All around us we can see evidence of the incredible digital transformation that is taking place across our lives. While understandably this change is stronger in the West, it can be observed throughout almost the entire globe. One example of this is the widespread use of mobile banking in Africa which is positively transforming the lives of many farmers and small business owners across the continent. Another key indicator of this change is the increasingly prevalent use of social media with the number of individuals accessing social networks worldwide expected to reach almost 3 billion by 2020.

These are huge changes, being driven by technology such as widespread, high-speed internet, including increasingly fast mobile internet, affordable and powerful smartphones and innovations from massive multinational tech companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft. The way we live now and how we will increasingly live in the future is being altered irreversibly. While these changes are not always beneficial, the differences that can be seen are undeniable and this is only set to become more pronounced. The digital transformation is changing all areas of our lives from communication to education, to the economy and travel.

To ignore this is at the massive peril of your brand, because technology is also completely revolutionizing the way companies and individuals do business, interact and decide where to spend their money. If your company is relying on continuing with the status quo and avoiding change due to the costs involved in updating systems, new training and evolving with the times, then you are setting yourself up for failure. If we are comparing Fortune 500 companies between 1955 and 2014, 88% were either taken over or completely disappeared. This turnover of companies is also increasing rapidly, so to survive (and thrive) in today’s global economy, a constant state of evolution is necessary!

But what is the digital customer experience and why is this now so important?

The digital customer experience is related to all aspects of interaction and experience that your customers have across all possible digital channels, whether this be your website, email, social media or other methods. Within the travel and tourism industry, for a hotel or resort this would involve online room bookings, interactions via real time web chat, email or social media with customer service agents, or engagement surrounding social media posts made by your marketing team, as examples.

What is important to note is that the concept of the digital customer experience is more significant to your marketing team and company, than it is to your potential or current customers; they don’t think of this division between digital or traditional customer experience, it is all part of the overall experience they have with your brand. To a certain extent this is also how your brand should be viewing things, because our digital lives are becoming increasingly intertwined with all aspects of our lives.

Whether this is checking your bank statement online, having a Skype video call with your family or friends in another country, or booking flights or a hotel room via a smartphone. It is predicted that by the end of this year, one third of the global population will own a smartphone which is essentially the same as a third of the world having mini computers in their pocket, with all those added possibilities.

The Digital Customer Experience and the Travel Industry

The customer experience between your brand and your customer needs to be as positive, efficient and professional as possible, either in person or through digital interactions. For a resort or hotel this would include the way guests are greeted in person by receptionists, restaurant staff or team members. It will also include the experience guests or potential guests have while interacting with your resort team via digital channels such as the real-time chat facility on your website, emails or social media.

As well as the interactions your guests have with your brand, the digital customer experience also includes many other factors such as the attractiveness and functionality of your website, or the posts published on your social media channels such as photos, videos and blog posts. It is also important to note that the digital customer experience from your brand’s perspective should not just end once your guest has booked a stay at your resort and has arrived for their holiday, but also happens while your guest stays with you and after they have departed.

While your guest is staying with you they should ideally have free access to excellent wifi throughout the resort, as this is a standard feature in many public and private locations. They may also be publishing on social media while they stay regarding your resort such as appealing photos/videos of the pool, restaurant or local area. Your marketing team should be monitoring digital channels for tags and hashtags, and engage with these posts which will encourage your guests to post more.

With the widespread use of digital devices on holidays, this can become an excellent source of free advertising for your brand. Even if the individual doesn’t always have a massive social media following, they are likely still an influencer even if it is just to family and friends. Don’t underestimate the influence of micro-influencers! Once they have checked out, the connections made via social media can create a lasting relationship between your resort and your guests leading to potential repeat bookings. This can be fostered in a positive way with engagement and conversations via social media, and email newsletters with special offers.

Why Your Brand Needs to Quickly Adapt

Ultimately, for your customer the quality of experience with your brand will determine whether or not they choose to repeat their business with you, regardless of whether this is in person or through digital channels. For your brand though, this is no quick fix and will require a concerted and dedicated effort. New systems will need to be put in place, new equipment purchased, possibly major updates to your website for speed, security and attractiveness, and a major change in ethos for your marketing team and staff in general. Real life experiences and the digital customer experience are merging to a greater and greater extent. What happens digitally has real world consequences and vice versa.

Recently a United Airlines passenger was forcibly dragged screaming and injured from a flight that the airline had overbooked. After the full-fare paying passenger had refused to leave the plane, he was forcibly removed which another passenger filmed and posted online. This video then went viral leading to terrible publicity for the airline and share prices dropped. This was further exacerbated by the way the CEO of the company responded to the incident through dismissive tweets, defending the conduct of the airline. This has likely damaged the reputation of the airline for the foreseeable future, leading many to think twice before booking a flight with United Airlines.

Companies need to fully grasp the concept of how our real-world and digital lives are now so tightly entwined and increase their focus on improving the Digital Customer Experience. People lead busy and often stressful lives, so they expect to have a positive experience with your brand both in person and digitally. If the experience doesn’t live up to their expectations, such as an unhelpful employee, slow website or even boring social media posts, then they can and often will dismiss your brand.

The market is constantly innovating and being disrupted as shown by the rise of brands like Netflix, Airbnb and Spotify. There are no industries that are safe from change, so it is imperative to keep up with customer demands, otherwise than can quickly switch. This is why the digital customer experience is now so important for your company.