According to IATA, 2017 is set to be another year of strong traffic growth with passenger numbers increasing at an exponential rate. For airlines and airports, there’s fresh urgency to scale infrastructure and technology to deal with increasing demand, without compromising the customer experience.
Earlier this year, we hosted a webinar discussing these questions, and more, as part of IATA’s Fast Travel initiative. Alongside XXL Solutions, Virgin Australia and Thomas Cook, we looked at what airlines can do today to smooth the customer journey and cut costs - the full webinar recording is available here.
In this follow-up interview with Ursula Silling, XXL Solutions, we look at the benefits of initiatives like Fast Travel and how it can help scale your business in an objective and sustainable way.
What are the key drivers for initiatives like Fast Travel?
“To put it simply, initiatives like Fast Travel are driven by customer demand. This demand, in turn, is influenced by mass changes in human behaviour - by changes in lifestyle, age, culture, technology and communication. It is a constant cycle in which technology influences behaviour and creates new expectations. These expectations then determine the future technologies we create and adopt.
Being competitive in this industry is about understanding your customer’s demand and what he or she assumes as a given, how this fits into the travel journey, and what is the fastest, most delightful, way to deliver this to them.”
Above results taken from the 15below Fast Travel Webinar Poll Q1: What are the key drivers for your fast travel development?
How else is customer demand driving changes in the industry?
“From an airline’s perspective, there’s been a monumental shift from ‘cost-first’ to ‘customer-first’ which is causing the whole industry to reassess customer experience. Considering recent events with the likes of United and Southwest Airlines, and the subsequent social backlash, it’s clear that there’s fresh demand for transparency that passengers, press and the public want to see.
Ultimately, it means customers have more power and choice to demand the services they want - and refuse the services and brands which do not meet their expectations.”
As you say, some of these changes are monumental shifts which airlines cannot afford to do slowly. What can they do to progress at a faster pace and keep up with customer demand?
“To start with, identify what success means for your specific business and market environment, and how you will measure it. It’s good to have big ambitions, but essential to have clear, well-structured priorities and actionable steps to pave the way.
Potential objectives could be:
Whatever your goals, they should reflect the needs of the customer as well as the company’s priorities. They should be accessible to everyone in the business – not just a few in the boardroom.
It’s also important to understand that the basics can sometimes have the biggest impact. I have seen many cases where companies introduce more complex solutions like airport self-service kiosks when something simple like a mobile check-in option was all the customer wanted.
For airlines to succeed in Fast Travel – or any future initiative – it often requires changes to the internal culture of the organisation too. A sense of drive and commitment to overcome “challenges of the past” must be embedded across all teams. Silos must be broken so everyone in the business can be, and can feel, involved in some way.”
Setting objectives can be a challenging task when there are so many stakeholders and departments. Is this something you have seen airlines struggle with in the past?
“Objectives should always come back to the airline’s vision – what they want to stand out for, and what they want to achieve. It is too easy to get distracted by subjective experiences. If you can quantify the main pain points or main opportunities as a result of customer feedback, you can build a strong business case and create focused, tangible goals. Everything should hang from this, and Fast Travel initiatives are no different.
We recently consulted with an airline who were looking to improve their commercial performance. Initially, they were looking at catering, in-flight retailing and Wi-Fi - big projects requiring significant investment and management time. But this was not based on customer feedback. They had never asked if this was what the customer wanted.
How did you help the airline understand the customer’s needs and expectations?
“First, we gathered insight around customer sentiment to benchmark performance. This was done by introducing Net Promoter Score to identify customer expectations and create a measurable score to mark success.
We then benchmarked this performance against competitors to identify key strengths, weaknesses and potential quick wins. And finally, we put more focus on analytics to track and understand how these initiatives impacted customer satisfaction and profitability.”
What learnings did this new customer insight provide and how did it influence the experience that was delivered?
“Using this insight, we identified key areas for improvement. First, it was essential to get the basics right and ensure the airline was providing clear communication to customers, starting with schedule change.
We also identified a need for mobile booking and mobile check-in. The airline was losing trust and vital business because customers were expecting this service and it wasn’t in place. Once we had implemented this, it laid a foundation for more automated processes like Auto Check-in or similar Fast Travel initiatives.”
Check back for Part 2: Using data and insight to structure and define a fast travel strategy.