Ai Editorial: Airlines and customer-centricity - do focus on unique challenges and people

First Published on 6th October, 2017

Aspects like an airline’s business continuity or the organizational structure are often cited as major roadblocks to being data-centric, be it for customer service or retailing, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Every interaction – be it via app/ website, self-service kiosks or staff at the airport, a chatbot etc. – matters today.

Airlines, just like any other e-commerce organisation, are gradually finding ways to work out a single view of the customer.

As it turns out, more than any investment, any data-centric platform, any IT-related move etc., it is the entire organisation that has to come around and ensure that every data trail is being capitalized on.

Aspects like business continuity or the current organizational structure, including unique challenges posed the way a majority of airlines are run, are seemingly the major roadblocks to being data-driven. Of course, extracting data out of transactional systems associated with airlines is one area that can’t be ignored, too. But equally important is the tendency of airlines not to embrace change. It needs to be countered.

Taking “digital” out of shadows

Airlines executives themselves are probing critical areas – is it time for airlines to split digital commerce from operations? Is an ecommerce/ digital business sitting under the same roof as operations curbing customer-centricity and data-driven retailing at airlines?  Airlines need to take the quantum leap into the future, combating organizational/ cultural defiance, limitation of this industry’s legacy technology and operational silos.

Nik Laming, GM - Loyalty Division at Philippines’ carrier Cebu Pacific Air believes that these businesses will more often be physically split into an operating business and more of an Uber- or Airbnb-style business, which is very focused on e-commerce. This would pave way for businesses to be quick enough, innovative enough without the operational concerns to respond to the new market conditions and harness them for profit. “ When there is supposedly an ecommerce/ digital business sitting under the same roof as the operational business it tends to be get slowed down, caught up in procedures and processes that weren’t  designed for nimble and disruptive growth, but were rather designed for operational delivery, regulated delivery where it not about speed, but it’s about accuracy, and quality and safety.”

Being pragmatic

Today the whole talk around digital transformation is being scrutinized minutely. Every airline’s journey is different. But there are some key lessons and recommendations that are emerging from experienced professionals:

·          Any change, right from sharing a mission and goals, needs to be top-down driven, with incisive leadership laying a strong foundation. “The executive leadership needs to buy into and own the undertaking of this magnitude. Then push it through the entire enterprise, break down the barriers for the working group to work,” recommends, Blair Koch, Datalex’s CTO and President USA.

·          Data alone cannot provoke change - rather accessibility, acting on it, customer support, training, incentivizing employees and ending up with the development of a customer-centric culture is key, Barcelona-based RJ Friedlander, CEO of ReviewPro, a specialist in guest intelligence for hotels, told me in an interaction this year.

·          Count on cloud for time to market, agility and cutting down costs. But this doesn’t need to be confused with the actual delivery of customer-centric capabilities required by an airline.

How to be data-driven?

So there is a need to prepare people in an airline.

Learning how a hotel company is doing the same, as explained by the Thailand-based hotel company AMARI, various departments need to take the responsibility of collecting data, and in turn, actionable information is being provided to ensure the experience of a hotel guest improves.  So, for instance, if a guest who has booked via an online travel agency, the hotel front desk staff is being instructed to collect the email id and being trained to get this guest enrolled into a loyalty program. Similarly, if a loyalty program member has turned up, then the screen (yes, there is an additional dashboard on the screen used by the front desk) would reflect relevant information and offer an opportunity to enhance the experience of this guest. So if a guest tends to stay in a certain type of room or prefers a particular location, then the staff can offer the same to them.

So how AMARI is bringing about the change?

“We talk everything in terms of a guest or customer profile,” shared Chetan Patel, ONYX’s Hospitality Group VP Strategic Marketing and E-Commerce. “We are moving towards real-time, 1-to-1, personalised, seamless interactions with our guests. That’s the end goal,” says Patel. The company is working on a new platform.  

As explained by Patel, relevant people in the company are capturing data right from what triggers the search to the next trip, and this entails what people tend to do and what are the opportunities to influence the behavior of the traveller. “The entire journey is being evaluated for our own systems and touchpoints,” mentioned Patel.

There is clarity on the following areas:

·          What data needs to be collected from each touchpoint?

·          What system will be involved at each touchpoint?

·          Where the data will be stored at that touchpoint?

·          Who will be the owner of that data once is collected?

