3 Tech Innovations Disrupting the Buyer Journey

Advanced technologies are driving innovation in the consumer’s purchase decision journey. Customer-centric companies are offering access to more convenient, immersive and personalized experiences for people to discover and buy their products. We look at how three trends—virtual reality, chatbots and data-driven personalization—are meeting the needs and lifestyles of today’s digital consumers.

1. Virtual Reality is (Finally) Taking Off

Virtual reality and video streaming technologies are being adopted in sports entertainment and travel at an accelerating rate, as organizations see the potential of new revenue streams, reaching larger audiences, and providing vacation previews.

“You fill your arena with 18,000 people. There are 7.5 billion who might want to watch. Do the math,” stated Peter Guber, chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group, on a panel at the VenuesNow conference in July.1

Just as Twitter and Facebook Live streaming have drawn larger online audiences to events, industry adopters at Hashtag Sports, a sports tech innovation festival in NYC, saw VR as a new or enhanced offering to fans for viewing entertainment that generates additional revenue. The NBA offers a subscription-based virtual reality season pass, which includes any eight games for fans that follow a particular team but can’t attend the games. The International Champions Cup has partnered with NextVR since 2015 to stream the first of many live VR broadcasts of major league soccer matches.2

Because of travel’s experiential nature, many hotels including Best Western are testing or investing in the digital technology. They believe giving potential customers a 360-degree view of properties online will increase their chances of booking. Carnival partnered with AT&T in 2016 to expose American consumers to 360-degree cruise ship simulations in over 100 stores using Samsung’s Gear VR headset.3 BI Intelligence forecasts global shipments of VR headsets to exceed 50 million units annually by 2022.4

2. Chatbots Make Buying Products Easier

Chatbots and virtual agents will be the top consumer application of AI over the next five years, according to TechEmergence, an AI market research firm.5 Already this past summer, online ticketing sites Ticketmaster®, TickX and StubHub have launched chatbots on Facebook Messenger.

Ticket sales from these platforms are proving to have a higher ticket value than other channels, says StubHub. Its chat services, which include iMessage, Skype and voice-assisted Alexa and Cortana, are useful for learning about customers’ habits and desires at the consumer’s pace, says Gary Kanazawa of StubHub Labs.6 Tapping into Facebook Messenger’s 1.2 billion monthly users, the new Ticketmaster Assistant chatbot helps fans easily learn about upcoming events, share links with friends, and click through to a seamless mobile purchase path.

Travel industry leaders like Priceline and Kayak have already integrated chatbots into online trip planning via Facebook Messenger, Skype and Alexa. Now Allianz Partners, a world leader in travel and specialty insurance, is exploring these virtual assistants to enhance travel protection services. While customers can chat with a live assistant when comparing insurance plans and filing claims online, job seekers may interact with Allie, a chatbot that helps match talent to open positions on the company’s U.S. careers site.

Allianz Partners is also developing automated SMS messages to notify customers of claim status updates via their mobile phones. The company envisions voice-based virtual assistants that enable travelers to purchase custom-tailored protection plans when booking their trips online.

3. Consumers Demand Personalized Experiences

“Customers now expect companies to know who they are, what they like, how they shop, and where they are,” reports Clarabridge.com, an authority on customer experience.7 That requires a sophisticated use of customer data, analytics and automation. As consumers increasingly prefer authentic and conversational engagement with brands, a plethora of social media and mobile platforms are replacing easy-to-track traditional marketing CRMs.

It’s hard to get a 360-degree view of event consumers when dealing with multiple touchpoints and platforms, said Mark Meyerson, VP and GM with Vendini at XLIVE, a data and analytics summit held in L.A. Kyle Burkhardt, business intelligence at the Los Angeles Kings, says they drive sales by collecting data to know when people “are still engaged or likely to buy.” Data mining can also produce affinity models, so “finding fans who are similar to other fans based on data helps us pinpoint who to promote to and how,” said Evan Weinstein, a partner at Steez Promo.8

To customize travel, event and tuition protection products in real-time for its partners’ online customers, Allianz Partners utilizes a sophisticated quote engine and optimization platform. The company analyzes customer booking details, behavioral trends and other predictive data used to generate automated offers with best-matched insurance benefits in a fraction of a second. Leveraging a new machine learning-enabled quoting platform, Allianz Partners is further increasing its accuracy in predicting which consumers are more likely to buy which types of insurance benefits in the future.

