How to upgrade the digital customer experience in the travel and hospitality industry

By UserTesting | August 18, 2023
An open laptop with a phone on top of it, both with images of the beach.

For the best user experience (UX), the traveler’s journey must be optimized for ease of use, seamless transactions, and exceptional customer service. Customer insights help your organization save time and money by giving you the data needed to make informed decisions at every stage of the design and development process to innovate your travel and hospitality digital customer experience faster.

Why digital customer experience matters in travel and hospitality now

Consumers are ready to travel again, with current travel numbers beating pre-pandemic levels, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). That means more travelers are hopping online and booking travel plans, hoping to have a seamless experience. The entirety of the digital customer experience matters.  

Upgrade your digital customer experiences effectively by interacting with your customers directly. Some excellent examples include:

  • Alaska Airlines asked customers who were waiting for their flights about their journeys and what was important to them. This led to popular changes such as mask policies, blocking middle seats, and a flexible cancellation policy. 
  • Costco Travel overcame customer confusion by changing its website to make it easier to book travel. This caused an 82% reduction in support calls.  
  • Expedia Group’s research team’s testing was slow and labor-intensive, so they turned to UserTesting. This resulted in getting customer feedback on the same day a test was run.  
  • Skyscanner needed to know its customer’s motivations during the pandemic, so it partnered with UserTesting to find out. This resulted in innovations such as a continuously updated travel restriction map, medical insurance options, and updated trip cancellation policies.

Tips for upgrading the digital customer experience in travel and hospitality 

Business travel is expected to grow after having slowed during the pandemic, and hotel rates are expected to increase accordingly to meet the demand. What’s more, leisure travelers are putting additional strain on the travel industry now that travel restrictions are being lifted after years of staying at home. 

With travelers lining up, digital UX optimization is crucial for the success of a travel or hospitality organization. Without it, potential customers may get frustrated and take their business elsewhere. What can be done to prevent this?

Understand the omnichannel and multichannel customer journey

Omnichannel refers to testing a single process across multiple devices. For example, a traveler can start to book their trip on mobile and then complete the transaction on a desktop computer. That process can be tested using omnichannel testing. 

Multichannel testing asks participants to complete the same task multiple times while using and testing different tools each time. For example, with multichannel testing, a traveler would book their trip completely on mobile and then book a different trip on a desktop computer and other devices. That way, the entire process can be tested for each device.

Improve the customer experience by understanding the customer journey, beginning with first contact, including each interaction with the customer, through to the end of the transaction, and, hopefully, repeat business. Then you can dive into the analytical phase: looking at customer data and testing ideas. After testing, it’s time to develop strategies for improvement. 

A customer’s journey begins with an idea, such as making plans to travel, including booking a flight and staying at a hotel. A traveler may research the best destinations and the prices of flights and hotel rooms. They then purchase a plane ticket and make a hotel reservation online. The customer will hopefully be satisfied enough to become a repeat customer. This is just one example of a travel customer journey. Each customer will have a unique experience. 

By understanding the customer journey and knowing exactly which steps they take to complete a flight and hotel room transaction, you can better understand the overall customer experience. Go through the process yourself to see what the user experiences when they purchase a plane ticket or book a hotel room. Look for any potential pain points along the way during that customer journey. For example, check-in and check-out times customers see must be accurate, and menus and scheduling tools must be easy to navigate. 

Observe the customer’s digital experience by watching digital touchpoints: the actions the customer takes through an app or website as they navigate the site and complete a transaction. Every interaction with the customer has room for improvement.

Make a journey map to make it easier to see the customer's overall journey. This map will have the actor or customer, the cast, the scenario, and the journey lifecycle. The scenario could be a traveler looking to book a flight for a vacation. The cast is the group of people interacting with the customer, including customer service representatives and anyone else who helps the customer along the journey for that particular transaction. 

Making a customer journey map for each of your organization’s offerings can help you identify any potential issues. You can then analyze the pain points and formulate potential improvements for a better experience. 

Test concepts and ideas early and often

After analyzing the customer journey, consider how you can improve the experience. Test concepts that can optimize the process. Valuable insights can be taken from customer interviews and feedback to tell you how you can serve customers better. 

For example, customers may be unable to access a pop-up calendar when their browser is set to block pop-ups. They may explain their problem and suggest how to fix it, such as asking for a calendar on the web page. Another example could be confusing navigation. Customers may not know where to go on the site without noticeable buttons and page headings.

The following are just a few things you can consider that reflect current travel and hospitality trends and the current values of travelers and which may improve your digital customer experience:

  • Personalize the process so that the customer knows you care about their unique journey and offer personalized recommendations based on previous trips or customer-provided preferences.
  • Use AI and machine learning for an algorithm that consistently offers the best recommendations for customers. 
  • Have a mobile app that can send customers push notifications and updates. 
  • Reward and thank your customers by offering exclusive deals and promotions for using the app. 
  • Offer a virtual reality (VR) tour of hotel rooms so the customer can experience the room digitally before booking.
  • Offer contactless and digital experiences wherever possible for health and safety assurance.
  • Include a chatbot on your website to answer any customer questions. 
  • Make sure buttons and calls to action are clear and noticeable. 
  • Ensure all website text is high-contrast, easy to read, and manageable. 
  • Code all websites to be responsive to different-sized screens, including desktop and smaller mobile screens.
  • Make certain the booking process is simple and seamless. 
  • Avoid complicated forms.
  • Be sure the payment process is convenient. 

Drill deeper into traveler pain points with human insights

Insights from customer conversations offer richer and more nuanced data than numbers alone. Valuable feedback can come from speaking to customers to get their thoughts and opinions. 

Customers may bring up issues such as:

  • Problems with the customer experience (CX) that designers may not have caught
  • A bug in the app or site a customer may have found
  • A software incompatibility
  • A problem with the interface, such as a button not working
  • Suggestions for design changes based on a customer's personal preference
  • Design ideas that an organization can take into account for future UX designs
  • Apps or sites not working on mobile devices
  • A visually unappealing design
  • Unhelpful or confusing error messages
  • Crash reports

Reduce risk

The recent increased demand for travel has brought opportunities for travel and hospitality companies, but it also brings challenges and risks. Concentrating on good digital customer experiences with user-friendly and intuitive designs can help mitigate some of the challenges travel organizations face. This can be accomplished by leveraging customer insights.

For example, rushing to innovate without getting user feedback can lead to a poor user experience if those changes make the digital customer experience more cumbersome or don’t fix the problems they’re experiencing. User testing gives your organization the insights needed to focus on what will matter most to your customers now and in the future.  

Engagement with customers can lead to the development of products and services that resonate with them, creating a better user experience and increasing customer loyalty. User insights can help your organization make better and faster decisions at each stage of development because you'll have detailed feedback about the customer experience and pain points from real-world users. That data will make it easier to adjust UX improvements to better align with what customers need and want. 

Get started upgrading your digital customer experience

UX strategies for improvement can be developed after careful analysis of real-world user experience, customer expectations, and customer satisfaction levels. Your organization can utilize real-time customer data to measure analytics that can help you optimize your UX. 

Upgrading your traveler experience lets customers navigate your site and app easily, drives demand, and ultimately leads to happy customers and increased sales. For more information on improving the digital customer experience in the travel and hospitality industry, watch the on-demand webinar “How to discover trends that matter most to travelers.

What's next

Watch a fun and engaging panel discussion and see industry experts talk about how they understand their customers better to stay competitive.

About the author(s)

With UserTesting’s on-demand platform, you uncover ‘the why’ behind customer interactions. In just a few hours, you can capture the critical human insights you need to confidently deliver what your customers want and expect.