CEO of Booking.com Gillian Tans tells me the site’s success comes down to the culture of the company and its ability to evolve and innovate as customers and technology change. Ever since the travel retail firm’s inception its philosophy has been to constantly look at ways to improve processes for customers and build products which work for the cross-border market.
“Everything you see in Booking.com has gone through an experiment, otherwise it would not be live,” says Tans. “Everything we do we test. We have been extremely focused on data and customers – from the start of Booking.com we have been learning about what customers want and doing a lot of experimentation over what the customer likes.
“We have a very entrepreneurial culture. The idea is to improve the experience for customers and use data in decision making. We want to be globally scalable and locally relevant. We went cross-border early on and learned from other cultures. We learned how to deal with languages, with currencies.”
To help understand how customers from different parts of the world think, the e-commerce site has been using machine learning to analyse their behaviour through data. “Machine learning is throughout our business,” says Tans. “Anything we do will have an element of it.”
For example, data on what customers liked about certain destinations is collected. Machine learning will then study patterns in this data to give an overall picture of what people enjoy about a certain place. “We can feed that back to customers and help them make a better choice with their holiday,” Tans says. When a new customer looks at a certain destination on the site, goes the idea, they can then build up a picture of where to go shopping, where to find good food and what are the best cultural experiences at a destination from the data.
By doing so Booking.com has not only been able to offer customers a more bespoke experience at each destination, but has also been able to use the information to get ahead of the competition by being able to spot trends early on. Even before companies such as Airbnb had arrived on the scene, Tans tells me, Booking.com had already featured home-stay-style apartments and had non-hotel type stays because the firm’s data showed an increasing demand for them.
“We saw the trend growing and we also increased our investment to make sure we have our supply available for the customers,” she said. “The best way for us is to be a customer-first company – basically any technology which can help improve the experience for customers we will embrace, test and learn from. That is key to the direction we take.”
Technology is built so no matter where or how a customer books, Tans says, a consistent level of support is offered at any time during the day or night, regardless of where the customer is from or what language they speak.
In order to improve this experience for users, the company has also been looking into using artificial intelligence (AI) to help customer service. Says Tans: “If someone says they want to go to a weekend to Paris, as we already know a lot about our customers we can suggest the best choice [for that customer] in terms of what to do, where to go and how to travel there. But we think AI can really help in improving that for customers.”