1 “The Fan of the Future is Now,” Venues Today, 2017
2 “Five Technology Storylines Impacting ICC,” Venues Today, 2017
3 “Carnival Sets Sail With Virtual Reality Vacations,” Fortune, 2016
4 “The Virtual Reality Report,” BussinessInsider.com, 2016
5 “Smart assistants and chatbots will be top consumer applications for AI over next 5 years,” VentureBeat, 2016
6 “StubHub ‘Encouraged’ by Chatbot Returns,” TheTicketingBusiness.com, 2017
7 “How to Drive Personalization with Voice of the Customer Data,” Clarabridge.com
8 “Fanalytics Drive Ticket Sales,” Venues Today, 2017

5 Companies Revolutionizing the Customer Journey

Nine out of 10 companies today lose or win business depending on their customer experience, according to a Gartner study.1 We highlight five winning companies using digital technologies to reimagine customer touchpoints and add convenience, personalization and delight to the consumer journey.

1. John Paul: Anticipating Every Desire in Luxury Travel

John Paul combines premium 24/7 digital concierge services with a machine learning CRM to provide innovative loyalty programs for customers and employees. The cutting-edge CRM leverages cognitive technologies to provide robust capabilities in natural language, affinity profiling, 360-degree personalization, and multichannel management. Forbes calls it a “powerful example of potent AI in the predictive algorithms for existing-client interactions, able to understand and know their desires and needs on an acute level.”2

The digital concierge fulfills more than 1 million requests annually, with 15 languages supported for its 50,000 exclusive partners on across five continents.3 In early 2017, John Paul partnered with Allianz Partners to offer its partners and customers a carefree, premium travel experience. With an initial launch in China, combined capabilities enable travelers to access concierge services and global travel protection with assistance from a single point of contact by phone or digitally.

2. Tesla: Reinventing Car Buying

This innovation company is bringing space travel, solar power, and self-driving cars into the mainstream. Tesla visionary Elon Musk has reimagined the auto industry’s traditional business model by providing an exceptional in-house sales and customer service experience. It starts with an Amazon-like car buying process with robust online self-service tools, including transparent financing. New car delivery, car pickup for service repairs, and remote overnight software updates make owning a Tesla extremely convenient.4

Tesla showrooms reinforce the brand’s customer-centric approach, featuring coffee bars, free WiFi access and open service bays that display the automaker’s craftsmanship.5 The company is doubling the number of its electric supercharger stations across the U.S. and Europe in 2017, enabling greater public adoption of electric car ownership.6 Following the largest product launch of all time with its Model 3,8 Elon Musk projects an annual production of 700,000 cars and overall annual revenue for the Model 3 of more than $30 billion per year.7

3. Marriott – Pioneering Digital Hospitality and Delight

Marriott International was the first hotel group to offer mobile check-in/checkout under the Starwood brand in 2014, totaling 12 million guests who’ve used it to-date.8 It’s also expanding convenient keyless room entry to over 500 hotels worldwide this year, a technology adopted by many of the big hotel players.9 Marriott’s sleek, redesigned mobile app personalizes and anticipates what guests likely need at the right place, at the right time. The app is packed with desirable services like room upgrade requests, late check-out, and Mobile Requests, where you can chat directly with hotel staff for special requests even in advance of arriving.10

While the brand is exploring voice-controlled rooms and services, Marriott’s unparalleled digital innovation is its handful of M Live Studios around the world. Monitoring guests’ social media posts by geo fencing around Marriott’s more than 5,700 properties across the group’s 30 hotel brands, they “surprise and delight” guests and engage in trending social conversations.11 M Live teams have delivered champagne to a newly engaged couple’s room and awarded platinum status to a rewards member who fell just short of qualifying, to her surprise.