Having an integrated customer profile that combines online and offline data is what AMARI is prioritizing.

Each airline has to chart their own journey. There are common challenges, where one can learn from some of the proactive organizations. Interestingly, in a recent post by Adobe, it was suggested that don’t rush to eradicate the problem of silos. Yes there are organizational silos that block departments from being on the same page working toward one goal, but also be careful about pushing for a sudden change. People aren’t going to be responsive to “new jobs, new skills, and new people to work with” resulting from drastic steps. Don’t risk the continuity of teams, it suggested.

Referring to marketers, it recommended that focus on collaboration (work out a journey map to help address technology and skills gaps), assess goals (cross-team KPIs that align well) and evaluate the transition plans for overall change management.

 

Hear from experts about unique challenges that airlines face as they attempt customer-centricity at the upcoming 8th Mega Event Worldwide, to be held in Palm Springs, CA, USA (29 November – 1 December, 2017).

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Ai Video: Targeting anonymous visitors in travel e-commerce

First Published on 3rd October, 2017

Identifying anonymous or repeat cart abandonment visitors, engaging them at the time they are on a website, capturing vital information for remarketing etc. is significant to stepping up the likelihood of a conversion.

Airlines have to make an impact in a matter of few seconds otherwise the chances are that the same visitor can jump on to another airline or OTA site. So even as on-site display of content and messages such as “only 4 seats left” or dynamic countdown such as “10 minutes left to complete a booking” can help in a purchasing decision, certain aspects like sending a personalised content (say after 4th click) or capturing a vital piece of information can help in tapping the customer as per their booking funnel. Also, if the captured information one that is related to user’s activity on a site is mundane, it can also mean that remarketing (done via email, Facebook ads etc.) can be futile.

Zine Voza, Enterprise Sales Manager (APAC), SaleCycle asserts that other than a user logging in, one has to make the most of every input that they make on the site or via on-site messaging. 

 

Hear from experts about on-site personalisation and retargeting at the upcoming 8th Mega Event Worldwide, to be held in Palm Springs, CA, USA (29 November – 1 December, 2017).

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Ai Video: Japan Airlines gears up for retailing and NDC

 

How can airlines that haven’t really adopted a sophisticated approach to retailing and ancillary sales gear up for the same? Is NDC emerging as a viable option to offer legacy airlines the framework, based on XML standards, to match the “LCC” approach to unbundling or ancillary sales?

As a carrier from Asia, Japan Airlines considers NDC to be an opportunity to position itself as a premium carrier that has the capability of delivering a variety of products that suits the needs of the customers. The airline has formed a cross-functional team, says Akira Mitsumasu, VP, Marketing & Strategy, Asia & Oceania Region, Japan Airlines.

“Being a full-service carrier, we just don’t want to unbundle things (for the sake of it) and sell them. It could be a leisure traveller or a business traveller (even a same person travelling on different occasions/ trips), it’s about identifying a need and then presenting with relevant options,” he says.

According to Mitsumasu, as an organization, Japan Airlines is gearing up for retailing and is open to fine-tuning their distribution strategy as well, including being open to the option of direct connectivity and looking beyond traditional means of airline distribution.

 

 

Hear from senior industry executives about the approach towards NDC at the upcoming 8th Mega Event Worldwide, to be held in Palm Springs, CA, USA (29 November – 1 December, 2017).

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Ai Video: Skyscanner gears up for differentiation, are airlines ready?

First Published on 22nd September, 2017

Shopping for flights tends to get mundane when travel e-ecommerce sites or apps come up with an overly generic or inconsistent presentation of product attributes. As key players in the flight search category, meta-search engines are being counted upon to let travellers understand, compare and personalize their trip essentials by overcoming data, technology and user experience (UX) hurdles.

How close are airlines to letting travellers visualize what they have to offer - Wi-Fi, power ports, seatback entertainment, food, seats, in-flight shopping, specific aircraft, baggage etc.? Yes, one can garner and compare basic information, but there are also signs that some concrete, functional information about product attributes is being showcased.

Filip Filipov, VP, Product Management at Skyscanner, says, “As we go deeper into the purchasing funnel (working with certain carriers for the same), we are now showing how big is the seat pitch, what is the actual seat like (in terms of photographs/ rich content)…ultimately it comes down to whether the airline is able to provide information to us. We do intent to show as much as we can, but it’s a question of technological advancement (where airlines are able to pass on the requisite content)."

