Having a global presence makes improving the customer experience a particularly interesting challenge. Indeed, studying user needs and behaviours exhaustively means finding a balance between global trends and local preferences.
Every country has its own characteristics in terms of digitisation, internet penetration and digital habits. Local economic, social and cultural factors also shape preferences, sometimes in surprising ways. Catering to visa applicants around the world means developing solutions that fit these different needs. In this context, gathering information about what users really want is crucial.
Segmentation Is the Way to Go
Market segmentation is a term that may seem alien in the context of a public service such as visa applications. However, once you are convinced that making the visa application process as smooth as possible is a valid objective, trying to reach that objective implies taking into account individual preferences. To go about that in a rational way means identifying groups of users that have similar behaviours and preferences, and tailoring the experience to those needs. This is what segmentation is about. But to identify relevant groups means thinking along several different lines:
- Geographic segmentation: there may be clear regional differences in terms of internet access. Connection speed is one factor, but the devices used to connect may also play a role. Local habits are also important. For example, are people used to seeking the assistance of specialised agencies when they travel, or do they prefer to do things on their own? Combining just these two factors means travellers from specific regions might need different levels of personalisation and assistance for their visa application.
- Demographic segmentation: younger travellers are likely to feel far more comfortable with online application processes, and may even wish for as much as possible to happen online. Older generations might be less comfortable and prefer face-to-face interactions for at least part of the process. Their reasons for travelling might be different as well: study visas, for example, typically concern very young adults far more than any other demographic.
- Behavioural segmentation: business travellers who make frequent international trips have different needs than students preparing a long stay abroad to study at a foreign university or older customers travelling for leisure.
At this stage, it becomes clear that segmentation can rest on several dimensions and lead to a myriad of user categories. It is therefore important to know where to draw the line to keep segmentation relevant.
Understanding Our Applicants
Geographical segmentation, in particular, can deliver insights into what kind of services to develop in which countries. Here are a few examples:
- In South-East Asia, the majority of people applying for tourist visas tend to travel in organised packaged tours. This represents a specific market requiring a tailored offer. In these countries, we work closely with travel agencies to facilitate group bookings in our Visa Application Centres (VACs). We also offer an on-demand ‘Apply Anywhere’ service, that allows all members of a group to do their biometric enrolment on the same day at an offsite location, such as a hotel, for example.
- In the Middle East and Africa, the trend is for more personalisation, particularly among higher income travellers, who prefer – and often expect – a high level of customer care, even if that means paying a supplement. Customers in these regions are generally more interested in our range of additional services, such as premium lounge or express courier return, to ease the application process.
- Finally, in other parts of the world, such as Russia, we have noticed that a sizeable proportion of would-be travellers have a strong preference for digital self-service. We have therefore developed digital in-VAC tools especially for them. QR-code ‘sign-ins’, for example, allow those applicants who have already provided all their supporting documents through our self-upload platform to join the queue for biometric enrolment without talking first to a welcome agent. We have also installed touchscreens that allow them to select and purchase additional services without assistance.
In order to gain an even finer understanding of our customers’ needs, we are currently harnessing the power of Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM), software developed by our sister company TP Knowledge Services. EFM allows us to send out questionnaires worldwide to visa applicants at chosen moments of their journey. Thanks to its industry-leading AI analytics engine, EFM is capable of processing thousands of answers to open-ended questions to determine user sentiment. This allows us to identify areas of satisfaction and, more importantly, areas where improvement is possible.
Appearances Can Be Deceptive
Relying on facts helps us to make more informed decisions regarding the online experience for visa applicants. User research has sometimes delivered surprising results. For example, 60% of our website usage happens on mobile devices. This is indeed consistent with data available on consumer behaviour in various countries. The latest statistics available on internet usage in Nigeria, for example, reveal that nearly 100% of people of age 16 and above own a smartphone, while only 53.1% own a laptop and 13.8% a tablet.
These figures justify our efforts in recent years to improve the responsiveness of our websites and implement a mobile-first approach to designing new web pages and online forms.
Digital vs Physical? The Customer Decides
What about the mix between online and offline in the visa application journey? Our feeling is that there needs to be more than one journey: multiplying touchpoints will ultimately allow visa applicants to choose for each step the environment with which they are most comfortable. In order to decide where to implement this kind of flexibility, reliable data is paramount. Which is why we are in a unique position to help our government clients meet the challenge of tailoring their visa application journeys to their own needs and to those of travellers to their country.
Article written by Graham Rigby,
Director Product & Marketing