Navigating the New Normal of Airline Customer Experience in 2023 and Beyond

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Customer journey in the travel industry, especially airline customer experience, has undergone a significant shift in the last couple of decades. Planning to travel is no longer about finding a few brochures or choosing a destination, finding a travel agent, and finalizing your booking. We’re in 2023 and customers in the travel sector have exposure to multiple channels through multiple devices, delivering a wide array of services, making their life easier and their travel experience smoother.

As a growing business in the travel industry, it’s all about making an impression in the heart and mind of your customer. This is where Customer Journey Mapping comes in.
Customer journey mapping can help travel businesses get an in-depth and valuable understanding of their customers and how you can improve their overall customer service experience with your brand.

Airline Customer Experience & Journey Mapping – What is it?

Airline Customer Experience & Journey Mapping is creating a blueprint of the customer journey right from the point of how airline passengers make flight bookings. The initial research phase where the customer finds the airline’s website or app, or books the flight ticket using a third party platform is where this journey mapping begins. After this comes mapping of the various touchpoints the customer goes through until the point of completing their travel.

Why Does Customer Experience in the Airline Industry Matter?

According to a report, every US airline is losing up to $1.4 billion by not improving their Customer Experience (CX).

There is an important difference between good customer experience and the right customer experience. Delivering the right Customer Experience in the airline industry is a 5-step process –

1. Define Your Goal

Identify and define your Customer Experience (CX) goal that is aligned with your customer’s needs and your business goals in the airline industry.

2. Define Your Value

Define the value and the airline customer experience you aim to deliver to your existing and potential customers.

3. Identify Your Capabilities

Identify the capabilities you need to have to deliver the customer service experience and your brand value to your customers. Once this is established, find the tools to build those capabilities.

4. Measure Your Results

Define the process of monitoring and measuring the results of your delivered Customer Experience (CX) using proven customer experience analytics methods and tools.

5. Invest & Track

Continue to invest in the process of enhancing your airline customer experience (CX) and keep track of your progress.

Airline Customer Journey – Down to the Basics

The customer journey and customer service experience of an airline customer is rather long and sometimes full of unforeseen twists and turns. Let’s take a look at a typical airline customer experience, step by step.

Step 1 – Destination Research

The airline customer journey begins with the research phase, where the customer begins an online research of the choices of their travel destinations, the best time to visit these destinations, and so on.
Airlines do play an important role even in this phase by creating a digital journey for your potential customers in the form of attractive deals & offers for selected destinations, coaxing the customer to not only select that destination but also that airline.

Step 2 – Digital Attraction

The digital journey continues in this stage where the airline brand or the third party platform attracts customers through emails, different forms of ads, social media channels, and so on. Through these means, brands do not just try to make the passenger book a ticket, but also inspire them to take advantage of other ancillary services provided by the respective airlines.
These ancillary services include seat upgrades, priority services, lounge access, in-flight meals, extra baggage, travel services for an unaccompanied minor, services for pet travel, and everything else to make their travel experience smoother and hassle-free.

Step 3 – Finding the Flight

Once the research phase is over and the destination is finalized, your customer will start looking for the airlines that will offer them the best-suited flight route, along with the best flight fare deal and the most reliable flight experience.

The natural progression from here on could be that the customer either looks for the flight options on the search engine, look for options on a third party travel website, or an airline’s official website. The official website typically comes into the picture, this soon on a customer journey, when the customer is particularly loyal to a specific airline or has signed up for a loyalty program with an airline.

Another new age option that comes in on this step of the customer journey is an airline assistance customer service number that operates 24×7. This option is essentially a hybrid of the traditional and the technologically method of providing customer service in the travel industry. The beauty of this kind of airline customer experience is that the customer is attended to at their convenience, as and when required and for whatever information or flight travel assistance they might need, all by an actual human being. The human touch ensures that the customer feels heard and understood by all means, without having to worry about any wait time.

Step 4 – At-Destination Research

Once the flight bookings are taken care of, their next step for an airline industry customer is to do in-depth research about the things they can do and the accommodations they can stay at once they arrive at their destination.
There are a number of platforms that provide the resources and means to take this step for customers in the travel industry. The digital journey that these platforms provide also add value to the overall experience of your customer, especially when this destination is promoted by you as an airline.