In this context, the role of IATA’s XML-based standard NDC (New Distribution Capability) is being continuously scrutinized. Filipov says the standard has simplified the ways the API is structured. So, for examples, every airline would define their attributes, say baggage or in-flight entertainment, in a certain manner. So considering the number of airlines, every single definition then becomes an exponential problem for an intermediary like a meta-search engine.

Considering that there was “too much flexibility in the initial versions of schema and implementations weren’t the same”, intermediaries are hoping that this aspect would be taken care of in the future. The challenge for an intermediary arises considering that airlines have developed their API based on a different or a certain version of the NDC XML standard. So aggregation of multiple airline APIs requires further work to achieve the desired result.

For their part, Skyscanner is open to the collaborative route, for instance, the concept of airline store-front on their platform where shopping is practically identical experience to one on airline.com.

The team at Skyscanner is experimenting with rich content, be it for photographs or videos at this juncture, to improve upon the experience of the shopper. Of course airlines, too, need to play their part in making this a possibility. So, yes, attributes of a particular flight are being displayed, but there is no video yet. But one can expect lot more immersive experiences in the future, may be 3-4 years from now on. 

Hear from British Airways and Skyscanner about the role of meta-search and the contribution of NDC in improving merchandising at the upcoming 8th Mega Event Worldwide, to be held in Palm Springs, CA, USA (29 November – 1 December, 2017).

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Ai Video: Jay Sorensen on Branded Fares

First Published on 28th August, 2017

Branded fares allow a traveller to upgrade his or her experience. Travel shoppers aren’t always after the lowest fare; in fact a considerable set of travellers are open to paying for a premium for more comfort and convenience.

Among a number of factors that go into finalizing branded fares, a basic criterion that is applicable is to go ahead with 3 options. “Research has shown consumers are more tempted by a “middle choice” when three are presented,” says Jay Sorensen, President, IdeaWorksCompany, who referred to SWISS’ way of presenting the same. “SWISS adds to the attraction by flagging its Classic fare as “recommended” and using a visually larger display box.  The features for each fare are listed in a simple and transparent style,” he said. 

It is also recommended that focus should be on simplicity, for instance, add bullet points to list the features associated with each branded fare product. Avoid generic display of information that isn’t directly related to the decision-making of the traveller.

Sorensen also mentioned that the basic premise of choice needs to be supported by apt pricing strategy, and the price distinction needs to be consistent irrespective of the starting price of the base offer. Other areas of consideration include whether to set up itinerary flexibility into the branded fare choices or not, the profile of ancillary items in terms of their margin, excusive service or ancillary item that isn’t otherwise available for sale etc. 

 

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Ai Editorial: How does Amadeus see NDC connection and commission for agents?

First Published on 23rd August, 2017

Ai Editorial: How quickly can NDC connections bring about a big change in the manner in which travel agents go about selling airlines’ offerings? What about the long association between GDSs and travel agencies? Ai’s Ritesh Gupta spoke to Cyril Tetaz, Head of Commercial, Asia Pacific, Airlines, Amadeus, about the same.

 

A couple of months back, American Airlines with their NDC connection, featuring end-to-end shopping, booking, and ticketing capabilities plus new content and functionality, introduced $2 per flight segment NDC commission as part of their NDC incentive programme. 

There are interesting aspects associated as far as the participation of travel agents is concerned. For instance, how would agencies go about developing an NDC connection? What happens to agencies-GDS volume agreements?

American has mentioned that NDC is not designed to create extra work for travel agencies, and in fact, this will provide agencies with richer sets of airline products and services to compare when using NDC, “which increases consumer choice as compared to today’s legacy GDSs, which may be constrained by outdated technology“. At the same time, travel agencies are responsible for their own hardware costs.

So it is also important to assess how does a stakeholder of Amadeus‘ stature foresees such developments shaping up.

Association of agents with GDSs

Is the dependency of travel agents solely on GDS getting reduced year by year?

“We don’t believe that’s true,” Cyril Tetaz, Head of Commercial, Asia Pacific, Airlines, Amadeus

“Travellers want consistency, transparency and choice and the GDS remains the most cost-efficient way for travel agencies to deliver that to their customers. Amadeus allows our travel agency partners to connect to the richest and most relevant array of content on a single platform. We imagine that managing multiple connections or platforms would require a substantial level of investment, effort and IT skills for travel agencies. “

Tetaz also emphasized that what Amadeus offers no other GDS or channel can replicate – the Altéa community model.

