Holland America Line Dips into an Ocean of Data to Personalize Customer Journeys

by Nate Smith

posted on 10-02-2019

With the goal of offering customers more personalized experiences through websites, companies need to democratize access to their data and topple what’s been an “ivory tower” of insights available to just a select few managers. With broader—yet still controlled—access to data, companies are making smarter decisions about how to enhance customer experiences and respond faster to changing market opportunities.

Nowhere is this more important than in the travel industry, where consumers have a multitude of options to choose from as they plan their next dream vacation. To capture their imaginations and convince them to book their next getaways, companies must make customer experiences as smooth and personalized as possible—and data is vital to making it happen.

Premium cruise operator Holland America Line has taken this strategy to heart. The line established universal access to data across key teams to support more personalized, enhanced customer experiences through better decision making. Using Adobe Analytics, everyone from digital marketers to product owners can identify opportunities and gaps in customer experiences, and with Adobe Target teams can experiment and test hypotheses to find the best path forward.

“When we started on this journey, we employed a different analytics platform, and accessing data meant requesting a report from the analytics team,” says Aaron Fossum, director, digital analytics at Holland America Line. “The data often led to further questions that couldn’t easily be explored. It was a static approach to analytics and a bottleneck for the business.”

Now that Holland America Line has removed that obstacle, a new mindset has taken hold across the organization. People are better informed, more willing to undertake the rigor of testing, and ready to change direction when needed.

“When everybody comes to the table having reviewed data and incorporated it into developing their initial decisions, we have much more robust conversations,” says Fossum. “This makes us highly effective at identifying opportunities to optimize customer experiences.”

Data provides a map for decision making

Data is the key to delivering experiences that work for customers and drive sales. But companies need to go beyond a simple readout of metrics and understand data at a deeper level and then continually run tests to see if their ideas are good ones.

At Holland America Line, marketing teams have conducted dozens of experiments using Adobe Target and Adobe Analytics, looking closely at how small changes in the customer experience affect metrics, and what the numbers actually mean for the business.

For instance, Holland America Line recently experimented with booking options on its website. The company gives people the option of booking a cruise with an immediate deposit or delaying the deposit with a “courtesy hold.”

There’s a natural trade-off between the two options. Fewer people opt for deposited bookings because of the high upfront commitment, but they are more likely to follow through and take the cruise. The courtesy hold option entices more people to click but results in fewer actual sales, as people tend to cancel at a higher rate. Fossum and his team set out to find the optimal balance to achieve the results they wanted.

“By driving more traffic to our deposited bookings, we improved retention for online bookings by 5%, resulting in seven-figure ROI,” Fossum says. “At first glance, we may not have noticed the shift. That’s one instance where a deeper look at the metrics told us something surprising and valuable about where to focus our attention.”

When data challenges your assumptions

There are times when hunches are proved wrong by the data, such as when Holland America Line tweaked the interactive map on its cruise detail page, aiming to make it easier for people navigate itineraries to drive bookings.

“We made the interactive map easier to navigate by adding arrows,” says Fossum. “To our surprise, the booking initiation rate actually decreased, which meant fewer people were clicking on the ‘Book Now’ button. Our initial reaction was that we made the wrong move.”

Fossum and his team used Adobe Analytics to dig deeper into the unexpected results. As it turns out, the previous map was confusing enough that people were clicking “Book Now” in hopes of finding the information they needed—not because they were ready to book a cruise. As Fossum points out, that surprised the team. By making information easier to find, the team now gets a more accurate readout on bookings and delivers smoother customer experiences.

“Because visitors were getting better information, our conversion rates improved 20% for visitors to that page, even though the page’s clickthrough rate decreased. We wouldn’t have known that had we not dug deeper into the data,” says Fossum. “In the end, we improved the customer experience by helping ensure a clearer experience on our website.”

Holland America Line embarks on a personalization journey

For Holland America Line, data democratization is the first leg of a journey toward more personalized customer experiences.

“Our first step was to encourage our teams to start thinking about the data and use it to make better decisions and drive AB testing and optimization online,” says Fossum. “Now that we’ve laid the foundation for that, we’re ready to take delivering personalized experiences to customers to the next level.”

Part of the personalization effort involves precise audience targeting. For that, Holland America Line has started to use Adobe Audience Manager. As Fossum says, “We had a good win out of the gate with Adobe Audience Manager, suppressing ads for people who had already booked a cruise so we could focus solely on new customers. That led to 24% savings in one of our largest display advertising campaigns.”

As Holland America Line puts the pieces together, it is well on its way toward becoming a leader in Customer Experience Management (CXM), delivering experiences ideally suited to customer needs and business objectives.

Holland America Line uses Adobe Experience Cloud and its analytics, testing, and audience segmentation capabilities to democratize data and drive personalization as part of its CXM strategy.

Topics: Digital Transformation, Analytics, Customer Stories