The acquisition and interpretation of customer insight has become a key component of modern business strategy. In the era of customer-centricity, a company’s ability to adapt its services in line with emerging customer needs can mean the difference between securing a competitive advantage or simply standing still. But being truly customer-focused is a journey, not a destination – it requires the continued aggregation of detailed customer intelligence, and the ability to do something meaningful with it. Although developing the approach can present a major challenge, tools to support the initiative are rapidly establishing themselves. The implementation of A/B and multivariate testing strategies is increasingly being recognised as a critical activity as businesses seek to improve the customer experience and drive conversion. This is certainly the case in the travel sector, where significant growth in consumer use of the online channel has meant that companies that fail to optimise the customer’s journey ultimately risk going nowhere at all.

For Avis Budget EMEA, developing a better understanding of the Avis Car Rental customer experience using a powerful multivariate testing strategy is proving to be the right direction of travel.

Avis Budget EMEA is one of the leading providers of mobility solutions across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). The Company operates Avis Car Rental, one of the biggest names in the global car rental market, primarily serving the premium commercial and leisure segments of the travel industry. The business has rental locations at all the key travel hubs across the EMEA region. It also partners with travel agents to facilitate rental at the point of sale. But arguably its most important sales channel is the internet. Therefore, the customers’ experience in this channel is important to the growth of the brand and the need to optimise this experience is critical.

The complexities of the travel marketplace are such that developing customer understanding is arguably more challenging than in other industries. The average purchasing journey for a ‘travel’ customer is subtly different from those in more conventional markets. Generally, a standard online journey is product-led and centres around building a basket of purchases before culminating at the checkout. In travel, the customer journey begins with the provision of variable information around dates, locations, cars and extras, before drilling down into the vagaries of ‘product’.

For Avis Budget EMEA, optimising such a complex journey against the backdrop of a broad cultural customer demographic across a wide geographical expanse dictated the need for an optimisation partner that not only had technical expertise, but also had experience in the travel sector.

In May 2012, Avis Budget EMEA chose to partner with Maxymiser to develop a long-term Avis customer optimisation strategy for its B2C market, using A/B and multivariate testing. The primary objectives were to enhance the customer experience and increase conversion.

“The business is constantly striving to improve its customer focus,” says Ben Stephenson, eChannel Manager, Avis Budget EMEA. “Our whole ethos is to be ‘customer-led, service-driven.’ From an online perspective, we believed that the most obvious way to focus on the customer was through multivariate testing – to ensure that our Avis websites are performing as well as they can for our customers. Our partnership with Maxymiser very quickly enabled us to capture these customer insights.”

Historically, Avis Budget EMEA had based web development decisions on a combination of its own online analytics system, regular activity monitoring to identify drop-out rates and internal opinion. “Our strategy had been to identify site areas where we perceived there to be customer issues, develop proposals to address them, and then consult our country stakeholders for an opinion,” says Mr. Stephenson. “We’d then adapt the proposals and invest in the development. Since partnering with Maxymiser, we now have customer insight and we can build business cases for future development with greater confidence.”

Avis Budget EMEA has so far focused its tests on the most significant – and indeed the most complicated – parts of its country sites; homepage, fleet, ‘Extras’ and check out. “For example, we’ve tested the checkout in the UK and ‘Extras’ in France,” says Mr. Stephenson. “The strategy is to identify the ‘winning experience’ in a local market, and then A/B test it in all the other markets. That will tell us whether it’s a winner at a regional level, or if it’s simply typical to a local market. From there, we can start personalising the Avis websites accordingly.”

One of the most productive campaigns to date has proved to be a multivariate test exploring the ‘Extras’ page. This is a key page within Avis’ booking process, offering customers the chance to augment their rental with ancillary items such as GPS, additional drivers and insurance. The test, which was conducted in France for two months, used a number of variants to examine whether the positioning, size and volume of product information would influence a users’ propensity to purchase. The ‘winning experience’, which is currently being served by Maxymiser, generated impressive results. It had a strong influence on the conversion of bookings with extras, yielding an uplift of almost 25%. Likewise, the individual conversion rates of sales for additional drivers, GPS and insurance all showed a clear increase on the default presentation.

“We have seen an increased click-through and, crucially, increased uptake in the different ancillary products we offer,” says Mr. Stephenson. “For us, it’s a great result because our basket value has increased. It’s also good news for our customers, because the improved experience means that they have booked their extras in advance of getting to the station, and don’t need to worry about anything when they get there.”

Tests on the homepages in both France and the UK have also led to subtle design changes and, in turn, improved usability for customers. For example, the addition of ‘tool tips’ to support users on the homepage has driven a significant increase in click-through, whilst adjustments to some of the form item headings have led to a healthy increase at the final checkout.

“These tests are really helping us understand the customer mindset,” says Mr. Stephenson. “And even in cases where tests have shown little discernable differences, the multivariate approach has delivered value – static results indicate that a page is working, enabling us to be efficient in investing our time and resources elsewhere.”

“Testing is steadily becoming the accepted methodology–we certainly couldn’t go back to the old way of working,” says Mr. Stephenson. “Without it, we would lose that all-important level of customer insight, and with it, the ability to adapt our online offering to suit customer needs. Maxymiser is providing a crucial evidence-base that allows us to make key design decisions and, moreover, build robust business cases for further investment in online resources.”

Maxymiser’s technology is undoubtedly providing a powerful platform to facilitate meaningful and productive change to Avis’ online operations. But the development of a strong, integrated partnership between both parties has been a clear value-add and central to the strategy’s success. “The Maxymiser account team was very quickly able to develop a testing strategy that reflected our sector-specific needs,” says Mr. Stephenson. “They have really got underneath the skin of how we work, what our aims are and how we want to get there. As a relationship, it really is a true partnership and it works extremely well.”

Being customer-centric is indeed a journey, not a destination. Clearly, multivariate testing is proving to be the right direction of travel for Avis Car Rental. It’s not only helping to shape the business’s online strategy, it’s putting its customers, quite literally, in the drivers’ seat.

Published on: 5:26PM on 28th October 2014