The Customer Experience: A Journey of Expectations

3 October 2017

In the coming weeks, stay tuned to learn about speakers and topics supporting the Empower Your Edge educational theme for AdventureELEVATE 2018, being held 13-15 March in Banff, Alberta. Tom Fritz, CEO and president of Fritz Insight Group, a management consultancy specializing in outdoor and adventure travel, spoke at AdventureELEVATE in 2017 and is returning by popular demand as a keynote speaker addressing the customer journey in Banff.

A passion for adventure travel may drive someone into this industry, but passion — or education, hiring strategies, and business practices — alone cannot sustain a business. Tour companies can create incredible itineraries and hire the world’s best guides. Gear companies can use the finest materials and find the most skilled engineers. Travel agencies can send representatives to all the destinations they sell.

But without customers, none of these companies will survive.

The customer journey includes all communication and experiences someone goes through when interacting with a particular brand; these are also known as touch points. It’s not enough to attract people to product and service offerings, however, because the customer journey doesn’t actually end when travelers have trekked the final mountain, packed up their hiking gear, and bid tour guides and fellow travelers farewell.

The adventure travel customer experience begins when people start thinking about purchasing the product a company sells.

Understanding Expectations

Travel is a luxury expenditure, and people invest in it for different reasons. Companies catering to customers need to understand why they’re purchasing particular products or services and, perhaps most important, what their expectations are for the investment they’ve made. These expectations are, in part, defined by companies at every single touch point of the customer journey such as website copy and design, social media postings, and customer service interactions. The presentation of these touch points paints a picture in customers’ minds about what they can expect to receive for their money prior to, during, and even after a travel experience, directly indicating the value of the trip.

“You can’t assume you know what the customer journey is because it seems kind of obvious. You really have to go in depth and try to learn about it from a customer,” said Tom Fritz, CEO and president of Fritz Insight Group. Quantitative research followed up with qualitative research is essential in truly understanding what the customer profile is and what customers’ expectations are. “You must go into this open-minded so you really hear what the customer is trying to tell you instead of reinforcing your preconceived notions,” he said.

The user experience begins when customers begin thinking about purchasing the product a company sells. The most astute travel companies have optimized their public-facing communication materials so they can be found by these potential customers, and it’s in these initial research stages where expectations are appropriately defined. “You can be informed by people telling you what they expect, and you can meet their expectations, or you can exceed their expectations,” Fritz said. “The whole idea of the customer experience is to make sure you provide a good one — a great one — and exceed customer expectations as opposed to don’t meet them. It’s incredibly basic and yet incredibly hard because the only way you can meet or exceed customer expectations in any business is to understand what they are, and the only way to understand what they are is to ask. And too many businesses fail to ask that question.”

The Weakest Link

Because the customer interacts with your brand in a myriad of ways, it is essential that every contact with the brand meets expectations. From the person responding to social media inquiries to the tour’s driver, every interaction feeds into — or detracts from — customers’ preconceived expectations. A glance at TripAdvisor or similar customer review sites reveals this phenomena: What is defined in a brochure or on a website can, in fact, vary wildly from customers’ perspectives, depending on their expectations and the resulting experience. A single tour guide can be unprepared and off-brand or well-prepared and engaging, tipping the scales of an experience from one star to five stars. And yes, this matters: According to Deloitte research released in 2015, 42 percent of travelers used review websites when planning their last holiday, and 59 percent say these sites have the most influence on their booking decisions.

The same can be said for any single person involved in delivering a travel experience, and it’s up to business owners to mitigate against anything that does not meet or exceed what a customer expects to receive. “How can the same business be both terrible and great at the same time? It’s because they may not have fully aligned everybody in their company to make sure everyone understands and is offering the same great customer experience.” Fritz said. “And you have to understand the customer to know how to really offer a great customer experience throughout the whole chain of events.”

“Managing a customer experience is only as good as your weakest link,” Fritz said. “Just about everyone at a company is responsible for delivering a great customer experience because everyone is doing something that could lead to a great customer experience. Everyone has to be aligned, and everyone has to be committed to the task.” All the effort in attracting the customer can taken away by a single person unaligned with the company’s customer service values. A company that fails to be aligned anywhere along the customer journey can result in a lack of repeat business and negative online or word-of-mouth reviews, which can have a cascading negative effect.

Whatever has been promised to the customer must be delivered. Even better, offer even more than what is promised. There are lots of ways this can play out in practice for the adventure travel industry. Prior to a trip, this may mean picking up the phone and calling customers to make sure any questions about safety are answered. During a tour, it could involve giving tour guides some leeway to ensure customer needs are met. And even after a trip is over, it means continuing that high-quality experience by responding to follow-up concerns, avoiding inappropriate automated messages, and maintaining a positive relationship in order to keep the door open for repeat business.

“Meeting customer expectations is a really good thing,” Fritz said. “Exceeding them is extraordinary.”

Anyone travelers encounter during a trip has the opportunity to meet and exceed customer expectations.

The Ongoing Customer Journey

So where does the customer journey end? In truth, it’s just beginning.

“When it comes to adventure travel, the journey never ends, because whether it’s the customer’s first adventure travel experience or whether it’s their fifth or tenth, your opportunity as the tour operator or travel provider is always to get them to take more trips with you because you met or exceeded their expectations for the trip they already took,” Fritz said.

Travelers may not be interested in booking the same trip or returning to the same destination twice, but there is good reason to maintain the customer relationship long after a trip has come to an end. Perhaps someday these same travelers will choose another itinerary from your trip portfolio, or, more importantly, they might amplify their positive experiences through word-of-mouth. Leveraging relationships built through previous interactions is essential in continuing the customer experience into the foreseeable future — for both travelers who have already taken advantage of your travel offerings and those who may become customers in the near future.

Does the topic of the customer journey fire you up? Join us at AdventureELEVATE 2018, where Tom Fritz will speak more in depth about the customer experience during his keynote presentation. Registration is now open.