User Journeys are Taking Off: “Plane” Thoughts on Personalization’s Future

An image of an echidna flying a plan, with a Drupal 8 logo.

For most people, spontaneity isn’t a big motivator to purchase something. Sure, there are impulse buys here and there (there’s a reason why gum and chocolate are by the cash of every grocery store and variety store), but for the most part, people follow a process towards purchase: identifying a need, researching options, and making a decision.

Companies that understand that process can be more effective at targeting customers at various points. And to do that, they need to understand the user/customer journey. User journey practices may still be relatively new from a technology perspective, but I’m going to dive into a few at a high level, and then discuss some cool things I have seen and will be working with at Digital Echidna and with our Partners at Acquia.

This is part two of a three-part series on personalization. Make sure to check out last week's post on examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly of personalization.

Some (but definitely not all) airlines seems to do the user journey thing pretty well, including the ones I tend to fly with most often in Canada (that should give you three off the top of your head).

I am a tiered member of all three of these airlines and all different levels. I note this because I get slightly different engagements from each airline based on my “tier.” In general, their online experience and mobile experience are easy to use, with mobile-optimized sites, and they all have booking apps. I typically book from my desktop as I am generally comparing multiple flights and times before booking.

The journey often goes as follows:

  • Book a flight,
  • Get confirmation email with PDF of details.
  • Calendar integration to automatically add to my Google calendar.
  • Follow up emails consisting of things like travel preparation reminders.
  • Marketing emails consisting of seat sales, vacation package offers, and -- dependent on my tier -- I may get notifications that seat upgrades are available, or giving me a status update on my points (what it takes to get to the next tier which encourages me to book another flight maybe, and also “you have x points, you can book a trip to these destinations”.
  • Generally the last email is to check in 24 hours prior to flight (unless there has been changes to your flight in which case an email for that as well).

So I check in pretty seamlessly, get an immediate follow-up email with confirmation, PDF ticket, and a link/icon to add to my Apple wallet. The boarding pass also appears in my App for that airline. I get reminders on my phone about boarding times, changes, etc. Because the experience is paperless, I scan my boarding pass with my phone, all in one spot, or have a back-up in case my Apple wallet or app doesn't work that day for whatever reason.

It generally ends there. Later on I may get a survey asking how they performed, along with the standard marketing emails.

It’s not an overly robust user journey, but it can -- and will -- be improved. That famous saying ‘if it ain't broke, don’t fix it” is fine for your dishwasher or coffee pot, but when talking about technology and user needs, companies need to understand that they change and evolve so quickly that you should always be refining. You may not need a full overhaul, but you should always be scanning the horizon to answer questions like, “what’s next?” “how do we get better?” and “what else is out there to help improve user experience and the user's journey?”

I think there could be a couple interesting or cool things that they could do to improve their users’ journeys. I was recently discussing this with one of my best friends, who works on the Open Data team for the Federal Government, and is hoping to make it even easier for airlines to integrate open data (at least for travel in Canadian airports).

Currently the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) tracks wait times for security -- and this is actually something you can find on CATSA’s website. It would be simple that when airlines use this data and pull from that API, they could take the next step and alert customers with notifications. It seems so simple, but no one is currently doing it. They could take that one step further and implement personalized notifications by tracking geo-location and using Google’s data to estimate how long it would take them to get to the airport, and when they should leave based on the wait times.

How awesome would it be to have your airline tell you, “the wait time for security lines for your gate is currently 45 minutes, based on your location, it will take you 20 minutes to get to the airport, therefore we recommend you leave at 9:25am to ensure you catch your flight (which is currently on time, boarding at 10:45am, departing at 11:15am)?”

See how much extremely valuable information we just provided to the customers? In a society where “time is money” has become more and more of a reality, small changes like this could have huge a impact on your user base, and in turn generate higher customer retention and overall satisfaction.

Working closely with our partners at Acquia, we are currently diving into a few larger projects that involve enhanced personalization tactics and in essence improved user experience and user journeys. With its new -- appropriately named -- product Journey, we are looking to do some really cool stuff. It starts with user data collection. And as discussed in Andrew’s blog about personalization, we need to ensure compliance. But the benefits of this data collection for both the company and the end user is exponential when it comes to user experience and customer retention.

We are looking at components as simple as user location, user clicks, length of stay rates, and bounce rates. But we are also diving into those personal aspects of how do we ensure that user is getting the most relevant and important information or products displayed to them quickly, in a way that makes them engage and get to point of sale/accomplish purpose quicker.

Other factors include:

  • Using user sentiment to determine next steps. (If they tweet negatively about your brand, how do you follow up to that, identify it quickly, and provide them something of value that re-establishes brand loyalty, all done automatically through technology.)
  • Suggestive content that encourages their journey based on this data, and constant analysis of this data to ensure we are directing them to the right content/products, and the data hasn’t been misconstrued. (Do we know that they checked into our store, or they posted a picture of our products on Instagram? What do we do with that information? Do we engage them? Thank them? Send them discount codes to come back?)

It’s all fascinating stuff and it’s also very complex and demanding. There is no magic button. Right now, if you want to be an industry leader and ahead of the curve of your competition, you must look forward and dedicate resources to have that ROI goal reached.

I want to hear about your stories and what your organizations are doing/looking at doing in the near future to step into this cool and exciting realm of digital. Are you using any tools currently to facilitate this? What’s been working? What’s not working? What are you scared of and what drives you? Hit me up and let’s chat more!

Questions Answered

Why are user journeys important?

What can we learn from customer journeys?

What is personalization?

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