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B2B Payments: The Facilitator for Enhancing Customer Experience in the Travel Industry (Anthony Hynes)

The travel industry is showing signs of a rebound in leisure travel with restored optimism after the easing of some lockdown restrictions and the rollout of vaccines across the globe. But the industry is in a significantly different place to before the pandemic, with consumer behaviors having shifted.  We’re seeing the emergence of vaccine passports, greater demand for safety and hygiene, more flexible payment and cancellation options and much more. While it’s no surprise the B2C payments industry is stepping up to meet these new challenges and enhance the customer experience, the role of B2B payments landscape in this often gets forgotten.

However, now more than ever, B2B payments have a role in helping elevate the customer experience for travel intermediaries. Slow, inefficient, complex technological solutions or outdated manual payment processes are a problem for not just the travel agent, but for the traveler themselves.  Travel agents with innovative and reliable B2B payments suppliers, will ultimately enhance the experience of the end travel consumer. 

With Global Customer Experience Day being celebrated this week, I wanted to discuss the role that B2B payments can play in aiding the wider recovery of the travel industry.

Enhanced Customer Choice

A wide range of choice (that is easy and fast to access) is a critical element in creating a better customer experience. And so, travel agencies should prioritize expanding their payment options too. The broader the choice of payments on offer to consumers, the better the customer experience and the more likely they are to convert. Especially when it’s the customer’s tried and trusted payment method.

The answer to this is not for travel agencies to convince their suppliers to accept multiple forms of payments, but instead, they can simplify the way they pay them, to mitigate any worries over acceptance. For example, a universally accepted payment, such as virtual crds or ‘Virtual Account Numbers’ (VANs), can integrate easily with existing booking and property management. Suppliers are paid with a 16-digit number, regardless of the consumer payment type received by the OTA. Not only is this fast and easy, but it also benefits travel suppliers by reducing the risk of fraudulent card transactions.

In addition, innovative B2B payment providers such as WEX, can offer multiple card schemes, payment types, currencies, issuing and settlement locations – giving travel companies optimal choice and flexibility, which in turn can be passed on to the end customer.

Unlocked Efficiencies: Putting the Resources Back on The End-Customer

The more admin effort required to manage supplier network and payments processes, the more resources are diverted away from value-add activities, which should be a huge priority for travel businesses looking to stabilize business volumes.

Travel intermediaries who invest in their B2B payments processes can ultimately resolve this. By using end-to-end payment solutions that are based off automation and leading technology, travel agencies experience greater efficiencies, benefit from automated back-end payment processes and mitigate against the risks that manual, cash-based payment systems present. In turn, the efficiencies and resources can be passed on to helping elevate the end-customer experience.  

A testament to the opportunity that can come from digital payment transformation, WEX’s research in partnership with ‘The Economist’ showed that 86 percent agree that companies that lead with technology will thrive in recovery from the current economic and health crisis and that and 83 percent have leveraged payment technology to innovate new sources of business value.

Providing Trust and Security to Customers

While consumers reduced their travel spending in 2020, fraudsters did not cut back. Based on data from Sift’s Q1 2021 Digital Trust & Safety Index, fraud attempts increased across a range of industries to take advantage of the changes occurring in many of them. The online travel segment alone saw a 20% increase in fraud attempts. This, in turn, has heightened the need for travel agencies to lean on their payments providers for protection and security needed to reassure their customers and get them back to travelling.

Once again, this is where B2B payments comes into play. While the use of VANs was already on the rise pre-pandemic, demand is set to accelerate as its benefits can help travel companies build trust among their customers. VANs offer an attractive alternative to traditional cards and have features to protect against fraud. For example, VANs can be set-up to only be used once, so even if the data is subject to a breach, the card cannot be used again if the supplier has already processed the payment. In addition, with VANs, parameters can be set to control the types of purchases accepted, the maximum purchase amount, and when the purchases can be made. This prevents any charge other than that which is specified, ultimately helping travel intermediaries provide their customers with a safeguard against fraud.

Looking Ahead: CX and Payments Are The Priority

In today’s pandemic world, companies need to prioritise CX strategy to build meaningful relationships with their customers and recover faster and stronger.

In addition to increasing efficiencies through process automation, businesses will be looking to those providers that can go the extra mile. Partners that offer flexibility, stability and help businesses to deliver a better experience for customers by adding value beyond its payment processes, will be the ones that thrive in this new reality.  

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