Every new beginning is magical, isn’t it? Oliver Dörschuck grins at the question. He prefers “enthusiasm” to “magic”, at least when he is talking about TUI’s Customer Experience (CX) project, which he has been leading ever since it was set up in early 2014. There is certainly a good idea behind it – and a lot of work too. The project is part of the “one Mainstream” programme initiated by Johan Lundgren, Deputy Chief Executive of TUI Travel PLC and member of its Mainstream Management Board. That is gathering pace. “We have taken something that TUI has done effectively for a long time and we hope to place it on a new footing. We want to turn satisfied customers into unreservedly happy TUI fans,” says Oliver Dörschuck. An ambitious objective defined by the 40-year-old manager from TUI Deutschland and his team of 24 colleagues from around the world. In the next few years he and many other Group employees will be implementing it stage by stage.
Make fans out of customers – a lot of companies would love to do that, but it isn’t easy. “We will certainly have our work cut out,” says Oliver Dörschuck. He doesn’t look like the sort of person to be worried about that, more like an optimist embarking on a new venture. “A dose of the start-up spirit probably helps,” he admits. “But we are not starting from scratch. There are so many things TUI already does really well. We aren’t planning a revolution.” The project is expected to propose a constructive mixture of innovation and continuity.
How exactly will it work? The first step is for TUI to perform an analysis, carefully scrutinising everything customers do before, during and after a holiday. What they value, what they want, and how to eliminate any stumbling blocks, little or large, that can occasionally sour the holiday mood. Oliver Dörschuck’s team, made up of experienced managers from all major Group operations, are currently taking a close look at TUI’s value chain with a view to optimising it piece by piece: from the travel agencies, call centres and digital media, via the on-board flight experience and everything that happens at the destination – contact with the travel rep, accommodation in the hotel – to the return journey and arriving home. There has also been a detailed survey of TUI employees in destinations and very many customers, and from this the team can see the big picture of what people want where. All these impressions and ideas are being collected, evaluated and prioritised.
Effortless, consistent, committed
“Free wifi at all airports”, “online hotel check-in” and “free water at arrival at destination”: those are just three of the 70 ideas the CX team received from the survey. “Of course that can’t all be implemented overnight, but our customers will start noticing the difference in summer 2015,” says Stefanie Schulze zur Wiesch. The TUI manager works at Group headquarters in Hanover and she is Oliver Dörschuck’s right-hand woman on CX matters. She is the person who pulls all the project threads together. “Our aims are clear-cut: TUI customers will soon be receiving individual information relevant to whatever stage of their holiday they are at, they will experience a consistently high level of service, and they will be able to contact TUI effortlessly by various channels of communication,” says Stefanie Schulze zur Wiesch. TUI as a positive brand experience – always and everywhere.
For a clear view of exactly when during the holiday TUI customers pick up these “brand-building” impressions, the CX team is working on a kind of holiday script. It defines all the key stages a traveller goes through, such as the booking procedure before the trip, the hotel check-in or the flight home. “In a few situations we want to generate more happiness and enthusiasm. There may be other points where we could perhaps dispense with a service because customers don’t need it, aren’t asking for it and wouldn’t pay for it,” explains Stefanie Schulze zur Wiesch.
Feeling good about the world – happiness and enthusiasm – sometimes it only takes a little gesture to trigger these emotions: friendly, helpful bus drivers, for example, or that bottle of cool water placed in a hotel room to slake the traveller’s thirst after a long journey.
