It was proving an odd sort of day, especially considering that Loyalty Magazine was at a trade event. It began with a session of mindfulness, then I had a chat with the Woodland Trust before a briefing on good nutrition for travellers, and a session on offsetting the carbon footprint of a flight and how various airlines were responding to the need for an environmental response.
So the strong messages from the Business Travel Show were – incredibly – wellness, health, sustainability and protection of the environment.
Even 12 months ago, this would have been hard to envisage.
Checking the facts
Because I was uncertain whether my perceptions were accurate, I popped into the media lounge and asked some of the other journalists what they thought, and all agreed. This year the focus had done a quantum shift, and it wasn’t just one or two organisations – it was across the board.
So on the day that Greta Thunberg is making UK history by speaking to a gathering expected to be in excess of 25,000 in Bristol, it is interesting to examine the trend seen at the Business Travel Show and examine where it is heading.
Changing consumer behaviour
Many of the recent statements from companies in many markets that are announcing redundancies and closures are pointing to changing consumer behaviour to explain their actions. One supermarket for example, said less people are buying a daily loaf, so they no longer need staff to make them. Lloyds Bank says that people are not using financial services in the same way as previously, for example they are not visiting branches, and all point to the move to online services for reductions.
The sudden and extraordinary increase in wellness and environmental concerns however, point not just to changing customer behaviour, but to strong customer demands. To ignore these would be foolish and businesses have noted the need for change.
Customer behaviour is changing in many ways.
We expect a seamless shopping experience. This means multi-channel, with customer preferences stored and recognised throughout the transaction. This is achievable in the online world. But it is remarkably difficult to recognise a customer when they walk into a store.
Customer attitude is an interesting concept. Often marketers and educators talk about the need to influence consumer attitudes. What is currently happening points to the need to recognise their changing opinions, and to respond to them.
Technological changes are coming swiftly and their adoption by consumers has led to altered behaviour, and even raised expectations. It has led to demands for faster and trouble free payment, and to reliable and swift delivery. Consumers assume the system is going to work, that they are going to receive a confirmation email and that they will be kept informed every step of the way. Blame Amazon if you like, because they set the standards and they are very high.
Gabriel de Montessus, SVP, Global Online (Retail Business Unit) of Ingenico Group, which began life as a payment terminal company and which now probably describes itself as a payment systems integrator, said recently: “Creating a seamless payment experience for customers is integral to increasing conversions, reducing card abandonment and maintaining a loyal customer base.”
He added: “The journey isn’t going to be easy for many retailers. Meeting consumer demand comes with an array of technical challenges, such as meeting regulatory standards, maintaining consistency across platforms and designing a frictionless payment experience.
“However, the first simple step that businesses can do to ensure they overcome these hurdles is to understand consumer demand.”
Right now, if my experience at the Business Travel Show is a true reflection of a trend, companies need to demonstrate their commitment to environmental protection, their sustainability credentials and their steps to ensuring the health and wellbeing of their customers while in their care. This is a massive responsibility and failure will come with huge reputational risk to any company that falls short of its promises.
On the other hand, there is much to gain.
At the present time, the world is in the grip of fear and uncertainty over the danger and risks Coronavirus Covid-19 presents. It is too easy to ignore it like an elephant in the room. Far better to use this crisis as a means to be of service to customers, by providing information, advice and a really concerned approach to their wellbeing. This means ensuring there are facilities for handwashing, changing corporate gifts to tissues and handwash rather than jelly beans and coffee mugs, and perhaps offering an alert service to travellers who feel they may be behind on the latest news while on a long haul flight or similarly out of contact.
There is much that can be done through a loyalty programme, because the communication route is already in place. It is now time for the brave to step forward and take on the challenge.