Sunday, April 28, 2013

Understanding Customer Ways

The ideal combination for business is to have: More customers, buying more often and spending more money.

To do that Businesses need to be attuned to and ready to respond to what customers expect and want.  But what happens when those expectations change? 

Since Port Stephens is built around tourist businesses I thought I would talk today about how customers – especially travellers – go about planning for their trip to a new location.

But you know  travellers don't have to always come from a long way away. Even people from Newcastle or Lake Macquarie could be looking for services in the area – or could be encouraged to visit the area if they knew about more of what Port Stephens has to offer.

There are some things that are a given, for any business that customers rightly expect. They expect we will
Do what you promise to do
Provide what the customer thinks they are buying.
Fix anything that isn’t working when problems happen, as they often do.

A travel survey last year revealed this interesting statistic: 
Roughly half of discretionary travellers in developed markets and two-thirds in emerging markets do not have a specific destination in mind when they start their trip planning process. 

Yet, it is not easy to browse destinations on most travel websites today.   Especially for inexperienced there is a need for better more condensed snapshots of information such as seasonal temperature/weather and price ranges. Freshness and accuracy of destination information is also an issue, particularly for emerging markets.

Now I was thinking about this recently since I was in Italy at the end of last year and spent a lot of time researching where I was going to stay, things we might like to do there and visit and ways to get around. Also what the specialty of the areas might be, attractions to look out for and any customs that would be important to know – like that fact that the shops are closed on Mondays and close through the week between say 1 pm and 3 pm.
If you are out and about in a strange town that has a different language - that’s good to know! 

So I am a tourist from another country coming to Australia what would I be looking for here? 
Now it happens, that Italy has many, many wonderful websites with fantastic information available. Each region promotes their patch very well.  Some information is from businesses, some from blogs written by travellers who had experienced visiting these places for the first time, and also reviews on places like Trip Advisor.

But when I came to plan a trip to Australia the job is much harder. Lots of links to the same old places, hotels and big corporate websites and a squillion pictures of beaches... but that’s not the kind of holiday I want. If I go somewhere new I want to learn about the place. 

But see I am not your average tourist. I want to stay somewhere that is not a commercial hotel, and I want to know what facilities are there, and easy it will be for me to take care of my shopping needs while I am there. 

If I don’t drive, I want to know how I can get there, 
when I can get there and 
what I need to know to get tickets and all that.

While I may not be your average tourist, there are a lot of tourists like me. And a lot of people who would think about travelling more often and staying longer if they could travel this way. 

There are many niches now for types of travellers and each have their own wants - and opportunities for business to service them.

So we have a problem locally – well across Australia really – because we are not good at showcasing the different things that we have to do that are not so highly publicised. We have lots of vineyards – but not so much in classes for wine and cooking for tourists to take while they are here. We have lots of B&Bs but many of them don’t have a presence online and don’t show their business in a way that makes the most of what they have to offer.

An example
If I am going to visit an area, I am going to look for somewhere not a hotel as my first preference. I might look for a self cater house, or apartment. One with cooking facilities but close to conveniences and places I might eat out. 

Now as I look for places of this kind, how they look, is important. How clean they look and how comfortable the furnishings – this tells me a lot about how important the comfort of guests is to the owners.  If they seem to care about how nice it is for me to stay there, then that’s something that is important to me. It conveys a sense of them being somewhat like me and that they would understand my needs and what will make the stay more pleasant.

Looks aside, the number one thing that I will be looking for – all else being equal – is how fast and reliable and easy to access is high speed internet. And I don’t expect to pay more for that. 

This is one buying criterion that has changed in recent years. Nowadays it is considered a basic facility for internet to be available for visitors. Anyone who is interested in keeping their vacation rentals booked - and receive great reviews cannot afford to overlook the importance of this to visitors. 

Customers also want ease. They want it to be simple to learn what they want to know. Easy to make it happen and confident because they get a fast confirmation and don't have to wonder about arrangements.  Certainty makes for peace of mind. 

There are many other ways that customers shop now and their expectations about what a business provides and how they provide their services have changed dramatically in the last 5 years.  Many businesses have not adapted to suit this way of buying and so they are missing out on sales that they could be making from their websites – and even using payment over the phone in some cases. 

Mobile devices are becoming the primary medium for accessing the Internet – and its related services – across all age groups.  So naturally Websites need to be readable on mobile devices since so many people are doing their shopping and travel planning this way.  And access to broadband wifi is a big factor for travellers who will be seeking information on the local area before they arrive – and when they get here. 

As a region, the whole Hunter and Port Stephens and Lake Macquarie areas combine to make a fantastic central tourist spot for visitors to spend an extended time here to look around the many things we have to offer – but if they can’t find out about how easy that is and what a fun time it will be – and affordable – not just for the rich travellers – they will pass us by. 

So there are some things for you to consider in your businesses.
Research other locations and see what they do that’s different. 
Discover what has changed for your customers in the past few years in how they shop for your services or products.
If your customers are travellers
Look at your local area and business as though you are new to the area and seeking to find services. Do some search on Google and see how what you can find easily and make not of what you would want to know but can’t find.  Your own business can use this as a start on improving your online information and when multiplied across the region, suddenly the whole area will explode online with fantastic content for travellers – even local travellers – to use. 

These are all ways to help push growth in sales, encourage repeat sales and increase the dollar value of sales.   Meeting expectations is the start point. Exceeding them is where the magic is. 

More sales, more often, for more money - that’s the only way to grow exponential profit

If you need help with any of this give me a call. 

Lindy Asimus

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