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In-Person Engagement is Still Critical to the Customer Journey

Walk through any Australian city and you’ll see the bright red storefronts of travel service provider FlightCentre. Founded in 1982, the company has built a true omnichannel enterprise. It serves millions of customers each year via its robust digital presence and runs 1,100 retail stores, where travel advisors dig in to help customers plan vacations and business trips.

You could say their business in Australia is omnichannel AND omnipresent: their stores seem to be on every street corner. But is it relevant to operate 1,000 physical stores in an industry that has largely moved to digital?

Very much so, according to Jamie Glenn, a CTO at FlightCentre, who spoke on a “Big Ideas in Digital” panel I hosted in May during an Experience Acquia event in Brisbane.  FlightCentre (which operates the Liberty Travel brand in the US) and its customers find the hybrid customer experience valuable, he says.

In the Australian market, Glenn noted, customers trying to book simple travel (say, domestic airline tickets or hotels) often are quick to transact online. But travelers with more complex needs -- they may be booking multi-city vacations with excursions, or lengthy foreign travel  -- tend to want face-to-face help planning the details.

For many, the customer journey starts online and ends up in a physical location.

So FlightCentre, which leverages the Acquia platform to build, manage and deliver digital experiences, continues to invest in online and offline services to keep customers happy no matter which channel of interaction they choose.

FlightCentre is well aware of the growth of digital in all consumer sectors. But it uses this to its strength. “You don’t need to talk to people now as much as you did in the past. So actually going to talk to someone about a destination is an experience, something valuable in and of itself,” says Glenn.

Travel can be fun but not if you’re spending hours online trying to book multiple flights and comparing hotels in multiple cities. “It takes the allure out of (travel) if you’re looking at 17 hotels and trying to work out the difference,” says Glenn.

FlightCentre is positive proof that, at a time when digital natives like Google, Airbnb and countless travel aggregators are grabbing a slice of the travel market, the availability of a personal, face-to-face service still carries the power of differentiation. And, in a market that appears so transactional, a website or app can’t replace sitting down with an informed expert to help provide an intelligent, useful experience as part of the customer journey. Digital might be at the forefront of everyone’s mind but it’s important to include and evaluate every touchpoint in the customer journey, not just the digital ones, to get a truly holistic view of your customers.


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