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21 September 2016 | Blog

Understanding your customer - Are you looking in the right place?

About the author:

Jerry Angrave is the Founder and Managing Director of empathyce a leading customer experience and professional development consultancy. He is also a regular customer experience speaker, sharing his insight on commercially related customer experience issues at events like the Aviation Festival and Passenger Terminal Expo.

In this article, Jerry lends his expertise to the customer feedback process for airlines; highlighting the opportunities presented by sites like TripAdvisor and Skyscanner, and why now is the time to get the customer experience right.

Only a small fraction of unhappy customers will complain directly - the silent majority, given a choice, will simply go to a competitor. 

No wonder airlines see customer feedback as a priority. A recent study by Invesp showed that 90% of customers read reviews before buying but 86% of them will hesitate if there are negative reviews. 

Structured feedback builds the foundation of commercial success

Reviews provide powerful evidence for change, leading to increases in retention and cross-sale opportunities. Get it right and commercial success will follow; load factors, revenue and dividends rise, whilst costs and competitive pressures fall. 

When airlines seek this customer feedback, are they looking for what they think should be there if everything goes as scheduled? Do they allow what’s most important to come to the surface naturally, even (especially) when things don’t go to plan? 

Building on customer data an airline already has, rating and reviews companies like Feefo can add depth and colour to our understanding of passenger issues, hopes and expectations. It’s now even easier for customers to leave genuine ratings and reviews, filling a rich reservoir of structured feedback highlighting opportunities for improvement. 

Unstructured feedback shows you what is most important to the customer

But customers are leaving unstructured, natural feedback too. They are sharing stories and reviews with friends, family and fellow passengers on social media, review sites like TripAdvisor and (most recently) Skyscanner. 

As in other industries, airlines need to look in the right place and have the flexibility to accommodate this invaluable, freeform feedback. I’ll pick a few to illustrate the point. 

Review Sites

Created by Skytrax, is an obvious starting point. Covering over 400 airlines worldwide, the reviews make it easy to benchmark customer expectations from 5-Star to 1-Star carriers. Airlines can compare and contrast reviews to understand what improvements are needed and where.

Airline Ratings, Airlines-Inform and AirReview also all document passenger perspectives. Some sites dedicate themselves to specific aspects of the customer experience - for example, this review of travelling with small children.

There are also sites specialising in assisted travel. Reduced Mobility and the Disabled Traveler provide specific, in-depth insights for those travelling with physical or mental disabilities. 


Of special note to airlines is the recent move by TripAdvisor, which now gives passengers the ability to search, compare, buy and review flights. With over 350 million unique users each month, its content and resulting influence cannot be overlooked. 

Along with an overall “out of 5” score and category-specific metrics, it allows customers to write, in their own words, what it is like to be on the receiving end of the service airlines provide.

Trust Pilot

Trustpilot is another way to understand the gritty reality of the customer experience, especially for online interactions. 

One retail company only realised its employees didn’t understand its policy changes by reading Trust Pilot reviews. And I know of at least one insurance company who now uses the Trust Pilot score as its key customer experience metric.

Social Media

Twitter, Facebook and WeChat are content-rich and provide opportunities for 1-1 dialogue with customers, but don’t ignore sites such as Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest either. 

YouTube helps create a greater ethnographic understanding. After Facebook and Google, it is the world’s 3rd most popular website; No surprise, therefore, that airlines can find personal diaries and videos uploaded by travellers.

Independent Research

Finally, there are independent studies from market suppliers such as this IBM report. Independent research like this highlights the opportunities for airlines in comparison to other sectors.

Build a holistic view of the customer experience, even if things don’t go to plan.

When combined with other information sources, unstructured reviews can reinforce what’s already known (or not known) from customer data and structured feedback.

This can reveal new customer experience trends unique to the airline, for example: passengers now expect disruption on a particular flight route due to experiencing multiple delays previously; customers want more information on SMS at certain points in the journey; or that by removing a previously manual task for the staff - e.g. schedule changes - customer satisfaction has improved too.

All of this information builds a holistic view of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of an airline’s service - providing evidence of brand sentiment and giving confidence that the right changes are being made.

And as more and more review sites, services and social media channels appear, the customer's voice gets louder. Getting the customer experience right today means if something does go wrong in the future, there is enough goodwill in the bank to earn a second chance.