Understand “Travel Experiences Gone Wrong” to do What’s Right

As experience designers, we strive to deliver the most contextually relevant customer journeys that delight people and achieve business outcomes for our clients. This is built on a legacy of optimizing what were often suboptimal travel experiences, whether due to multi-channel, multi-step complexities in booking or loyalty programs. We suggest that you take into account events that can have an adverse impact on brand image and loyalty regardless of the origin of their cause.

A traveler’s journey does not always go as planned, and for various reasons. From flight delay or cancellation resulting in change of hotel reservations, to not making connecting flights, to the reserved vehicle being no longer, well, reserved…the list of things that can go wrong is long and varied. At this moment, when the expected experience breaks down, it’s more than just a physical workflow. The needs state of the customer on Maslow’s scale drops from the very top (self-fulfillment) to the bottom (of basic, functional service delivery). It can happen in an instant. That’s the thing with the travel experience: If something doesn’t work, you’re often stuck. 

What to do with that person now?  If you did not plan for the event(s) in question, your brand stands a very good chance of shouldering some or all of the blame, even if the cause was something like the weather. And, likely, your company will still in some way be associated with a person’s bad experience and the corresponding goodwill withdrawals, if only in their subconscious mind. 

We recommend contingency experience design. At the beginning is the time to journey-map where things could go wrong. Take the outside-in approach from that specific passenger’s perspective at the intersection of travel disruption, human expectation and travel company delivery requirements. Haroon Aslam, an ICF Olson Customer Experience leader, talks about understanding people’s behavioral characteristics – who they perceive themselves to be as travelers and as persons – and then ranking levels of stress and preparedness to understand what additional amenities they may require. For example, stress is caused by unfamiliar experiences in traveling through an airport, which is why people tend to eat only at restaurants within line-of-sight of their gate.  And these behaviors can vary whether the travel is business or leisure. The stakes involved in missing a vacation flight can be much higher – when the traveler is footing the bill for his/her whole family – or lower, depending on how important the business meeting is.

Look at the overall experience you offer. Decide what things may be preventable or what things you can do to lower friction at potentially adverse moments. These are business and operational discussions worth having to see how planning to overcome experience friction points impacts costs. Understanding adverse moments in detail can show you how to implement simple, cost-effective fixes across frontline staff, management, and technology systems. While many are eager to adopt the latest technology, make sure you know the experience ROI of a new tech deployment by doing agile prototype testing relative to the risk of interrupting the traveler’s journey.

Remember that people will be at different moments along the journey and dealing with their own expectations – while assessing your ability to meet them. Understanding the implications to your operations and revenue of meeting what each traveler type – and person – defines as well-being are critical to designing a guest flow that can succeed even when things don’t quite go as planned.