Customer Experience for Airlines


Few days back, thanks to surprisingly less traffic, I checked in early at the airport. Since I had time to kill and the domestic Delhi airport has nothing great to offer in terms of shopping / killing time, I too indulged in the favorite pastime of the nation, or maybe the world, I dare say - Mobile internet (social and search)
What caught my attention was the OTA (Online Travel website) banner ad that kept following me. I knew it was because, I had searched for the flight details and fare on their website a few days back, and the cookies were re-targeting me, etc. Couple of thoughts crossed my mind

  1. Why were the OTA digital marketing team wasting their ad budget following a 'dead' prospect. I mean, they do not know that I've purchased the ticket from some other place (in my case, directly from the airline website). I had put my date of travel on their website, why didn't the re-targeting ads stop a day before my date of travel. From my past experience I know that these ads are going to follow me for the next few weeks, wasting ad impressions and budget. This lead to my second thought
  2. What could the larger role of digital be in a customer journey and how an airline can make use of technology to enhance customer experience?


A traveler's user journey can be divided into 4 stages


Pre booking
Even before the celebrated First Step in every journey, it all beings with a want or a need. The triggers for want to travel could social media, friends, recommendations, interest, etc. The need to travel (especially air travel) could be based on convenience, speed, option (or lack of it), etc. Be it a want or need, the natural progression of satisfying the want or need would be to search for the best available options - either a travel website (trip advisor), OTA websites, search engine recommendations, etc. Not to forget the emails and WhatsApp chat, etc., with friends and family along the way. The cookie based (re)targeting, dynamic and customized communication, etc., are effective ways of keeping the user engaged. 

Booking & Pre travel
The user experience during booking (through website or app) is something that most businesses have focused on and got it right to a large extent. The search, choice, and purchase are seamless in most instance. Even small things like, the passbook (iOS) integration are helpful. In fact, in some instances, you can book a flight ticket under 2 minutes! Airlines could go a step further by having strategic partnerships with hotels, banks (currency exchange/ travel cards, etc.) to help their customers have a seamless international travel experience. Even non-basic stuff like Duty Free comparison would be a helpful option as part of customer experience.

Travel
The only thing that I see most airlines offer currently as part of travel stage is the web check-in. There is huge opportunity to enhance customer experience in this stage. Right from integrating with a cab aggregator for airport drop, to cabin luggage estimator (dimensions would be easy, but knowing the weight will be helpful);  Using NFC, Bluetooth / Beacons, IoT,  technologies  we can create geo-fencing inside the terminals, integrate digital signages, luggage/baggage tracker all can enhance the travel experience. Enriching the experience further could be airport terminal shopping experience - best deal offers, getting to choose the on board entertainment, cuisines,  special requests…all can be  handled using technology.

Post travel
The check-out services like visa (on arrival), immigration services is a useful feature as part of the traveler's journey. The experience can end on a high note by  helping the user hail a cab to the hotel/destination where they want to go.

It is high time airlines look at reinventing the way they see a 'customer journey'. Airlines should aspire to be Starbucks, by being in the business of experience than just selling a travel option. Delivering a good customer experience is a challenge, but technologies are making it feasible and affordable.

What do you say? Do you think you'd love to see an airline offering such an experience?? Love to hear your thoughts on it.

Cheers!
Santosh

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