Are You Ready to Go Exclusive with Jane, Your Digital Concierge?

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In 2015 JetBlue introduced bag fees. Seven years after the competition. The media exploded. Many publications were negative. They blamed the airline for “selling out.” One headline read “A New Era has begun for JetBlue, and travelers will hate it.”

For me, one journalist stood out most. He wrote “why it is your fault JetBlue will be charging for bags.” In his article, he maps out a travelers’ decision making process. You know what I am talking about. Going to Kayak.com or Expedia.com and sorting flights by price to see the cheapest flights on top of the page. We all do it.

With this context in mind, the JetBlue decision to unbundle bag fees suddenly felt like survival. Let me elaborate. At the time, all other airlines charged for bags as add-ons later in the booking flow. As a result, JetBlue ALWAYS looked more expensive because it INCLUDED the bag fee in the ticket price instead of charging for bags later in the booking flow.

The average consumer rarely took the extra step to think through that difference. Instead, the average consumer deciding purely on price, typically chose the cheapest ticket.

What does that have to do with your missing digital concierge (let’s call her Jane)? Everything.

Where customers purchase matters

When a customer opts in to make a purchase via booking.com or kayak.com that customer is simultaneously opting OUT of a hospitality experience. In this scenario “hospitality” is a personalized, seamless, caring and guided experience.

If that list of losses feels long, it should. Let’s assume you are a traveler who decides to go to Orlando. You want to stay in a hotel close to Disney. And you want to visit Disney with your kids. Instead of going directly to an airline website to book air travel, you go to kayak. And, instead of calling the hotel directly, you book on hotels.com. In your mind, you just saved a lot of money. After all, these prices were only available on the aggregators’ websites!

Let’s walk through how much those savings actually cost. Since neither the airline, nor the hotel has your contact information, you have essentially disabled them from offering you any customer experience until you arrive. They cannot even manage your experience upon arrival if you choose not to share your information.

Here’s what you’re missing. Jane (our imagined digital personalized concierge) will not be able to send you notifications for your delayed flight. Nor can she send push notifications to tell you it is time to leave your house due to traffic conditions, or that you need to hurry in the airport because of the long TSA line. Jane will not notify you that the entertainment on your plane is down, prompting you to grab magazines and charge your devices. And you totally miss the intuitive experience surprise and delight offerings like Starbucks or Lyft coupons when you reach your destination.

Once you reach the hotel, you miss out on the expedited check in experience and digital key. And, of course, the price of your room will nearly double. Remember, the hotel could not reach you prior to arrival to walk you through the complexities of tourism taxes and fees.

Last, but not least, if you forgot your toothbrush, you miss the chance to communicate with the hotel through your phone and get a complimentary one. In short, airlines, airports, and hotels do not see you. And they certainly don’t know you.

Knowledge is power

For a digital solution, whether a chatbot or a digital concierge, context is everything. AI is only as smart and intuitive as the inputs it receives. A chatbot that has access to your reservation and/or location will not ask “Where would you like to fly from?” but rather, “What would you like to do with your reservation to Orlando?” or “Do you still want to go to Orlando?”.

Or, if you let Jane in your life, “Here are the top 3 restaurants in Orlando in the vicinity of your hotel. Would you like me to make a reservation for your family when you arrive?”

Designing and bringing INTUITION to life through predictive algorithms and empathetic language is not a simple task. That is why today’s chatbots still feel like band-aids on a problem that cannot be solved. They are missing context. They are implemented without real strategy. Then, they interact with customers who thought they were doing the right thing by trying to save money.

The problem is, when things go wrong (and they do go wrong) travelers miss out on a customer-centric experience, driven by hospitality and care. Instead, they face the same “stupid” questions several times. Their problem is never solved, and they lose their cool.

Are YOU going to pay for Jane, the Digital Concierge?

Numbers matter. You will not have Jane if you are making travel purchasing decisions solely on price. The business case to invest in all the technology needed to make Jane powerful enough to be a personalized digital concierge does not work for 20% of passengers.

Your preferred brands will not be able to love you back until more of you choose to be in an exclusive relationship with them. 😉

Are you ready?

3 COMMENTS

  1. The journalist you mention has misplaced his blame: “why it is your fault JetBlue will be charging for bags.” JetBlue was founded in 1998, a time when consumers could easily search online for airline itineraries and sort by lowest fare. Exploiting that capability became part of JetBlue’s fundamental strategy, and they tapped into a legitimate and widespread customer need to save money. I think it was a sound strategy. By maintaining low fares, JetBlue’s offerings would be elevated in the search results, and consumers learned they could get more value for their travel dollar without investing a lot of time searching. As long as deceit and fraud are not involved, I don’t think it’s incumbent on consumers to “protect” a company from their strategic choices. It’s management’s responsibility to project their results, and that includes intended and unintended consequences.

    That consumers want to pay lowest price and are willing to trade off certain amenities is not underhanded, deceitful, or wrong. I generally assume that adult consumers have opportunities to arm themselves with information, and they generally enter purchase transactions such as booking an airline reservation, hotel, or car with the understanding of what they’re getting – and what they’re not getting. If receiving push notifications for restaurant discounts in your destination city doesn’t matter, if you live in a small city and don’t depend on knowing traffic conditions on the way to your regional airport, if having intuitive experience surprise and delight doesn’t seem worth paying for, then it benefits companies and consumers to provide “no-frills” marketing channels such as the ones you mentioned to offer low-price choices.

  2. For me, there is nothing wrong with finding the cheapest price there is. After all, not all consumers have the same budget, and finding the best deal based on a consumer’s budget is still part of customer experience. I think the main reason why customers prefer these brands because they trust them more. They have become loyal fans, maybe due to word of mouth or has been a repeat customer.

    These booking sites also offer convenience– something that customers appreciate the most. In one hub, customers can compare prices, find the best hotels, book accommodation, search for tour packages, and feel secured.

    At the end of the day, the company that offers better experiences wins the game.

  3. This is a very thoughtful piece and alerts us to the invisible world of bundling and unbundling. Jet.com allowed you to lower your cost by waiving the right to return the item if it was not satisfactory, a built-in cost to the company. As a happy patient of a concierge doctor and a delighted client of a world-class travel agent, I can attest to the magic and value of personalized experiences. I am willing to pay for value-added. Only my great travel agent can book me in the middle of the night on a private plane because my commercial flight (and only route to getting where I need to go) is cancelled. Only a concierge doctor will meet me at his office early on Sunday morning (instead of sending me to a nearby ER). As you say, a percentage of the customer base cannot afford to pay full price or only want the cheapest rate no matter the hassle or missed value that comes with that decision. But, few companies have succeeded long pull with a low price-bland experience go-to-market strategy. The key is transparency and full disclosure so consumers can make wise decisions on what they are willing to give up.

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