Over the past few years, with travelers becoming more diverse and smartphone usage upending the way people pay for goods and services, the need for seamless and secure payments has increased. Now, with the travel industry slowly getting back on its feet amidst a global pandemic, where do we go from here?
In order to shore up their payments ecosystem, travel brands need to break down silos, maintain agility, and develop global capabilities through partnerships. SkiftX spoke with Laurie Gablehouse, global head of travel solutions at Ingenico, about the importance of transparency and centralization in rebuilding trust, and how travel companies can adapt and thrive in a world with constantly shifting protocols and restrictions. Ingenico was recently acquired by Worldline, becoming the largest European player in payment services and the fourth largest player worldwide.
SkiftX: With many travel companies in recovery mode, what should customer experience professionals be thinking about right now in terms of moving forward with a payments ecosystem?
Laurie Gablehouse: Recovery isn’t just about monetary recovery. It’s as much about customer experience, both externally and internally. I think this is a really good moment for travel companies to ask ‘What have we been doing well or not well in terms of customer experience, and which partners are supporting us through this time?’
Unfortunately, as we all know, many people are losing their jobs, and every single vertical in the industry has taken a huge hit across the board – but in anything there is opportunity, and it’s a great time to pause and think, ‘Who do I trust?’
If you’re a customer experience professional, you need to be thinking about ring-fencing the people within your company who actually understand your payments and expanding beyond the finance department. As a company, you should be balancing what the marketing people are trying to do in terms of driving sales revenue with what the finance department is doing to try to manage costs.
All of the stakeholders need to be around the table for this subject. And hopefully, if you’re losing some folks within your company for various reasons, I would hope you find a way to draw a ring fence around those who are left, who know, or need to learn, how to manage your payments. Because, if you are not focused on how to collect money for your services, then what are you doing? That always should have been at the top of the list, but it got shoved into a corner in many cases because I think it’s expected to be easy.
With credit cards, everybody thinks, “Oh, I just put in sixteen digits and it’s all good.” Nobody thinks about the cost involved in safeguarding against fraud and managing the contracts and suppliers. We’ve made the user experience look very simple, but moving payments behind the scenes is very complicated. And it’s not just about collecting the money now. It’s also about hanging on to it instead of refunding it. The focus has completely gone in the other direction. You need a team of people across multiple divisions that understand this, from sales and marketing and finance to operations, because the operational team has to deliver what the marketing people are doing to drive revenue.
SkiftX: We’ve talked about optimizing the human side of things, and the importance of creating a fail-safe institutional team, but has anything changed on the technology side in response to the pandemic?
Gablehouse: We’ve built a new risk model. Honestly, there was a huge gap in credit and risk understanding that didn’t matter until now. We’ve worked closely with our merchants to understand the real-time state of payments that were collected without the service being delivered, because the flight or trip was canceled, for example. That trust and transparency helps us provide better credit terms. We can be a true partner to these travel companies to say, “Look, we’re not trying to make this harder on you. We’re just trying to understand your position. Whatever data you share with us, we’ll share back, and we’ll figure out your cash position together so you can move forward and make decisions with your eyes wide open.”
On the hospitality side of the business, we’ve been looking to provide a framework for how legacy technology systems can come together. To the degree that you can understand the supply chain and centralize where the money ends up, you can help your cash position because you know the money is sitting in your bank account. If the dates need to be rebooked or the customer needs a refund, you’ve got a position of strength to work from. In many cases, hotels were not collecting money until guest arrival or checkout, whereas airlines always collected the money up front and were probably within a week or so of their cash being in their bank, depending on credit terms and many other things. When travel stopped, those hotels had no cash flow, and that really hurt.
It’s about getting closer to your suppliers. Maybe you need to pick a short list of suppliers and make sure you understand how you’re getting your money from them contractually, so it’s not as anonymous. In all honesty, credit cards and electronic payments have allowed for that anonymity. I didn’t need to have a contract with you to process your credit card and get my money. It’s very valuable to work towards a centralization model that allows you to understand where you are in that process and to strengthen the parts that make more sense to your business.
SkiftX: Any other best practices for customer experience professionals adapting to this shifting landscape?
Gablehouse: You have to embrace change at this point in time, right? Let’s all get over it. It’s been very frustrating and overwhelming because our instant reaction was to react, but we need to move on and embrace the fact that things will continue to change. You may need to add some flexibility into your processes, whether it’s a policy for refunding, or an underlying backend system for monitoring or managing fraud and chargebacks.
Again, if you centralize things you can find them, and you can start putting systems and rules around them, whether it’s a fraud system or an accounting system. That may require strengthening relationships with your suppliers, it may require improvements to your internal policies, or it may mean investing in new technology solutions.
For example, one of our clients, Viva Air, wanted just one payment provider, so from a data, reporting, and monitoring perspective, anything they did moving forward became less complicated. They realized they had no internal payment stakeholders, so they built that team of expertise in partnership with Ingenico. We have some of the best expertise in the business, but it’s their decision how they use the tools we give them and the information we provide.
You need a partner that has in-depth payments expertise within the travel industry, you need to establish face-to-face relationships, and you need to have the right people on your team in the room who can ask the right questions. It’s not just about payments. It’s also about the customer experience and interaction.
SkiftX: In summary, how should travel companies be preparing for 2021 and beyond?
Gablehouse: Domestic leisure travel is reemerging first, but cross-border international will be back. You need to think how you’re going to scale back into that. Now is a good time to make those kinds of changes, or at least plan for them. Your payments strategy needs to balance your revenue needs, your cost needs, and your customer experience needs. This is your moment in time to improve the efficiency of your payment ecosystem so your teams can focus on delivering a best-in-class experience.