Emily Weiss of Accenture: “Customer loyalty programs will also need to evolve”

Customer loyalty programs will also need to evolve. The simple fact is that most leisure travelers just don’t make enough trips to accumulate enough points in traditional loyalty schemes. So I think we’ll see a big shift to other kinds of “emotional” or experience-based rewards, based on a better understanding of what matters to leisure […]

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Customer loyalty programs will also need to evolve. The simple fact is that most leisure travelers just don’t make enough trips to accumulate enough points in traditional loyalty schemes. So I think we’ll see a big shift to other kinds of “emotional” or experience-based rewards, based on a better understanding of what matters to leisure travelers.

As part of our series about “The Future Of Air Travel”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Weiss, MD and global industry lead, Travel at Accenture.

Emily Weiss heads up Accenture’s global Travel Industry practice. In this sector, digital technologies, shifting customer expectations, and now COVID-19 impacts are catalyzing immense shifts. Emily guides the strategy and offerings of this practice, helping hospitality, aviation, and travel services clients worldwide reinvent their offerings, become more agile, connected and competitive.

Emily has 25 years’ consulting experience, working across the travel, hotels & leisure, media & entertainment, and consumer goods sectors. She is recognized for her CRM expertise, her ability to launch new products and services, and her understanding of how the workforce contributes to the customer experience. With broad industry insight, she has helped leading clients harness technologies like AI, XR and analytics to drive intelligent operations, equip responsive workforces, make real-time, personalized client experiences possible, and design and deliver transformative solutions.

As a strong leader of multi-disciplinary teams, Emily is passionate about leadership and mentorship at all levels. She believes it’s important to stay connected and learn from those on the front lines, but also to explore the edge — where innovation lives.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’m a very analytical person, and I’ve always loved to solve puzzles. As a child I loved all kinds of word games, number puzzles, and choose-your-own-adventure books. I also loved foreign languages, which as a kid felt a bit like a puzzle. And I still love all these things now, especially Bananagrams, Sudoku and Spanish! Plus, I was a math and Spanish double major at college — the most logical combination, right? So, overall, there was this problem-solving thread that ran throughout my early life. And consulting was a very natural progression from that, because it’s really all about solving problems too.

I’ve also always had a passion for travel and for seeing and exploring the world. That goes right back to my college days when I studied and travelled in Europe. So it was amazing to end up leading Accenture’s global travel industry group. I just thrive on the variety of the work we do here, and it’s been incredible to have been involved in so many different projects, in so many different places, for so many different types of client.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Early on, I was lucky enough to be able to spend six months supporting the Child Sponsorship NGO Plan International as part of Accenture Development Partnerships. Plan is an amazing organization that focuses on advancing children’s rights and equality for girls across the world. And it was incredibly exciting on a personal level to be able to explore far-flung places like Ecuador and Sierra Leone while performing important work and making a real difference for people on the ground. In fact, we were creating a Digital Hub for Plan International, which was a really advanced thing for an NGO to be doing at that time. It was just the most rewarding experience in so many ways.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career, I bumped into my very first client supervisor as I was walking back from the cafeteria with my lunch. He spontaneously asked me to bring my food and join him for a lunch meeting. And, obviously, as a young, driven and ambitious consultant, I said yes. But as I followed him to the meeting, I started to realize something was up. We were walking outside, across a big parking lot, and up to a patch of grassy land at the back of this beautiful client campus. I tried to play it cool and just go with the flow. But apparently there was nothing cool about me in that moment as he stopped and started laughing uncontrollably. He said he’d never seen anyone look so utterly panicked to go plant tomatoes in the community garden! He then revealed he’d called it a meeting because he knew I’d never have stepped away from the desk long enough to join him if he’d invited me to dig in the dirt with him during work hours. Needless to say, that was a fabulous lesson for me and one that I value to this day.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

I think there are two important things here. The first is to understand what’s non-negotiable for you as a person. And the second is to have the courage to set boundaries around that and make decisions that are right for you. An example for me is the importance of spending time with family. Every year since 1988 my family has spent early August in Cape Cod. It’s a really special place, time, and tradition for me — hands down the most important break of my year. But, as we all know, work doesn’t always fit neatly around vacations. So, for me to be part of this family tradition consistently, I chose to be flexible and work around it, whether that was getting up extra early to send emails or staying up late for calls. When something’s that important, you can almost always find a solution. Too many people think you have to give up your personal life to make things work at work. But you don’t. You just have to be creative.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

100 percent my mother! She’s been my rock throughout my whole life and my career. She’s such a great person to speak to in those moments when I need to regain balance or perspective. Her favorite phrases are “wait to worry” and “they don’t pay rent to live in your head”, which I’ve always loved and I rely on often. If I’m honest, I sometimes used to wonder whether she really understood what I was talking about or whether she was just being an awesome mom! But then one day I heard her speaking with a friend and I realized she’d been absorbing everything I’d said for the past 20+ years. She totally got it! It was a really wonderful moment.

