As all travel professionals know, meeting traveler expectations is key to securing high levels of satisfaction, but tactics designed to impress and cultivate loyalty run the risk of missing the mark if they don’t understand and ‘speak’ to customers as real human beings. Sounds obvious, right? The fact is that many airlines are failing to recognize that efforts to improve the traveler experience only work if they’re highly relevant. To do so, they must also focus on customers as consumers rather than merely passengers passing through a specific window of time.
This year, we’re seeing three top trends shaping the travel experience – enhanced Personalization, Automation and Context. Together, they add further impetus for the travel industry to stop thinking about the passenger as somehow having a separate identity from the person they are in all other areas of their life. The smart money’s now on data that takes a people-first approach: creating and implementing data feeds that serve to keep them informed, solve their challenges and meet their needs long before they board and continuing long after they disembark the flight.
For marketers and tech innovators, the mindset is shifting from a passenger user persona to a much broader understanding for the traveling consumer as a buyer persona.
As a buyer, the consumer is considering their flight as part of a larger trip experience they’re planning, and that trip has an end purpose – either fun or business, maybe both.
Why the distinction of passenger vs. consumer matters
In what other exchange of money for a service does a customer walk away not knowing exactly what they’ve paid for? Most of our consumer behavior, and related expectations, are based on the model that ‘we get what we pay for.’ And if we don’t get it, we call, or we complain, or we rant on social media, but we can probably exchange the item or get a refund.
As a buyer of travel, the consumer still thinks the same way – and why wouldn’t they? – even though, as we’re all too aware, in the airline industry, with its numerous uncontrollable variables, it’s harder to meet that expectation.
When we get together with our customers at Cirium, we see travel providers, technologists and experience creators focused on achieving an improved passenger experience. It’s a great start. However, there is growing evidence for the industry to think more broadly, more holistically, to be relevant. That starts with considering the consumer beyond being a passenger on a flight, in an airport, or even when they are shopping for that trip.
If it’s not relevant, it’s practically spam
It’s hard to connect with a consumer and offer value in a dynamic environment if you aren’t aware of their current situation. A customer service reminder may be received as a positive if everything else in their day is going well. However, that same message, if delivered at the wrong time, or without awareness of an interruption to their trip, could really backfire.
1. Targeted Personalization
Personalization is hardly new. That said, consumer expectation has now raised the bar on the art of personalization. The bottom line is that customers – and most notably millennials – don’t want to be schmoozed, they want to be informed and expect the same customized experience from their chosen airline that they get from the likes of Netflix and Amazon.
The good news for airlines is that the opportunities for relevant personalization are legion. Online touch points allow airlines to make small customer experience improvements on a large scale — with tailored marketing campaigns or digital interactions such as greetings, reminders, and notifications — while offline touch points represent an opportunity for airlines to truly win over their customers with memorable, in-person experiences.
According to a report by eMarketer, striking the right balance and volume of personalized content – enough but not too much – is vital. And it’s also about proving an understanding of individual needs. In a recent survey by Salsify (January 2019), one in five respondents said when brands share or recommend relevant information and deals it makes them feel understood.
By building strong customer loyalty rooted in a personalized experience, airlines can drive greater revenues and competitive advantage than ever before.
2. Intelligent Automation
The adoption of Artificial Intelligence and cognitive technologies is set to go far beyond the now commonplace use of chatbots and virtual assistants used by many airlines and airports. It can streamline data to automate customer services, as well as aircraft maintenance and many other aspects of operation management.
Immersive customer experiences both in the terminal and in-flight will transform traveler experience beyond recognition, while blockchain technology will help improve passenger identification processes by reducing the need for multiple ID checks, improve ground operations and on-time departures.
Automated technologies delivering real-time personal data fused with historical data is what will make leading airlines smarter – those plugged into the purest and most dynamic data sources will be able to predict, say, do and recommend what the consumer wants and needs at the right time.
3. Dynamic Context
It’s time for airlines to get creative with customer data to deliver services with genuine wow factor. And so long as it isn’t ‘creepy’, customers will appreciate the attention. By integrating our data with individual passenger itineraries, we create predictive data and analytics capabilities that add a new layer to effective customer services.
Armed with comprehensive data feeds, our airline customers can send ultra-targeted marketing emails about their customers’ favorite destinations before they even think to travel. Then, during the booking experience, they can pre-populate forms with customer data and suggest relevant deals. Come departure day, customers are kept up-to-date before boarding a plane where the in-flight experience is personalized just for them. They can step off the plane knowing the whereabouts of their luggage and, if applicable, the status of their connecting flight — all before they get a warm email welcoming them to their destination.
And in the event of delay or disruption, this same level of detail enables our clients to alert their customers in real-time. By automatically monitoring for an available travel waiver, travel providers are now able to reduce friction and find the best alternate trip options for the individual traveler.
Relevancy means sourcing and delivering smart data that understands and addresses the entire customer journey.
It accounts for the traveling consumer’s wants and needs, and considers the real-time events, while also anticipating possible challenges impacting their experience every step of the way. The era of the passenger is gone, long live the consumer!