How Travelport is Recoding the Rules of Customer Experience

As part of my customer centricity podcast, Outside In, I sat down with Travelport’s Noel Holmes, who leads Travelport’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.

Charles Trevail

CEO at C Space

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.”

You may be interested in:

Generation Wealth

Generation Wealth Looking back at the ostentatious tribes of the early 2000s   By Lauren Greenfield, Director of Award Winning Ad Campaign “Like a Girl”, anthropologist and writerLAUREN GREENFIELD/INSTITUTE Xue Qiwen, 43, in her Shanghai apar​tment, decorated...

The Renaissance of “Me”

The Renaissance of “Me” By Franco Bonadio, Managing Partner, Human TruthsBill Alberti, Managing Partner, Human TruthsAntoinette Jones, Associate ConsultantMachiko Wilson, Associate ConsultantBy default, we tend to look at one thing as “better than” another. It doesn’t...

Introducing the Express Arena

Introducing the Express Arena By Jessica DeVlieger, Global CEOA surprising new behavioral trend has been observed in the UK; British people - a nation famously obsessed with class - are starting to hide their privilege.In January 2020, Sam Friedman, a sociologist at...

Rebuilding Women’s Health from the Patient Up

Reimagining Women’s HealthThe world of women’s healthcare is primed for disruption, at least if you’re talking to the women who comprise the market of this $10B*+ industry – and we are. In this report, we reimagine women’s healthcare with everyday women leading the...

From push to pull

From push to pull Jessica DeVlieger, Global CEOHow do you move your brand from push to pull?You communicate at eye-level.You speak to people’s souls.You act more human.You become more relevant.Push marketing has been stuck in controversy for some time. Consumers'...

Mary Barra, Chair and CEO, General Motors: On The Road to an All-Electric Future

Mary Barra, Chair and CEO, General Motors: On The Road to an All-Electric FutureSubscribe to the Outside In podcast: At the beginning of 2021, Mary Barra, Chair and CEO at General Motors, set an ambitious goal for the legendary automaker: end tailpipe emissions from...

John Kotter, Harvard Business School: The Principles, Practices, and Science of Change

John Kotter, Harvard Business School: The Principles, Practices, and Science of ChangeSubscribe to the Outside In podcast: Change is hard. And it never stops. The volatility, speed, and uncertainty that comes with change has been increasing exponentially over the past...

Pam Lifford, President, Global Brands & Experiences, Warner Bros.: Fans and the Power of Listening

Pam Lifford, President, Global Brands & Experiences, Warner Bros.: Fans and the Power of Listening Subscribe to the Outside In podcast: Harry Potter. Batman. Looney Tunes. Game of Thrones. Each of these iconic franchises has shaped popular culture for years....

Reshma Saujani: Fighting for Gender Parity and a ‘Marshall Plan for Moms’

Reshma Saujani: Fighting for Gender Parity and a ‘Marshall Plan for Moms’Subscribe to the Outside In podcast: Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code in 2012, with a mission to close the gender gap in computer science and educate and prepare girls for careers in the...

Franklin Leonard: The Black List That’s Changing Hollywood

Franklin Leonard: The Black List That’s Changing HollywoodSubscribe to the Outside In podcast: Before “Argo,” “Juno,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” and “The King’s Speech” became some of the most successful films in Hollywood (and subsequently went on to win Oscars), they...