“Innovative Technology to Improve the Passenger Experience” - An Interview with Nicholas Key

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“Innovative Technology to Improve the Passenger Experience” - An Interview with Nicholas Key

Executive Summary

As travellers become more sophisticated, their demands and expectations evolve. How can airlines enhance their passenger experience to keep up with changes in customer behaviour? Looking to the future, what innovative technologies will be a game changer? We speak with Nicholas Key, Co-Founder and Commercial Director of 15below to get his perspective on:

  • 3 challenges that airlines commonly face when improving passenger experience
  • How to overcome the above-mentioned challenges
  • Technologies that might revolutionise the travel experience over the next few years
  • What can Asian Airlines can learn from the Western market Read on further to learn what Nicholas has to say

Happy reading, World Low Cost Airlines, Asia Pacific Team

Based on your interaction with airlines, what are the 3 challenges that they commonly face when improving passenger experience?

1. Firstly I would say changing technology and behaviours: How many channels of communication does each person use today versus say 20 years ago? The world is changing fast with technological advances which have and will continue to hugely influence consumer behaviours. Print, voice and email are all still there but today it’s all about being mobile and social. The “always connected” passenger expects to have information at their fingertips but they also want a seamless experience between all these communication channels and various devices they now use. How do you keep on top of this, and give the customer the information they need, when they need, as they want to receive it? That is the challenge.

2. Complex ecosystem and legacy airline systems: Efforts to improve the passenger experience is often labour-intensive and costly. They don’t always have the tools to react quickly and pro-actively contact passengers throughout the journey. This is not only detrimental to the passenger experience but can also negatively impact their brand and the bottom line. Aside to this, you also need to listen to passengers whilst minimising operational overheads. It’s a case of trying to find the most cost effective way to utilise current systems to deliver manual and automated two-way communication so that staff can focus on the job in hand.

3. Social Media: This is a double-edged sword. Sure there is a benefit when you do things well and everyone praises you (or says nothing) but there can be a huge cost if you’re NOT delivering a good passenger experience. The infamous story about the musician’s damaged guitar whilst travelling with one major airline. Whilst the guitar was only worth $3500, it resulted in 13.3million hits on YouTube and a stockprice fall of 10% in 4 days costing shareholders $180 million in value. Coincidence? I don’t believe so.

What is your advice to the airlines in overcoming the above-mentioned challenges?

Partner with best-in-class travel-focused solution providersThese solution providers live, breathe and understand the complexities of the travel industry. Investing in the right tools, talent and technology, brings about happier staff, passengers and shareholders. Here are some simple ways to effectively manage both unplanned disruption and BAU (business-as-usual) passenger touch points: 

Find a system which offers the flexibility and functionality you need both today and in the future - A company which can serve the passenger throughout their journey to keep your supply chain simple as well as save you time, money and resource as your business needs evolve. As an example, 15below provides one common platform from which travel companies can pick and choose various products according to their needs – from Pre-Departure Communications and Disruption-based notifications to Flight Status and Queue Manager (their backend workflow management tool). One platform brings the benefits of a common UI and backend system, meaning it’s often a faster, more cost effective and less risky approach to implementing new passenger notifications products as and when your business needs them.

Automate processes where possible to reduce your overheads but also to allow your staff more time to focus on the task in hand – namely making money and keeping your passengers happy and loyal.

Personalise, personalise, personalise!

Manage travel disruption brilliantly - People have a great memory for when things go wrong and they’re likely to share their nightmare stories with anyone that will listen. It’s essential therefore, to have a system in place to proactively inform passengers of schedule changes and other unplanned disruption. Strikes, storms and security alerts happen, it’s how you manage them that matters. Don’t let your customer hear about it first on the news.

Don’t ignore the backend supporting systems – airline workflows are complex beasts which suck time and resource but with the right tools – such as 15below’s Queue Manager – you can filter, update and sort your PNRs quickly and easily. Work to make complex everyday activities, easy.

Communicate - “Staying informed is a passenger’s top priority” (SITA Passenger IT Trends Survey 2013). Keep connected to your passengers throughout their journey. Be their personal concierge – proactively inform them when plans change, help them when things go wrong, give them the information that they need, as they need it on the device they want to receive it on. Help them stay calm and reduce the stress of travel by delivering targeted and timely communications.

What do you think is the most important technology that might revolutionise the travel experience over the next few years?

IFE/IFC and wifi – not really a new technology, but being in-flight will no longer mean being in the ‘quiet zone’. Passengers will literally be ‘always connected’

Big Data – but only with the right systems to manage, interface and interpret the data to add value and not more noise. Call it ‘extreme personalisation of the entire travel experience’.

Google Glass and other experiential developments.

Google, Apple and other new players in the travel distribution market. Expect disruption.

Tablets for crew – and the real-time personalised information this will provide them – will airlines capitalise on this potential? I’m interested to find out how this will evolve.

What are some innovative technologies or products which have already been adopted by the airlines in western countries, that airlines in Asia can look at adopting in achieving the objective of improving passenger experience?

Automated voice communication (outbound IVR) is commonly used in North America as their primary communication channel. Get the right voice and system in place and this can provide a more personal service.

App Push and smartphone messaging is now pretty much the central point of an airline’s communication strategy, with email, print and more traditional channels being used to support the preferences of key customer demographics.

Personalised and targeted communications which push ONLY relevant content to your customers. Spam is a big no.

Automation of complex workflows which significantly reduce call centre handling costs.

Automated Flight Status messaging isn’t a “luxury” or “nice to have”, it is now essential to the efficient running of your airline operation.

As a traveler yourself, what would be one thing that you wish airlines will offer to enhance your travel experience with them?

Know me. Understand what I want when I travel for work and what I want when I travel for leisure. Understand that I’ve been travelling for 48 hours solid, am away from home and it’s my birthday – I want to feel special.

On the flip side to the above… please don’t stalk me.

Understand that I’ve not had the best journeys in the past 6 months – I’ve lost a bag, got delayed for 3 hours, and had a flight cancelled. I want you to know that I need some TLC and convincing you are still the right airline to fly with, but don’t expect me to relay this story to everyone in your company.

I want to enjoy travel like the good 'ole days where I don’t feel like I’m being herded around like cattle. Please make my experience as seamless and stress-free as possible. Offer me the information that I need – e.g. here are some travel tips for new destinations, what you need to take and do beforehand. Be my personal ‘virtual concierge’ that’s always there when I need you (but keep quiet when I don’t!)

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