“Personalization” is the buzz word in travel marketing today. The goal is to connect with the individual traveler and offer a tailored experience. As McKinsey notes, "This issue of relevance in our era of instant gratification is particularly pronounced because consumers are bombarded with messages, most of which are off target. Personalization—the tailoring of messages or offers to individuals based on their actual behavior—promises to address this issue."
The irony is that technology is the best medium to do this - never before has technology and detailed customer data been so robust. We now have the ability to deliver tailored experiences to everyone. For airlines, the implications of this are profound. They translate directly into customer experience. After all, more personalized service can lead to better brand perception and engagement, culminating in new customers and increased loyalty.
Below are five airlines that have already taken the lead, innovating the way they interact with and deliver their services to customers through technology.
Qantas and Streaming
This February, Australian airline Qantas announced its partnership with Netflix, Spotify, and Australian TV app Foxtel to offer their streaming services as in-flight entertainment. Streaming availability to passenger devices is part of an in-flight change-up that includes a Wi-Fi upgrade that is ten times faster than existing Wi-Fi. The offerings will be rolled out to Qantas’ domestic flights and continue through the summer.
Though passengers need to have subscriptions to these services, Qantas’ partnership goes beyond today’s typical in-flight entertainment offerings. Wi-Fi services are often available as paid add-ons only and don’t always include streaming services. The move by Qantas reflects the fact that people rely more on their own devices for entertainment than what airlines provide.
JetBlue’s Free Wi-Fi
Speaking of Wi-Fi, JetBlue recently announced free Wi-Fi for all passengers on all flights. According to customer experience consultant Micah Solomon, JetBlue’s move is important for two reasons:
Streamlining is vital to the customer experience. This means removing all unnecessary obstacles and pain points. Before free Wi-Fi, customers would have to take out their credit card, enter their information, and repeat the process on every flight. Now customers simply need to turn on their devices to enjoy.
Pricing can have a serious effect on the customer experience. The psychology of pricing, irrational or not, can turn customers away if they feel they’re not getting what they deserve. Wi-Fi is a product customers feel should be included in their ticket price. While having customers pay for Wi-Fi is one way to make money, wouldn’t making it free help attract more customers?
Air New Zealand’s Oscar Chatbot
Entertainment aside, airlines like Air New Zealand are finding ways to use AI to improve customer experience. Bravo Oscar Tango (“Oscar,” for short), is a chatbot that answers commonly asked questions by customers. In true AI fashion, Oscar’s conversations will become more natural and helpful the more he interacts with customers.
Currently, Oscar can help with the Air New Zealand Lounge, Airpoints, and baggage questions. However, the airline hopes to eventually include him in the Air New Zealand Mobile app for voice and chat. The end-goal is to have Oscar recognize passengers and guide them through every step of the customer journey, from booking to finding a taxi to the airport.
Reorganizing at easyJet
Sometimes innovation comes in the form of company reorganization, as with British airline easyJet. Marketing communications head Ian Cairns moved to the newly created director of customer role, while digital head James Millett moved to the combined director of digital and marketing role.
The change-up came after the airline saw the growing demand for its digital services. Over the past year, easyJet’s site had 350 million visits, while its app achieved 15 million downloads. Mobile devices also accounted for 20 percent of the airline's bookings, highlighting the growing trend of completing everyday tasks on-the-go. The appointment of these two senior positions better positions easyJet to focus on improving digital and overall customer experience.
Virgin’s Superior UX
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of user experience design for websites and apps. Slick, intuitive interfaces make for a pleasing experience when booking flights or browsing FAQs. Virgin Airlines understands this unlike any other, which is why its website was featured by Clicktale as a master of the customer experience. (It will be intersting to see how Alaska Airlines incorporates Virgin's strong focus on customer experience.)
Virgin’s current website centers around a single page that takes users step-by-step through the booking process. The site is clean, features no ads or images, and very much resembles a mobile app. The UX overhaul paid off: Usertesting.com found that users of Virgin’s website felt the booking process was “streamlined and enjoyable.”
Airline Innovation— Flying into the Future
If the above examples have shown us anything, it’s that airlines have plenty of opportunities to innovate. We recommend airlines start with their strengths to identify opportunities for enhancing customer experience. How can you build on your great mobile experiences? What about the travel journey do your customers enjoy, and how can you take those strengths to the next level?
Air travel will always be needed, but airlines should never take their customer base for granted. Customers will turn to airlines who provide the best experience across their journey.