4. Allianz Partners – Evolving Global Travel Protection

Allianz SE is innovating with new technologies to enable more intelligent and connected consumer lifestyles, from homes and cars to health and travel. Allianz Partners offers personalized consumer travel protection products for many of the world’s largest travel brands, including long-standing, exclusive partnerships with five of the six largest U.S. airlines.12 Its tech platforms empower the digital traveler, like the TravelSmart™ app that uses a geo-aware search to help ill or injured travelers find the closest pre-evaluated hospital in 130 countries. The travel app also includes a one-click, 24-hour global assistance hotline. Allianz Partners protects over 200 million customers worldwide annually through its global assistance, travel insurance, event ticketing and registration protection, and recently added U.S. tuition protection in partnership with GradGuard™.

Eliminating some hassle for customers submitting claims, Allianz Partners was among the first travel insurance companies to offer full-service mobile filing and claims tracking.13 It’s also exploring triggered benefits, which enables automated claims and payments for instances like qualifying flight delays. Its automated Express Pay platform expedites most claims processing from 30 days to a week or less, if documentation is complete. Customers receive funds for approved claims within minutes or hours on debit cards thanks to Mastercard SEND™. Compared to an average Net Promoter Score of 48 in the insurance industry, a customer-first culture contributes to the company’s NPS score of 76.14

5. Klook: Rethinking the Tours Supply Chain

Unlike traditional OTAs offering flights and hotels, Klook is a one-stop shop for destination activities serving Asia-to-Asia travelers. By working directly with operators, it offers up to 50% off discounts at more than 10,000 attractions, tours, and activities in 80 cities across Asia Pacific.15 Klook has recreated the supply chain at an epic scale and is evolving into an in-destination service app, including local transfer options and WiFi device rental. It plans to expand into restaurants, wellness, and shopping.16

Klook’s well-designed site UI and app experience takes only a few clicks or taps to book a wide range of peer-reviewed tours and activities. Consumer conveniences include WeChat for trip planning and Apple Pay at checkout. It’s also exploring virtual reality or 360-degree travel videos to make activity planning more experiential. The 3-year-old startup recently raised $30 million and booked over 5 million trips in 2016 within the fast growing, 3rd largest travel segment worth $135 billion globally.17 18 Klook plans to launch in Australia soon and is eyeing expansions in Europe and the U.S.

1 “Gartner Surveys Confirm Customer Experience Is the New Battlefield,” Gartner, 2015

2 “10 Powerful Examples Of Artificial Intelligence In Use Today,” Forbes, 2017

3 AccorHotels Group website

4 “Customer Experience Best Practice: Tesla the Disruptive,” Nunwood.com, 2016

5 “3 Enlightening Customer Experience Lessons from Apple, Disney and Tesla,” Ameyo.com, 2017

6 “Tesla will double number of Supercharger stations in 2017,” CNBC.com, 2017

7 “Tesla Model 3: Tesla is now holding close to $700 million in customer deposits,” Electrek.co, 2016

8 “Marriott Reimagines Its Mobile App To Meet The Needs Of Modern World Travelers,” Marriott.com, 2017

9 “The Current State of Keyless Entry at Big Hotel Brands,” Skift, 2016

10 “Marriott Reimagines Its Mobile App To Meet The Needs Of Modern World Travelers,” Marriott.com, 2017

11 “Inside Marriott’s social-media command center…”, Quartz.com, 2017

12 “These are the 7 biggest US airlines,” Business Insider, 2016

13 Internal citation: Christian Schlebusch

14 Official NPS® Benchmarks website, Insurance category

15 “Klook Raises $30 Million for Attractions Search,” Skift.com, 2017

16 “Klook raises $30M for its Asia-focused travel activity platform,” TechCrunch.com, 2017

17 “Klook Raises $30 Million for Attractions Search,” Skift.com, 2017

18 Tours & Activities Come of Age: The Global Travel Activities Marketplace, Phocuswright, July 2017

Customer Experience is the Competitive Advantage

In the consumer-driven digital world we live in, your customer experience is your brand. As Stephen Cannon stated over a year ago as the then-president of Mercedes Benz USA, “customer experience is the new marketing.” I think Stephen was on to something.

