Growing Role of Companion Apps in Travel
We often think about the iPhone and Android app business as dominated by games and m-stores. And there are certainly lots of those types of apps in the app stores like Google Play and the Apple App Store. That said, one of the fast-growing mobile app segments is “companion apps” for travel companies — applications whose primary purpose is not to entertain or drive a transaction, but rather to enhance a trip and brand experience.
An iOS or Android hotel companion app, for example, might offer self-serve check-in on a smartphone, smartphone-as-room key, digital concierge services, digital room service ordering, and other experiences designed to simplify the traveler’s stay and resolve trip wants and concerns with minimal friction. Making your trip easier and less daunting.
Many Travelers Prefer Self-Service Travel Experiences
Our preference for self-serve begins with the OTA sites and apps that enable us to search for travel options without a travel agent intermediary. But self-serve as a preferred option now permeates many aspects of travel experience. From flights to rooms to rental cars, many of us like the sense of control that we get from self-serve.
Growing evidence shows that a large segment of the population would like to be able to do essential travel tasks without ever speaking to a person. iPhone and Android apps offer great ways to avoid lines and bypass ignorant or poorly trained customer service personnel.
In fact, a recent Nuance Enterprise study showed that 67% of people prefer self-service over speaking to a customer representative. Airline check-in is an example where most of us have become conditioned to DIY, with greater speed and control two of the key advantages. After all, why should I wait for someone to type in my destination when I can do it myself more quickly and easily?
In addition, a large portion of the people who seek human support on or regarding a trip do so only after they have exhausted self-serve resources. There are likely lots of factors in play here, not least:
- Speed to resolution
- Disappointment with the quality of customer service available
- Past bad experiences with customer service
- Desire to resolve problems wherever and whenever they wish
- Lower costs
Likely there are many others. The point is that when a travel company makes information and services available to users on a self-serve basis, they can improve satisfaction among key audience segments.
For example, a 2014 Software Advice survey of business and leisure travelers found that 60 percent would be more likely to book with a hotel that allowed smartphone check-in or smartphone-as-room key over a hotel that didn’t.
Digitally-driven self-serve trip experiences have done wonders to increase transparency and reduce operating costs for travel companies.
But What About Branding?
But the flip side of “no human interactions” is that a key way of differentiating a travel brand — great people — has been eliminated from millions of guest trips and stays. Now, there are several schools of thought here. Some might posit that a great app – be it iOS or Android, could provide a strong and differentiating brand experience. Other industry observers aren’t so sure. They believe that an easy-to-use app might offer a pleasant experience but would be no substitute for an attentive and highly knowledgeable employee.
Brands will need to identify other ways to differentiate. With increasingly amazing companion apps, or in mining past guest stays for clues as to likely future wants. Remembering a pillow preference, or ensuring that a single woman is booked into a room near the elevator. Anticipating breakfast orders. Tracking a user’s itinerary. Or anything else that gives guests a reason to notice — and build a preference for one vendor over another.
Apps can clearly be an integral part of a comprehensive solution here, especially for audience segments, like Millennials, who appear to prefer the freedom that self-service offers.