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries? Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation? And how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

There’s such a lot happening in the travel industry right now, especially as we’re all so focused on the recovery from the pandemic. And there are several really big areas of innovation that we’re looking to help the industry drive forward.

One is around digitalization and data. Of course, this isn’t exactly new! But the fact is, the travel industry still has a way to go in fully using its data to digitize and personalize travel experiences from end to end. And we’re talking about more than just creating digital boarding passes or room keys. Everyone needs to be thinking much bigger — digitizing entire itineraries, using VR to preview destinations, building “third space” working spaces into traveler journeys, and so on.

Then, there’s the cloud. Again, not a new thing! But it’s no secret that travel has been behind the curve on cloud adoption. Fixing that won’t only help the industry cut costs, it’s also going to be a crucial part of their future innovation — whether that’s enhancing customer journeys, getting more personalization, or connecting with other industries to offer different kinds of products, services, and retailing opportunities.

Finally, there’s this idea of the conscious traveler. Since the pandemic, people are more conscious of the environment, health and safety protocols, and the benefits of local-everything. So, there’s a real need for sustainable solutions and technology innovation in areas like contactless interaction across the whole travel experience. There’s also a marketing and brand element to this — customers need to trust that yours is a company it’s safe and secure to travel with.

As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?

As with the previous question, we’ll definitely see a lot more focus on having COVID-secure and contactless experiences end to end. “Touchless everything” will be the mantra across the industry. That’s relevant to the workforce too — workers need to have confidence that hotels and airplanes are safe and secure places to work.

Otherwise, the big changes are likely to come from the fact that the industry is focusing more on domestic leisure travel in the immediate-to-short term. Everyone is expecting the business market and the international market to recover more slowly.

So, for example, travel companies will be rethinking their customer acquisition and marketing strategies for the leisure market. To do that they’ll need to be more active much earlier in the customer journey, especially on social media and travel inspiration channels. And they’ll need to be able to deliver personalized content, across all channels, with messaging tailored at a local level for different tastes and cultures.

Customer loyalty programs will also need to evolve. The simple fact is that most leisure travelers just don’t make enough trips to accumulate enough points in traditional loyalty schemes. So I think we’ll see a big shift to other kinds of “emotional” or experience-based rewards, based on a better understanding of what matters to leisure travelers.

And then there’s the technology and data that enables all this. Again, that’s about having cloud technology and data platforms to support the advanced customer segmentation and personalization — plus the organizational agility and innovation — you really need to capitalize on the leisure opportunity.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

For me, a great vacation has to be centered around exploring the new. So, going to a new location, exploring a new culture, eating new food, meeting new people, finding out cool new places and hidden gems, maybe even learning a new language. That’s my perfect holiday!

I think this speaks to a broader point about personalization. If they’re to deliver truly personalized leisure travel experiences, companies need to be thinking bigger than letting me choose what kind of pillow I get or what drinks are in the refrigerator. Real personalization is about understanding what’s important to me, why I’m making this trip, and then helping me do that in the best way possible.

Thinking further ahead, I’d also love more of the stress to be taken out of traveling. By that I mean having a completely seamless experience from home to home. So perhaps the hotel could know exactly when my flight landed and have me checked in already. Or knowing my flight out is delayed, so having me confirmed for late checkout. Really, it’s about joining up all the dots in the travel experience. Not an easy thing to do! But it’s definitely where the industry is heading.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

What I love about this career is that I get to help such a variety of people and organizations and I get to share my expertise with such a diverse audience, whether that’s with clients, colleagues, or in doing voluntary work. I also think there’s a lot of good you can bring to the world in the small things — the everyday interactions that make up most of the experiences we all have all the time. My philosophy is to stay curious and positive and intentional in these moments, and I always try to be honest and transparent and accessible, whoever I’m speaking with. Life is lived in the details. And it’s in these details that we can really make a difference in the world.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

What I’d like to see more of in the world is listening. This is about taking the time to not just hear but also listen to what people are saying. We can all be a little guilty of not doing this sometimes, especially when we’re busy or have other things on our mind. Or when we pass someone in the hall or start a conversation with “Hi, how are you?” and don’t expect or even wait for an answer! I think a little more care, a little more deliberation and a little more listening would make such a big difference to the world. Because the more we feel heard, the more we have a voice. And the more we have a voice, the more our ideas, beliefs, concerns, and questions are taken seriously. I think that would be an incredibly powerful thing.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Emily Weiss | LinkedIn

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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