Other tasks are trickier. On Crete, for instance, like at many other destinations, the airport is packed in summer. For a while now, TUI has offered customers upon request the chance to book an additional service in return for a small fee: access to a lounge. A freshly furnished oasis of tranquillity with plenty of seats, complementary drinks, biscuits, sandwiches and wifi. Guests can stay here until they board. They are collected in person by a TUI rep and taken straight to the plane, bypassing the queue. “There is big demand for it,” says Stefanie Schulze zur Wiesch: “We feel sure that similar offers would work equally well at other busy airports.“
One way to book features like the airport lounge leads us to the Internet. Most people have got used to regarding their smart phone and tablet as indispensable companions, especially when they are on holiday. So online services are an important key to giving TUI customers more spontaneous choice and information options. “That’s why we are optimising and expanding the functionality of our TDA app, the TUI Digital Assistant,” says John Boughton, a Director at TUI Travel in London and responsible on the CX project for mobile end device strategy. “Our customers are using the app more and more as their main tool for communicating with us.”
»Our customers are using the app more and more as their main tool for communicating with us.«John Boughton, Director of Mobile Strategy at TUI Travel PLC
This means customers can reach TUI at any time, by text or telephone, e-mail and social networks like Facebook or Twitter. At the same time, up-to-date information and service offerings can be integrated into the app in real time: a tip-off about an excellent little-known restaurant near the hotel, a note about when the yoga course starts tomorrow morning, or confirmation of the departure time and meeting-point for the airport transfer.
If travellers have a question, comment or even a problem, they only have to tap it into the TDA, no matter what time it is or where they are. TUI staff will answer within two hours – that is the target. If, for example, a holidaymaker in the Maldives suddenly decides it would be nice to take a boat trip the next morning, the travel rep can be contacted via the TDA and a ticket will be reserved – with just a few clicks of the finger and without anyone having to get out of their deckchair and leave the pool. And customers can use the TDA to save information too, so that it will be ready to hand next year, for instance, when they are looking for just the right holiday.
It all sounds simple and logical, but putting this into practice is tricky. After all, every TUI contact and service in the world needs to be migrated from different systems into one centralised, web-based databank. “The challenges relate to the different technical specifications that apply in different parts of the Group and to the data interfaces. Besides, we have to integrate six different languages. But we are making rapid progress,” says John Boughton. “The TDA content and functionality are growing fast.”
The human factor
There are lots of opportunities for using the TDA app and a smart phone to personalise a holiday with more ad hoc input. But the status of the human fac-tor is at least as important in the CX project. Mikael Ahlerup knows all about this. He is in charge of Destination Service and Customer Experience at TUI Nordic. His office is in downtown Stockholm, but the 52-year-old will not be found there very often. He spends much of his time travelling. He is observing and optimising, among other things, airport transfers, bicycle excursions and aqua fitness classes on Gran Canaria and in Turkey. He is also responsible for the know-how and concerns of the staff.
Good employees are TUI’s biggest asset, Mikael Ahlerup firmly believes that. They guarantee those special encounters that people happily tell their friends about back home: the kind supervisors at the Kids Club, the friendly crew on the plane or the helpful service staff at the hotel. It gets even more exciting, from the Swede’s perspective, when the CX project links these qualities to the untapped potential of the new communication media. “Just imagine,” he says, gazing into the not too distant future: “On the plane a hostess accidentally spills a soft drink over your trousers. She uses her smart phone to send a message to your destination hotel and asks them to put a bowl of fruit in your room with a note saying ‘Sorry for the mishap on board. TUI hopes you have a great holiday!’”
“Can you imagine what effect that would have?” Mikael Ahlerup’s question is rhetorical, because to him the answer is obvious: any traveller would thoroughly appreciate a gesture like that, which isn’t complicated and doesn’t cost much. And that very combination is the secret: pre-emptive, effective, and ultimately inexpensive. “If we can identify those points and implement them quickly, we will be achieving a big competitive edge over our competition,” says the TUI Manager.
If little kindnesses like this are soon to become routine at TUI, the underlying technology has to function. But the vision also calls for committed, resolute TUI employees who do their job with pleasure and dedication. “The more motivated and satisfied they are, the more authentic and successful we are as a Group,” declares Mikael Ahlerup with conviction. “They create those points of contact that stick in people’s memories and will make TUI an even stronger brand.”