Over 130 of the world’s airlines, including some of the largest, use Altéa for their PSS.

“Altéa and the Amadeus GDS are built on a common platform which means Amadeus travel agencies booking Altéa airlines enjoy best data accuracy and cross-channel consistency. Benefits include fare accuracy, automatic frequent flyer validation, instant SSR (Special Service Request) confirmations, and guaranteed last seat availability,” he said. “Any changes made to a traveller’s PNR by the travel agency is immediately seen by the airline and vice versa. This is a level of service that our travel agency customers appreciate they can offer to their travellers.”

Business processes and functioning of agents

A section of the industry is pushing airlines to re-look at the process of creation of their offers, sharing of fares via static filings, and even 3rd parties creating the offers on behalf of the airlines.

Today airlines typically publish fares through ATPCo and all distributors have easy access to them. Furthermore, the current model also relies massively on caching technology for fares and availability.

“This brings speed (in response time) and cost efficiency for all travel players. As a result, travel agents do not depend entirely on airline systems to make an offer for the traveller. As we’ve seen in their public response to NDC, these are things that concern travel agencies and must be taken into consideration for whatever new model comes into play,” mentioned Tetaz.

If we talk of XML connectivity, Amadeus has also been distributing LCC carriers with XML connectivity since 2008. What are issues with adoption of NDC, is it “too much flexibility in the initial versions of schema” and interpretation being different the main issue? How agents need to move along?

Tetaz highlighted that the cost and difficulty of integration remain quite high and may be difficult for some parties to address.  He said airlines have been largely focused on Level 3 connectivity (Offer and Order Management) that would allow airline offer creation as well as order creation, retrieval, change and travel document issuance, payment and refund to be done via NDC-XML technology.

“IATA has also been highly focused on providing standards around this. But this represents a major booking flow redesign and requires travel agents to invest in NDC interface adaptation and costly IT integration,” he said. “In fact, there are many ways of integrating NDC, and Level 2 connectivity (Airline Offer Management) is one of them. Here, airline offer creation through search and pricing of flights and ancillary services would be done via NDC-XML technology, without impacting the booking, servicing, payment and ticketing steps. However, Level 2 connectivity has not yet been defined by any industry player. “

Options for integrating NDC are still in the making and being discussed by all players.

“Within the context of NDC, our vision is to develop an integrated solution that can be widely adopted by both travel agencies and airlines to deliver sustainable results at a scale that matters. The objective is to ensure easy adoption in the marketplace with minimal disruption and to meet the business objectives of all parties. Collaboration across the industry will be a key factor in driving success for all players,” mentioned Tetaz.  

Merchandising, GDS and agents

Amadeus says they are making sure that branded fares and ancillary products are available through all channels – direct and intermediated. The team has been working with over 128 airlines to date to bring to the market their ancillary services offerings. During the 2014-2016 period Amadeus has witnessed a 125% CAGR on ancillary bookings done through travel agencies using the Amadeus system, with a significant growth in attachment rate across travel agency segments.

“Furthermore, we have seen double-digit growth when it comes to the number of airlines selling their fare families through Amadeus. This has facilitated the selection. of fares by travel agencies for their clients, as well as being a powerful upsell tool that has generated significant incremental revenues for airlines,” said Tetaz.

Meet executives from Sabre, Amadeus IT Group, Datalex, Farelogix, Travelport, OpenJaw Technologies etc. at this week’s The Mega Event Asia-Pacific 2017 - 4th Annual Profitabilty Summit, to be held at the Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel in Singapore (23-25 August, 2017).

 

For more, click here

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Ai Editorial: How is Sabre placed today with “rapid of evolution” of IT offerings?

First Published on 21st August, 2017

Ai Editorial: “Any competition is good. We are the leaders, we are the innovators, we continue to invest significantly to maintain and expand our position,” says Rakesh Narayanan, VP of supplier commerce, Asia Pacific, for Sabre Travel Network. “For us, it is not about a point solution, we look across the whole ecosystem where we can add value.”

