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The customer experience. It’s top-of-mind for most companies these days–and with good reason. Search the news to find more than a few analysts, experts, and others sharing observations and advice. They all agree: customers prefer a journey that is as effortless as possible.

And speaking of journeys, consider travel. A trip–be it for business or pleasure–involves stitching together many different services such as one or more airline flights, auto rental, and hotel stay. Each of those services independently is vying for customers and striving to provide the best possible experience within their own domain. Some services are so bold as to connect the transition points in a customer’s journey to further demonstrate value and attention to the experience.

I had such an occurrence recently. I travel infrequently for work to the same location, and I frequent a small set of airlines, auto rental companies, and hotel chains. I favor them for their service and value, as well as being company-preferred options. Because I travel often enough, I don’t pay as much attention to some of the communications I receive during trips from the travel service providers. This past trip, I decided to take greater notice, and some aspects stuck out–and not in a good way.

Connecting the journey

The auto rental company I was using on this trip requests the renter’s flight information–departure and arrival–when making a reservation. This is not uncommon. By tying a reservation to the renter’s flight itinerary, the auto rental company has insight into a renter’s status: will they arrive on-time, early, or be delayed? When will the car they are renting be returned to the fleet and therefore available for another renter? The company can optimize the use of the vehicle with this information and it helps ensure a more seamless experience for customers through the use of timely communications.

When I landed at my destination, I had an email from the rental car company already in my inbox. It welcomed me to the city, thanked me for renting from them, and contained information like the weather forecast during my stay and some restaurant suggestions–all friendly and helpful information. But the email also contained some misleading information.

Pointing the wrong direction

The email included directions on how to get to the rental car center from the terminal. I have traveled through this particular airport enough times to know exactly where it is and the best route to take. The problem was the directions were invalid and would send a traveler not familiar with the airport completely off course.

Granted, there are signs in the airport directing travelers to the rental car center and an information center. No one was going to get lost. All the same, consider the situation if any company provided incorrect information to its customers: several unnecessary costs and damage to the company are possible. First, it might necessitate a call, email, or chat into the contact center from a customer seeking the correct information. Second, it sows doubt on the part of the customer as to future “helpful” communications the company might send. Finally–and the most harmful–is the potential loss of trust and damage to reputation as a result of confusing and hindering the customer.

Failing on departure

This wasn’t the only misstep on the part of the rental car company. I ended up changing my return flight to catch an earlier one on the same day. This meant my rental car was returned several hours prior to the originally planned time. This created another bump in the road.

A few hours before the original expected return time (but well after the car had been returned), the auto rental company sent an email to remind me the car was due back prior to my originally scheduled departure time per the rental agreement. I had my receipt as proof of return and assumed the company’s automated email system simply failed to take this into account, but as with the prior example, this might raise some concern for some customers: had the car not been returned correctly and was now considered overdue (or worse, lost or stolen)? Once again, when customers have nagging doubts, it means they will contact customer service. Those same costs from the first example come into play.

Getting back on track

I appreciate what the auto rental company was trying to do. It had connected travel events across services in an attempt to seamlessly link their customers’ overall journey. It was intending to provide timely and useful information to its customers. In failing to do this, it had instead created circumstances that might cause traffic into customer service, poorly affect customer experience, and even potentially impact brand reputation.

The customer’s journey when traveling–or using any product or service, for that matter–doesn’t always take a straight and planned course. An airport’s layout can transform over time. Travel plans can abruptly change. A preset series of communications quickly goes from helpful to questionable.

It’s clear that to stay competitive, companies must invest in the customer experience. Mapping out the customer journey takes time and it can’t remain a one-time exercise. It must be constantly audited to adapt to changes in people, processes, and technology; new potential routes and detours; and take advantage of new options not previously available. Only with regular review and revision can the best possible experience be ensured.