In a recent conversation with a chief technology officer, he asserted all digital technology changes in his organisation were being led by IT and not by marketing. It made me wonder: How long a marketing function like this could survive?
A new partnership to improve and leverage data insights within the Flight Centre business is providing significant customer experience returns.
The travel retailer recently partnered with digital consultancy, Komosion, to overcome a number of significant organisational and marketing hurdles. Flight Centre’s digital marketing manager, Thomas Julien, and Komosion’s director, Keith Stanley detailed for attendees at this year’s CeBit Digital Marketing conference how the collaboration put the travel and holiday agency on a better path towards customer centricity.
Like many organisations, Stanley said Flight Centre was faced with overcoming many digital marketing challenges such as:
- The consultant is the keeper of customer knowledge
- Staff capability and skills
- Siloed structures
- Fragmented processes
- Inability to embrace culture and innovation – ‘we always did it this way’
- Fragmented strategic architecture
- Lack of prioritisation
- Sales recorded by supplier and amount only
- Product marketed online are different to the ones marketed instore
- Phone sales were handed in the physical stores
- Low mobile and tablet technology adaptation
- Website was designed to encourage customers to visit a consultant
“One of the problems Flight Centre had was that it didn’t know who its customers were,” Stanley said. “It didn’t know what products it had, especially as many bookings were done directly with suppliers. And while it knew how many consultants it had and how much to pay them, it didn’t know what specific skills they had and how to better match the right consultant with the right customer and the right product.”
Added to this, about 40 per cent of Flight Centre’s consultants in physical stores had been with the organisation less than a year and were relatively inexperienced.
“One of the challenges with that is they don’t have the supporting data and technologies to better support them,” he said.
The path towards customer centricity
In order to be more customer centric, Komosion said Flight Centre initially embarked on a customer journey project to first try and understand the customer.
“That was necessary before trying to shift the Flight Centre dynamic from a consultant-based product driven company to a more customer minded company,” he said.
Through the customer journey mapping process, Komosion said various touchpoints were identified. “Things like customers like to browse online before going in-store, and all those who go in-store like to then check things out online,” he said. “That really helped us frame the omni-channel approach to take.
“We then discovered the need and behaviours of Flight Centre’s customers. Flight Centre as a travel group owns a number of different brands, so we needed to look at which brand was the right fit for each customer under which circumstance.”
Based on these insights, Stanley said Komosion made internal changes, putting the right people with the right skillsets where they would be needed the most.
“When you do this kind of change, it really needs to be run as one massive, cohesive project but with ownership within the operational businesses,” he commented.
One of the biggest changes was adopting an overarching approach to marketing spend and resources to drive enquiry, and re-shifting the marketing function to look after engagement, attract new customers and convert existing ones.
“It was a three-year plan, so when you undergo this kind of change, don’t think it’s going to happen in five minutes,” Stanley said.
Benefits of predictive intelligence and programmatic buying
According to Julien, Flight Centre now has a clear business strategy translated into predictive, data-based tools marketers can use.
“Predictive intelligence is a bit of a buzzword, but underlying it is truly understanding the customer journey,” he said. “But if you don’t have the right senses out there and collect the data and use it in an organised fashion, you’re dead in the water.”
Julien said the journey of overhauling Flight Centre’s data systems was a ground up approach. “We wanted to look at the deeper insights and rethink and restructure our business goals,” he said. “That’s been a large part of the change.
“We’re still going through a large transformative change with our data, our CRM space and our sales and marketing space. That’s how we can service our customers better across all the different channels.”
Flight Centre has also embraced programmatic media buying. Julien said key benefits including greater speed to marketing, more efficient media buying, total real-time control, and laser retargeting.
“By centralising our information and our data, we can now centralise our media buying,” Julien explained. “It’s about getting the technology together to ensure we get a good grip on how much time and resources we need to spend on which customer.
“I think we still have a lot of work to do and we still have a lot of energy to put into this space, but it all starts with getting our data and product strategies right.”
For Stanley, a digital strategy ultimately needs to be central and seamlessly integrate both online and offline.
“Flight Centre finds customers buy the experience, not the commodity of travel,” he said. “On top of this, the customer must be managed by the whole organisation, not just the consultant. While our consultants are Flight Centre’s competitive advantage, digital is the only way to support and ensure a consistent and seamless service.
“Of course the change of an organisation is the biggest of all challenges, and this takes time.”