Maintaining the Customer Experience Online and On-Board

Today’s travellers are plugged in to an always-on digital environment, creating new opportunities for travel retailers. How are airlines leveraging omni-channel strategies to provide a consistent customer experience, both online and on-board?

This guest blog post from Amanda Campbell, Marketing Communications Director, OpenJaw Technologies looks at how airlines are using omni-channel strategies to improve on-the-spot customer service, optimize interactions on small screens, and simultaneously protect passengers’ data and privacy while using it to personalize the travel experience.

One of the defining characteristics of today’s lifestyle is the always-on digital landscape. Readily accessible via a multitude of devices, digital connectivity empowers consumers to have a conversation, share an experience, find out more information, solve a problem or make a purchase – instantly – regardless of physical location or time of day.

What does this omni-present digital landscape mean for the travel retailer?

In my opinion, it provides travel companies and brands with opportunities to connect with customers by being present, being relevant and delivering real value when it matters the most to customers. Accomplishing these goals takes a three-step approach: recognising customers; using data to provide insight into their needs; meeting their individual needs across devices, touchpoints and channels. In short, it’s the adoption of an omni-channel commerce strategy.

The hardware and technologies already exist to make omni-channel commerce strategies a reality for the travel retailer, even though the travel industry has been slower than high street retailers, such as Walmart and John Lewis, to embrace the benefits.

The topic Maintaining the Customer Experience Online and Onboard, was discussed at Sept. 16 roundtable hosted by Mark Lenahan, VP Product Strategy, OpenJaw Technologies at the Aviation Festival in London. The event provided a view of the current airline zeitgeist around omni-channel experiences.

Three main themes emerged from the roundtable discussion:

1. Customer Service & Disruptions: The Self-Service Opportunity

How airlines can provide better customer service at passengers’ time of need was a recurring subject throughout the discussion.

Airlines can reduce the impact of disruptions, delays, cancellations and customer service challenges if they are able to recognise issues as they arise and provide support by turning to the same mobile technologies and interactions their customers already embrace.  This is especially relevant when service interruptions, some of which can impact hundreds of passengers at a moment’s notice, must be handled on the ground by a small team of staff or crew.

Technology exists for airlines to recognise and communicate with passengers, provide them timely information, support automatic rebooking, and facilitate self-service so that travelers are empowered to help themselves.

This is supported by recent SITA  research showing that 76% of passengers use airline apps, and more than half prefer to rely on their smartphones for flight updates and travel information over customer service agents.

Embracing a mobile, self-service mindset also helps resolve another challenge for airlines: recovering from unsatisfactory service incidents quickly.

Already cognizant that service recovery is more effective and less expensive the sooner it occurs, airlines can rely on an omni-channel strategy — supported by a single-customer-view of the customer across multiple flights — to unlock customer service opportunities seamlessly. For example, a disrupted customer on an outbound flight can be provided with instant vouchers or bonus gifts (e.g., a complimentary glass of champagne or snack) on the return flight. Doing so, of course, requires supportive technologies and data to make this holistic view of the customer available.

2. The Small-Screen User Experience: The Mobile Web/App Debate and the Demise of the IFE

What is the best way to deliver mobile user experiences, both online and on-board?

Roundtable discussions on this topic noted that responsive mobile websites have advantages to apps, in that they can receive search traffic and do not need to be downloaded. Mobile apps’ advantages, on the other hand, include the fact that they are always present on passengers’ devices, can be used to identify customers who remain “signed in”, can support two-way communications, and can store pertinent data (itineraries, boarding passes) even when Wi-Fi and connectivity are not immediately available.

Roundtable participants tended to embrace a hybrid middle position, which includes support for a service that features responsive web features for shopping and booking, but embeds this functionality as a browser window within a mobile app in order to leverage the user interface (UX) investment across multiple platforms.

Additionally, some airlines are considering removing in-flight entertainment systems from the cabin altogether because nearly every passenger now carries some type of mobile screen with them (and many carry more than one). This thinking is based on the fact that passengers increasingly watch content on their own devices, and supported by the reality that removing bulky IFE equipment from aircraft could reduce costs (less fuel, equipment and service) as well.

As onboard internet service becomes increasingly commonplace, it would be to the airline’s advantage for customers to interact with the airline’s mobile app stored on their devices. Key to maintaining the customer experience online and on-board, of course, will be the ability to maintain customer identity at any touchpoint.

3. Passenger Data and Airline privacy: Finding the Balance Between Too Much and Too Little

If customer service, communications, transactions and ancillary activities gradually shift to the mobile environment, so must the data that makes them all possible. And with data comes concerns about privacy: How much data is too much? How much will passengers willingly share? How can airlines best take advantage of data?

Airlines can focus on creating satisfactory passenger experiences based on known data: passengers’ food or seating preferences, for example, or frequency of travel, loyalty program status, birth date or pending customer service issue. In fact, airline customers expect the airline to know and use the information they have shared with them. But the overuse of information gleaned through third-party/partner channels (e.g. what type of handbag I purchased in Duty Free) will feel intrusive to passengers.

In an omni-channel environment, finding the balance between too much and too little is key – the perfect combination of pertinent data points so that passengers feel appreciated and accommodated, not targeted or vulnerable. Having access to omni-channel customer data across the journey also helps airlines meet their stated goal of maintaining the customer experience online and on-board.

And finally…

Omni-channel strategy, enabled and driven by the proliferation of connected devices, is changing global commerce. In this environment, an omni-channel mindset can support an airline’s most important objectives: helpful customer service, timely communication and seamless travel experiences. It also provides beginning-to-end opportunities for revenue generation – a topic which will be explored in future posts.

About the author: Amanda Campbell is Marketing Communications Director at OpenJaw Technologies. OpenJaw is a leading travel technology partner which helps airlines, OTAs and loyalty programs excel at retailing travel products online.