By Al Tredinnick
Head of Business Development, 15below
In the age of customer experience (CX), forward-thinking airlines are recognising the need to empower travellers by providing them with the option to self-serve when their flight is disrupted. However, the best airlines will not lose sight of the fact the human touch also remains essential at key points in the passenger journey.
I recently appeared alongside several industry experts in a panel discussion on Intelligent Irregular Operations at the IATA Aviation Data Symposium in Athens where we discussed the fact that airlines can no longer afford to ignore self-serve.
Self-serve is now seen by passengers as the norm with 46% of people expecting automated rebooking and new boarding passes and a further 26% wanting meal vouchers. This means airlines that have still not invested in the technology required to supply self-serve options are likely experiencing a negative impact on their reputation - and customer loyalty as a result.
Because we live in a world where technology allows us to get so many things instantly at the push of a button, having to phone into a call centre or queue to speak to customer service staff at the airport is now almost unthinkable for your passengers. It’s going to be more than just an inconvenience – it will impact their perception of your brand. Your passengers want to be able to take control of their journey when things go wrong; and that includes selecting alternative flights, changing elements of their itinerary, or requesting a refund. And this now needs to be possible via their preferred channel, whether that is email, SMS, social platforms or via your app. Passengers expect to be presented with a range of resolutions designed to suit their circumstances.
And it’s not just when a flight is delayed or cancelled that self-serve is key. Similarly, you can’t expect passengers to queue up at a desk to find out what has happened to their baggage. In that scenario, airlines need to be sending proactive notifications offering delivery options.
It’s fantastic to see that so many of the world’s top airlines have moved away from a one-size-fits-all approach to disruption management and are now innovating so that they can provide a personalised response that meets the precise needs of their customers.
David Kershaw, Portfolio Director Airport Passenger Processing at SITA, joined me on the panel in Athens and believes a mobile-led approach is the best way to deliver personalised service that builds customer loyalty – even when things go wrong.
“The future is all about mobile devices. Mobile will transform today’s self-service touchpoints and airport infrastructure and, as a result, allow airlines to provide a far more seamless experience that is pushed through devices during both times of disruption and normal operations,” David said.
“Self-serve is already moving on to tablets and phones and this is a trend that will continue. This offers opportunities in the way airports of the future are laid out. I expect to see less fixed furniture and far more mobility for everyone involved.
“Instead of queues in front of counters, you’ll see individuals using their own devices to find quick and satisfying resolutions as situations develop.”
However, while automated self-serve platforms and chatbots will become standard across the industry, human intervention is still integral at certain points in the customer journey.
Managing and filtering data to trigger the sending of personalised messages at the perfect moment in a passenger’s itinerary brings so many advantages to both airlines and their customers, but at 15below we still advocate involving humans – typically at the beginning and end of processes.
As a general rule, if a process needs a human to push a button for it to work, it will be horribly inefficient and expensive if you are dealing with a large number of passengers. But humans still have a slightly different role to play in modern customer communications.
After all, you still need to train your chatbot to understand the nuances of your service and the way you want to interact with your passengers, and you’ll still want to feed the platform certain information each time to ensure contextual personalisation.
My communications checklist for airlines looking to support passengers through an act of disruption is:
Guy Kavanagh, Service Development - Airlines at Amadeus, was also on the panel and gave a fantastic insight into how data holds the key to delivering a truly personalised response to disruption.
“We see airlines that want to develop a more personalised approach to handling passengers. As a bare minimum it’s expected that the airline will understand and consider the entire journey of the passenger, as well as any special requirements or needs that the customer has,” Guy explained.
“In addition, the airline should be able to take into account the previous experience of the passenger, i.e. have they already been disrupted and what (if any) the recovery actions and compensation have been. We are working to enable this to be taken into account in the decision-making process and visible to all the touchpoints that the passenger may have with the airline, at least removing the need to re-explain the situation to each new person that they interact with.”
The data-led approach to automated communications has increased the importance of airlines securing accurate contact details for all passengers; an issue the recent update to IATA 830d aims to support. It’s also crucial that your airline validates and cross-references contact data to enable you to reach as many passengers as possible in one easy send.
If you’d like more information about how we can bring self-serve to your airline to delight your customers and help you achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency, get in touch and we’ll be happy to give you a personalised tour of the solutions we offer.