According to Gartner, nine out of ten companies today must compete for business based on their customer experience. That’s more than doubled from four years ago.1 And although many companies talk about customer experience, few have unified plans to address it. Even fewer companies excel at accurately measuring it and using their findings to adapt how they do business across the organization.

Travel protection is just one aspect of a traveler’s journey, but for those who run into problems, it can be the most important part. How we treat your customers in their time of need is a reflection on us as well as our partners.

At Allianz Partners, we’ve not only implemented a 360-degree analysis of satisfaction in our customer touchpoints, we’ve developed processes to continuously convert customer feedback into innovations and improvements. We strive to provide excellent service at every touchpoint, from first contact and purchase to providing travel assistance and handling claims. Here’s how it works.

Analyze the Customer Experience

First, we listen. We survey and gain insight from thousands of customers we serve every week using Qualtrics, a software program. We also monitor our phone interactions with customers through a speech analytics tools called Verint. This “voice of the customer” data is critical to our continuous feedback loop that informs decision making. It enables us to sort and review customer touchpoints to identify pain points and, more importantly, prioritize actions to improve the experience.

Here’s how we measure customer satisfaction:

  • Record every call and use speech analytics to identify patterns and opportunities for improvement
  • Monitor and track all comments posted to our social media accounts
  • Survey every customer who files a claim on their experience
  • Randomly survey 30,000 customers weekly, including those who purchased but didn’t need to use their insurance plan

Collectively, this data gives us a full, real-time picture of how our customers perceive our level of service. That’s critical, but what’s most important is having mechanisms in place to act upon it. I’ll share with you three ways customer feedback can inform positive changes and how we did it.

1. Resolve Customers’ Pain Points

Our customers frequently offer very specific direction on how to make our processes more user-friendly. For example, in a recent survey we asked our customers, “how could we have made it easier for you to understand your benefits and services?” Overwhelming feedback suggested that we include a bulleted list of benefits on insurance policies and simpler, shorter descriptions. This is a simple improvement but something we didn’t realize was needed until seeing the frequent, consistent feedback.
Customers also wanted more clear verbiage to replace “insurance-speak.” We completely rewrote our policy documents to make the policy language more intuitive and easier to understand, as well as create a “declarations page,” which is a brief summarized list of coverage and benefits. This initiative was largely driven by our focus on listening for patterns in customer feedback and exploring ways to improve our touchpoints.

2. Fill Gaps in Customer Needs

Customer feedback should also drive product evolution. We analyze real-time data to identify potential gaps in coverage to make our products more useful and valuable. As a result, we’ve made changes to align with what customers want, such as adding coverage for existing medical conditions to more products, as well as coverage for customers who must cancel their plans due to work obligations. We’ve even made our popular “Cancel Anytime” product, which allows customers to cancel their trip for almost any unforeseeable reason, available to more customers booking travel on our partners’ websites.

3. Coach Your Frontline Staff

Most importantly, we use surveys and other analytics tools to coach our frontline associates on how they can better serve our customers. Only by carefully listening, analyzing and reporting customer feedback can we provide our people with the information and training they need to make our service even better.
A 2016 Salesforce study showed consumers are more likely to trust their friends, family, colleagues and online reviewers than the actual brand when it comes to information on its products or services.2 Now that the voice of the customer outweighs your own in the marketplace, do you like what you hear, and if not, can you fix it?
Only when a company is geared to respond and adapt to its customers’ needs can it control its own fate. As Forrester Research’s Kate Leggett wisely stated, “In the age of the customer, executives don’t decide how customer-centric their companies are — customers do.” 3

By Mike Nelson, former CEO of Global Travel Insurance and the Americas.

1 “Gartner Surveys Confirm Customer Experience Is the New Battlefield,” Gartner.

2 “Consumer Trust Is Evolving in the Digital Age,” eMarketer.com.

3 “Trends 2016: The Future Of Customer Service,” Forrester.