E-commerce platform Magento released their State of B2B Ecommerce in ANZ, SE Asia and India report this week, and whilst the report is primarily focused on tech, manufacturing and retail companies, it also makes compelling reading for those of us in the travel industry.
As far as we’re concerned, the report’s key finding, and one that should make all B2B travel sellers sit up and take notice, is this:
Essentially, B2B buyers expect the same user experience they get when buying from B2C sites, but very few companies are currently delivering it. For B2B travel providers – eg tour operators or DMCs – that means that your customers expect the same user experience they get on, say, Expedia, Klook or Traveloka, ie a slick, intuitive interface, a large selection of products, the ability to build their own itineraries, and instant pricing and availability. Are you delivering this? Almost certainly not.
Here are Magneto’s five recommendations on how B2B companies can improve their e-commerce user experience, with our suggestions on how you as a travel business can implement them…
Build a Business Case for E-commerce Investment
As a DMC, your client’s user experience has probably changed little in the last 20-odd years. Agents are probably still emailing you to ask for a quotation or using a request form; at best you might have an agent login area on your website with your tariff, and maybe some limited itinerary building functionality. Basically, you’re a long long way from providing a B2C-level experience and customers used to the instant gratification of OTAs, or the personalisation of Amazon and Netflix, will increasingly be wondering why this is.
The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an almost unprecedented opportunity for tour operators to take advantage of a radically altered business environment (with many of your competitors now out of the picture) and to restart their business with a clean slate, so now is the time to make a case for investment in e-commerce, particularly as you are not currently busy with bookings and operations. You need to provide a B2C-standard user interface for your agents when they can instantly get prices and availability, build their own itineraries, book packages, and amend or check existing quotes and bookings, so that they in turn can offer a faster service to the end traveller, and those DMCs that are able to implement this will be the ones best positioned to thrive once travel starts to recover.
Focus on the B2B Customer Experience
The customer experience should become an obsession for you. You should be constantly analysing it, tweaking it, optimising it, and generally ensuring it is doing the job of winning new customers and delighting existing ones. That means using a feedback loop to monitor how customers are using it and what their issues are, and continually enhancing it based on that feedback.
Don’t look at what your B2B competitors are doing – instead, look at B2C travel sites and the functionality they offer and think about how you can offer a similar level of experience to your travel agent customers. That doesn’t just mean quotes and bookings – it means deals, communication and, most importantly, personalisation. Your e-commerce should be driven by knowing your customer the way Amazon does, based on previous searches and purchases. Agents are more likely to be loyal to a DMC that understands their needs and knows what they want, rather than treating them like a new client each time they ask for a quote.
Ensure Your Technology is Fit for Purpose
Your existing DMC solution almost certainly doesn’t offer a user-friendly front end, so you’ll either need to implement a front end solution that can integrate with it, or ditch it and start from scratch. You’ll also need a powerful CRM solution to enable personalisation and data analysis, and your front end solution will also need to integrate with your accounting and payment solutions.
Increasingly, many DMCs are moving away from hotel contracting and instead using wholesalers/bedbanks, or adopting a hybrid model of using their own contracts and using wholesalers when necessary. Either way, API connectivity with wholesalers and channel managers is essential for booking product, whether it’s hotels, flights, transfers, tours/activities etc. You should be able to provide agents with live pricing and availability, rather than making them wait while you check prices or to see if rooms or tours are available.
And of course any technology that you use should be easy to implement (and cloud-based), user-friendly both internally and externally, customisable to your requirements, future-proof, and affordable.
Focus on People & Processes
Taking a fresh e-commerce approach to the business of tour operating requires some change management. The role of your tour consultants may change considerably for example; and your business will need to focus more on data analysis and user experience. The good news is that this new approach will free up your team to spend more time on product, business development and account management, thus offering a much better product range and level of service to agents and the end traveller than your competitors.
Watch for Future Trends
Improving your online user experience is an ongoing process. New trends affect our industry seemingly every week and your trendspotting antennae need to be highly sensitive to what’s coming. Are you ready to provide mobile itineraries? How about VR tours? Blockchain and crypto payments? Digital passports? Vaccination certificates? At some point you’ll need to factor some if not all of these and other trends into your online user experience, so be ready!
COVID-19 and digital transformation are rapidly changing the landscape in which tour operators and DMCs do business, and months in lockdown have seen even the most technophobic customers get used to using e-commerce solutions for everything from food delivery to daily health checks, and so your customers are increasingly going to expect you to provide a similar level of service – particularly those you’re hoping to scoop up from competitors who have gone out of business. Approaching your B2B e-commerce offering from a B2C standpoint ensures that you’re offering the best possible user experience – one that is going to win you new business and ensure your existing customers stick around. To discuss how eRoam can help you achieve best-in-class travel e-commerce, get in touch today!