We often think about the app category as dominated by games and m-stores. But one of its fast-growing segments is “companion apps” — applications whose primary purpose is not to entertain or drive a transaction, but rather to enhance brand experience. A 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 wants and concerns with minimal friction.
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.
Growing evidence shows that an increasingly large segment of the population would like to be able to do essential travel tasks without ever speaking to a person. A significant segment of us prefer self-service to dealing with customer service teams. 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.
In addition, a large portion of the people who seek human support 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 experiences have done wonders to increase transparency and reduce operating costs for travel companies.
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. 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. 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.