 

By Ritesh Gupta - One big challenge that airlines need to address today is how to offer a sublime experience to passengers. There is no doubt the journey of planning, shopping, travelling and even beyond needs to add to the joy of travel.

In order to being inspirational to offering choice to seamlessness to serving in a contextual manner, it is being evaluated to what extent the status quo is being challenged. This includes dealing with the combined impact of complexity in both technology and distribution that leads to inconsistency for the passenger,

Expectedly, the role of travel B2B conglomerates has been under the scrutiny.

It is being highlighted that what airlines manage to do with their content and merchandising via direct channels, replicating the same via the indirect ones has rather been slow. So constraints remain to extend this capability to intermediary channels, but that’s not a technology constraint, rather an evolving business model to be tied down with airlines partners.

So lots of critical questions are cropping up:

·          What is being done to improve upon the overall IT infrastructure, industry-specific business processes, e-commerce and merchandising, distribution connectivity etc.?

·          Are airlines moving on from tightly integrated processes?

·          How can airlines craft an offer and show their content in the best possible manner via intermediaries?

·          Is the reliance on the GDSs set to come down? How indirect distribution is evolving?

·          How quickly can airlines introduce a new offering across all channels?

·          Is there going to be any change in “full content” agreements?  

And as a consequence, the tussle around the best-of-the-breed vs. a single vendor for all commercial as well as operational needs of airlines is interestingly poised. In this market, it isn’t easy to dislodge traditional players and their volume-driven, transaction processing-oriented business models.  

Sabre banks on “rapid evolution”  

From Sabre’s perspective, Rakesh Narayanan, VP of supplier commerce, Asia Pacific, for Sabre Travel Network, asserts that the organization is evolving, just as different airlines continue to move ahead with different strategies.

What works in an organization of Sabre’s stature is the fact that they are a provider of mission-critical offerings, spanning across reservations, operations, commercial and data and analytics.

If we talk of reservations only, a decision to shift to a new solution can take years. For example, as it emerged this year, Southwest’s move to bring together multiple reservation system capabilities onto one common platform took 3 years or so, featuring over 1500 people!

On top of their ability to deliver offerings for commercial and operations of an airline, organizations like Sabre act as strategic partners from a consulting perspective, too. “Being a technology company, we believe technology can be a differentiator for airlines to be successful and we get involved early on from the strategy stage,” mentioned Narayanan, who added that Sabre has introduced more than 31 new solutions in the last 2 years or so. “There has been a rapid evolution of various technologies, modules, applications, software (at Sabre)… on the PSS side and other areas for airlines” to benefit in a significant manner. But as witnessed, certain airlines have been separating core functioning of a PSS that are needed to run operations, and opting to control their own merchandising, e-commerce and API technologies for differentiation. “Technology is evolving, the marketplace is changing, travellers’ behavior is changing…if you look at some of the markets, web and mobile commerce is outpacing some of the relatively mature markets. So whether an airline opts for an integrated offering (from us) or works with multiple partners, we are supportive (of that, too). From our perspective, a real differentiator and value addition from Sabre is the integration piece.”

How are Sabre’s solutions including the PSS, Revenue Optimizer, Digital Experience, data and analytics etc. coming along? Aren’t new age IT companies taking lead, be it for letting agencies sell say advanced seat selection capabilities or branded fares or distribution of content via APIs?  

Sabre has been asserting that the products from 3rd party specialists are worked out in “isolation” and entail  “manual intervention” to garner and put together the requisite information from passenger-service and operational systems, “resulting in delayed and inconsistent offers”. The team also emphasises that working on a retailing mindset means carriers have to plan for an astute IT architecture that is “extremely flexible, scalable and able to handle thousands of sophisticated transactions using real-time or near real-time data in a matter of seconds”.

Referring to how the team has been working on right tools to enable airlines to make more money, Narayanan referred to the Digital Experience platform, which has been designed to optimize web-based offer execution. Terming the newly introduced offering as interactive and customizable, he said that flexibility and agility is coming into the marketplace for airlines to make changes, considering the significance of time-to-market and differentiation. The architecture is as such that there is provision for contextually-rich customer data between SabreSonic core services applications, its retailing platform, encompassing ancillaries, brands and non-air sales; and the Digital Experience, which distributes the optimized offer throughout various web-based channels. Sabre also allows airlines to dynamically combine and make packages based on a specific set of variables or based on value, for instance, frequent flyer program, spend with the airline etc., shared Narayanan.  

