Digital Customer Experience – Execution plan for Airlines

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Recently, my article on Tnooz about Big Data’s role in increasing airlines ancillary revenues, published on a Thursday, went on to become the most commented article for the week on Tnooz. And almost all the comments were NOT around ancillary revenues. And no one cared about Big Data, either…. The readers seemed to care less about how airlines could make more money and were more interested in how they, as passengers, could get more leg room, transparent fees, friendly staff and value for services like cost sensible movies and on-board meals. There seemed to be general dissatisfaction about the state of customer experience for airlines.

The travellers today display a sense of mistrust towards the airlines, as an industry. Paying exorbitant prices for fairly trivial requests and being humiliated in condescending manners (extreme example – being called Stupid), the air-travellers seem to be frustrated with the poor treatment provided by their Airlines. Constantly changing prices, in the name of revenue management, further reduce visibility to the prospective traveller for his/her frequent destinations. There seems to be a market need for Airlines to embark on a Customer Experience Transformation journey, if they want to regain customer trust while aiming at profitability levels similar to related industries (like Online Travel Agencies and Hotels). CustomerThink, Temkin Group and Forrester have done a great job of defining customer experience and its business value. And airlines must serve enhanced experience to their complaining customers as no passenger is statistically insignificant. However, firstly I want to mention two basic guidelines for any new business initiative

1. It isn’t worth doing, if it isn’t going to make money, and

2. You cannot manage what you cannot measure

Industry players like Oracle are doing a great job at defining the impact of customer experience. Forrester has a recurring report on the Business Impact of Customer Experience, the 2013 version due anytime soon. Then there is Temkin Group’s ROI of customer experience and Watermark Consulting’s ROI of a great customer experience . All these prove that customer experience indeed makes money.

So are the Airlines doing it?

Airlines – as an industry – generally fare poorly in most Customer Experience reports when compared to other industries, further echoing the views of most passengers today. Bruce Temkin wrote a very interesting piece on “American Airlines + US Airways = Worst Customer Experience” similar to Annette Gleneicki’s Two wrongs don’t make it right while AA just spent money buying 17,000 Galaxy tabs hoping to improve its customer experience through staff enablement. So there seems to be intent but where’s the execution? Bob Thomson wrote a thought-provoking piece on Ryanair’s Customer Experience (or should I say its utter lack of). There’s an actual time-value calculation for flying Ryanair on Ourpax.com showing how it costs more money to fly with Ryanair than full service airlines given its poor customer experience.

So if it makes money, and they want to do it – why are the Airlines not doing it?

Personalised Customer Experience – easier said than done, seems to suffer from two major problems. How do airlines define, measure and manage it? And what can Airlines do to improve the quality of their customer experience without breaking their back in terms of investments required?

Forrester’s well-known Outside In approach and Temkin’s Four Core competencies give ample insights into how to implement Customer Experience strategy for competitor differentiation. Additionally, there seems to be a need for how to measure it? Here the airlines should breakdown the big problem into smaller components. An Airline can breakdown its overall customer experience into sub-categories like Digital Experience – Anywhere the customer is interacting with technology of your company like websites, Inflight Entertainment Terminals, Self-Service Kiosks, mobile apps, etc. Airlines should strive to create the ultimate digital experience in conjunction with their own customer experience journeys and customer experience touch-points. For e.g. if you as an Airline want to fix your Digital Experience before embarking on an organisation wide change, then get hold of your IT department, define your Digital Experience metrics that you want measure and improve upon from a user experience perspective, set benchmarks and execute for each touch-point. For e.g. for your website:

· How long does it take for a customer to book a ticket online on your website? How does it compare to booking on Expedia.com?

· What is your view-to-book-ratio?

· What percentage of your bookings is direct versus travel agents? Who are your top 2000 online spenders? What did you do last for them? (CRM is a subset of CX) when did you last speak to them?

· Is your booking process personalised? Optimised? Fun?

· Where is the point of most abandonment in your booking process?

Surprisingly you might find that sometimes hefty investments are not even required to make leaps and bounds in progress. May be just a little re-orientation and a little re-prioritisation in what you were already planning to do.

So if it makes money, and they want to do it but are not, then how should the Airlines do it?

In my prior encounters, Digital Experience is always the easiest to tackle than other types of customer experience. Digital touch-points are monitor-able making them measurable and manageable. Start off by making the website booking flow smooth and pleasurable, follow it up with self-check-in improvements both online and at kiosks, look at streamlining your IFE experience and your mobile app. Before you know it simple user-flow improvements would be giving you additional revenues through improved word-of-mouths and improved cost efficiencies through improved utilisations.

So a customer experience transformation journey can indeed begin for any airlines, without the need for substantial upfront investment as long as there is a little strategic alignment and a little will to differentiate. With small baby steps a long fruitful journey can begin and it can happen today – profitably!

Abhishek Singh
Currently, Abhishek holds the responsibility for conceptualizing, implementing and managing the IT product strategies for Infosys subsidiary, EdgeVerve, in the Digital space. Prior to this, several years at Singapore Airlines as well as his years of entrepreneurship ingrained in him the importance of customer experience.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great thoughts Abhishek. Managing the customer experience can indeed help airlines go a long way in terms of regaining the lost trust. It is not the big investments that is the need of the hour for the airlines but a sound strategy towards having an ear on the ground and improving the experience levels for its valued customers

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