Step 5 – Ancillary Services

A popular airline in the United States announced the launch of a new service that provided personalized hotel, car rental, and other attraction recommendations to their customers. This definitely marked, what looks like, the beginning of a revolution in the airline’s customer journey.
Apart from the in-flight ancillary services, customers can purchase other travel-related ancillary services through various airlines or third party platforms today. Airlines who facilitate this can enhance the overall airline customer experience that they aim to deliver.

Step 6 – Loyalty Programs

Loyalty programs are one of the major revenue generators for airlines. These programs are especially beneficial for businesses or frequent travelers as delivering prompt and high-quality services to their loyalty members is non-negotiable for an airline business. Airlines continuously strive to enhance the airline customer experience of their loyalty members, at both physical and digital touchpoints.

Step 7 – Booking Management

Managing an existing airline booking is a phase that comes in for most customers at some point in their customer journey. They may need help with making changes in their flight booking, including additional baggage on their ticket, check-in, selecting your seat, and more. Easy booking management is an extremely crucial step when designing a seamless airline customer experience & journey.
A product design that is not user-friendly or has technical errors can make it tiresome for an airline customer to effectively and effortlessly manage their flight bookings, especially considering that the majority of times these are time-sensitive activities.

Step 8 – Privacy & Security

Protecting sensitive passenger information, account details, and their loyalty awards is something that airline companies give extreme importance to, in order to make their customers feel safe & secure throughout their digital journey with the airline.

Step 9 – Airport Counters & Kiosks

Airline customers need to feel in control of their traveling experience while minimizing the need for human intervention and human contact.
For instance, airport kiosks that enable passengers to check their baggage, print their boarding pass, and proceed for security check is a game changing airline customer experience.

Airline Customer Experience & Digital Journey

Especially since and after COVID-19, passengers everywhere prefer to manage their entire travel digitally, with minimum human contact in proximity. Airline travel management through a website, app, or a kiosk is the new normal. These multiple avenues have opened up many opportunities to optimize the customer’s entire digital journey.

An airline customer experience is filled with physical and digital touchpoints. While the physical touchpoints continue to be managed flawlessly through the years, the digital ones are obviously gaining increasing preference and thereby the need for more innovation in the field. With digital CX as a leading priority, airline customers prefer using airlines that provide the best balance of physical and digital Customer Experience put together.

Enhancing customer experience in the airline industry and delivering a seamless digital journey to your customers is a process filled with many opportunities, owing to the advanced tools & technologies. Applications, websites, kiosks, and multiple other digital channels need to be instant, hyper-personalized, intuitive, easy to use, end to end, and seamless to create value in the customer’s brand experience and digital journey.

1. Seamlessness

According to a 2020 report, passengers prefer digital customer experience to a face-to-face experience with an airline representative, and the trend is only growing in 2023. Customers are looking for an extremely seamless customer experience across digital channels, be it phone, website, app, kiosks, or customer support.
This calls for a deep analysis and understanding of your customer’s digital behavior and strategizing your product & services accordingly.

2. Digital Upselling

Effective digital upselling of upgrades, priority services, extra baggage and more is an important revenue generating opportunity for airlines. This requires an in-depth understanding of your customer persona, customer experience, and customer behavior, and designing an effective digital product that enables this.

3. Loyalty Points & Awards

Accumulated airline points and rewards are a crucial decision-making element for airline customers; the decision being whether or not that customer wants to make a purchase with that airline. Loyalty programs play a vital role in maximizing the revenue opportunities for airline businesses and delivering value to their customers and enhancing the customer experience.

Conclusion

Considering the importance of the digital customer experience of the entire customer journey, airlines need to start re-prioritizing the way they understand their customer and manage the CX.
With advanced technology at their disposal, airlines can now harness the power of real-time customer behavior insights, minimize digital friction across channels, respond better, and last but definitely not least, foster digital relationships and reputation.

Manish Tahiliani
A multi-dimensional, revolutionising leader with a pragmatic approach & a keen appetite for challenging opportunities. Excellent conceptual and analytical skills, ability to lead cross functional multi-geography teams and achieve great business results across varied categories & challenges. I've created everything from digital strategies for Fortune 500 Technology companies to experiential strategies stimulating tremendous business growth. Currently in relationship with powerful B2B sales and marketing teams, setting up and deploying AARRR processes with conviction, positive mindset.

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