Narayanan also referred to the introduction of Sabre Red Workspace, which allows agencies to visualize airlines’ offerings via apt mix of content (branded fares, graphical seats maps etc.) and data (seasonality, weather etc.). “If travel consultants (agents) are able to communicate better, they can sell better.”

Data, tools and revenue generation

Another area that Sabre has been working on is their customer data hub and, as Narayanan says, the same isn’t just about FFP or previous spend or travel with Sabre.

“It is a comprehensive view of the traveller, their experiences with the airline, providing that data at multiple touchpoints. And this, too, not only at the time of making an offer or position on price during the sales process, but even beyond that. So be it for post booking, the day of travel, etc. what kind of value addition can be done to enhance the trip? So Sabre asserts that in their technology, it is possible to assess whether a passenger is likely to buy an upgrade at the airport or lounge access voucher. The ability to up-sell or work out a tailored ancillary product and to be presented by the airport staff is a possibility.”

“It also helps on the service part. If a passenger had an indifferent experience then he or she could offered an upgrade or free Wi-Fi as per the policy of the airline.  So the PSS allows to support customer service and revenue generation opportunities,” said Narayanan, underlining how the core functionality of the mission-critical system is evolving and supporting requirements for e-commerce and retailing.

In addition to this, Revenue Optimizer combines with the PSS and looks at maximizing revenue on a segment as well as the entire journey of the passenger, could be via code-share partners. It will also start maximizing ancillaries, too. So if there are 6 special seats – whom to sell it to, and how to revenue manage? If there is a passenger who is willing to spend $100 but nothing on ancillaries, and $90 on ticket plus $20 on ancillaries, then Sabre is in a position to target the latter. So can a new product, say lounge pass, can be introduced a matter of weeks? According to the company, Sabre’s Dynamic Retailer roll-out has initiated, and the company says in “pretty much” in real-time assembling of different ancillaries or put together bundled offers or customized offers or individual offers.

“So Sabre having the portfolio and the underlying platform that allows us to have an integrated solution, and not interfacing multiple systems together, enables us to most effectively provide the service and maximize revenue,” explained Narayanan.

Also, integration of solutions would also feature handling of operations related to disruption.

“A lot of offerings are interconnected in a certain fashion. We experience with airlines what they go through on a daily basis. So in case of a disruption, passenger services take a hit. Aircraft end up at wrong places, it is imperative to put them back in place, get schedules back, manage crew, and ensuring passengers get back to their destination as soon as possible. (One core development is) Sabre has automated recovery management tools. We have an optimal solution i. e. focused on least disruption to the passenger, ensuring airlines are  operationally viable and not violating any rules/ regulations and keeping disruption cost and impact on service to minimum,” added Narayanan, again asserting the significance of a platform that can support critical functions.  

(Stay tuned for Sabre’s perspective on distribution including full content agreements, direct connectivity, NDC and lot more).

 

Meet executives from Sabre, Amadeus IT Group, Datalex, Farelogix, Travelport, OpenJaw Technologies etc. at this week’s The Mega Event Asia-Pacific 2017 - 4th Annual Profitabilty Summit, to be held at the Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel in Singapore (23-25 August, 2017).

For more, click here

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Ai Editorial: Knowing a passenger inside out – the journey has just started

First Published on 16th August, 2017

Ai Editorial: It is the dream of every marketer to have a rich set of customer data that is consistently available at every touchpoint. Can one unified marketing stack strengthen the pursuit of “single view of the customer”, probes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

The concept of “single view of the customer” has been around for a while. But, for me, as a passenger, it has repeatedly fallen short of expectations.

To put it simply, an interaction with a brand, be it via a company-owned digital touchpoint or any physical one, isn't a seamless one i. e. not based on every data trail or the data strategy seems to be disconnected. So, for instance, as a leisure traveller I have had indifferent experiences with a couple of airlines in the recent past, and despite sorting the issues out via a call, when I have accessed the website (from the same device and IP address), there hasn’t been any recognition of my previous activity and experience.

Transition has initiated

However, there are certain travel suppliers that are working on platforms supporting the idea of customer profiles.

Over the years organizational silos have proven to be too big a snag to fully focus on the customer.

Organizations need to reform themselves to make all of this a possibility and there are doing so.

