport (NYSE: TVPT). The company’s B2B travel commerce platform offers an array of technology, distribution, and payment solutions that connect travel providers, like airline and hotel companies, with online and offline travel agencies.

It’s an exciting time for the travel and tourism industry and for Travelport’s place in it. Growth is exploding. Worldwide digital travel sales are projected by eMarketer to reach close to $630 billion USD in 2017, and Travelport alone processed over $82 billion of travel spending in 2015, according to SEC filings.

As part of my customer centricity podcast, Outside In, which you can subscribe to here, I sat down with Travelport’s Noel Holmes, who leads the company’s customer experience focus. A seasoned professional in design thinking and user experience, Noel shared his thoughtful and creative approach to engaging customers and employees to design the very best experiences.

A.B.P. (Always Be Prototyping/Partnering)

Prototyping new innovations is an affordable way for Travelport to test ideas and stay flexible in order to keep up with rapid consumer-driven change. Noel sums it up: “It’s expensive to code things, but it’s pretty cheap to prototype.”

Often, the team will put the solution out to customers for vetting to see if it makes the travel booking process smoother and their lives easier. And, Noel says workshopping and testing with customers is ideal for solving customer pain points. For example, they’ll ask end users to test and give feedback on web products like an airline seat selection tool or a hotel room reservation page. In turn, their customers (like travel agencies) see Travelport not as a provider, but a valued partner.

Creatively Designed Thinking

All Travelport employees are encouraged to walk in their customers’ shoes, and in some pretty interesting ways. They can listen in to calls from the customer care center. Or, they can mimic a customer’s experience with Travelport products, like how end users navigate a website, sign up for a service, download content, and more. “The more you can get them engaged with that real experience from the customer’s seat,” Noel says, “the more engaged they will be in driving change.”

Another creative approach is a team-building exercise Noel calls “UXcape,” a play on the popular puzzle rooms, where teams have an hour to find clues and solve puzzles to escape from a locked room. Travelport teams have just 20 minutes to put pieces of design thinking in the right order and match persona quotes to the correct persona. Noel says it’s a massive hit with employees: “We’ve got lots of pictures of people jumping up in the air with excitement and joy.”

What’s in a Name?

Noel admits his role is in the middle of an “ever-changing naming field.” There are information architects and interaction designers. There’s UX and CX. Understanding the difference helps clarify progress and goals for the business, for the industry, and, most importantly, when thinking about customers.

“UX is really about the end user – understanding the interaction and the interfaces that the user has to deal with,” Noel explains. “CX really is that end-to-end process – understanding the customer journey from the time they first hear about your product to that ongoing support and continuous renewal of relationship with them.”

Seeing how and where all the pieces connect is key to designing a delightful customer experience. But most companies have trouble doing this, often due to sheer size. “There are so many siloes and gaps that we create in different companies, and we don’t see the hand-off points and we don’t make them smooth for the customer.”

Utility vs. Usefulness

Noel is careful to point out the difference between building something that’s usable versus something that’s useful. “Beyond the ‘will they use it?’ it’s the ‘will they feel that need and desire to use it?,’” he says. Focusing on the latter is the most fun.

It’s also the most rewarding. Innovating at the speed of customer expectations and working with them throughout the design and development process requires passion and tenacity. Noel makes it clear: “When you design something that [people are] addicted to, that they feel like they have to use it over and over because they enjoy it and it makes their lives better or easier, then you’ve hit the mark.”

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