As we highlighted in one of our recent articles, Bangkok, Thailand-based ONYX Hospitality Group is capturing data right from what triggers the search to the next trip, and this entails what people tend to do and what are the opportunities to influence the behavior of the traveller.  

There is clarity on the following areas:

·          What data needs to be collected from each touchpoint?

·          What system will be involved at each touchpoint?

·          Where the data will be stored at that touchpoint?

·          Who will be the owner of that data once is collected?

Airlines that are looking at maintaining single view of the customer aren’t leaving any opportunity to make the most of data from “log-ins” (could be a social login-in on their website) or their members. “If we know there is a booking from an OTA, we instruct our front staff (in hotels) to get customers’ email id,” said a senior hotel executive. The main focus in letting customers experience rich, experience via a direct touchpoint, and this is one way to do so is by enrolling them into a loyalty program.

So the level of sophistication is rising with initiatives, propelled by today’s open platforms, such as:

1.     Being aware of all interactions with a company.

2.     Pre-empting what a passenger would be looking for based on profile, interests, and actions taken, may be a spa package for a couple on their next anniversary.

3.     How to optimize experiences at each touchpoint? For instance, how to interact with guests at the hotel reception desk of the hotel or with passengers at the check-in counter at the airport?

4.     Automating delivery of content or offers when conditions for a rule defined are met

5.     Data is integrated from various systems and this can result in empowering staff with relevant information when it is needed most. For instance, staff at the hotel front desk is being today offered two screens – PMS plus actionable information about the customer via another screen.

6.     Where is the traffic originating from, site behavior etc.? How is the conversion coming along?

So clearly these platforms are enabling airlines to be in better control of what they can do on their digital assets. This reflects in terms of what is being shown to users in real time, based on past behavior, on the IP address etc.

Outside company-owned assets

It is the dream of every marketer to have a rich set of customer data that is consistently available at every touchpoint that they would want to use to personalize the experience – be it for buying a banner ad, tailoring an email or how the staff recognizes the guest and greets a loyalty program member.

But considering that people are using more and more devices, across more platforms, this explosion of data at different locations continues to pose a bigger challenge. Not a straightforward task to gain a single view of the guest.

More than automated decision-making, it looks as if disconnected data is a bigger challenge. If technologies are disconnected across channels, then there won’t be any single view of the customer journey, and this means one would struggle to personalize in context. The promise of shaping these profiles on the basis of real-time data is fine. But if we talk of the same being collated from every source or channels, there is still a long way to go. There are certain areas that are beyond the control of a hotel or an airline. For instance, the level of data transparency in case a travel e-commerce works with ecosystems like Tencent, Alibaba or Facebook would wary. Also, travel suppliers really don’t expect sharing of data when we talk of experience of a customer who has booked via an OTA.

“So what we are trying to do is leverage a marriage of 1st party data and 3rd party data to deliver the most effective marketing spend and relevant marketing content,” said a marketer. “It is also important to handle local intricacies – for instance, mobile numbers and not email addresses are used for matching criteria between data sources in China.”

The advertising technology space has evolved considerably and continues to do so. For instance, 3rd party data is facilitated in a swift manner as compared to even few years ago. Travel e-commerce players can buy data, avail APIs to upload lists and do matching and lookalike modeling. But is it enough? Travel marketers need to sort out issues related to single view of the customer to deliver contextual experiences and eventually 1-to-1 personalisation – be it for time and cost of implementation, how to integrate with channels, how to activate data, dealing with cultural challenges within an entity etc. Other than managing 1st party data, airlines also need to act on other sources of data. The key question one needs to consider – how can one unified marketing stack strengthen the pursuit of “single view of the customer” and also overcome the elusive match rate hurdle.

 

Where do you stand with your data strategy? Hear from the travel industry executives at the upcoming The Mega Event Asia-Pacific 2017 - 4th Annual Profitabilty Summit, to be held at the Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel in Singapore (23-25 August, 2017).

For more, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Editorial: Airlines + meta-search, how NDC is strengthening the bond?

First Published on 11th August, 2017

Ai Editorial: Meta-search continues to be an attractive proposition for airlines, considering its place in the booking funnel. But as airlines target new ways of connectivity, they also need to scale up for the meta-search world in a cost-effective way, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

A traveller doesn’t differentiate between interfaces and channels - it could be an airline app, Facebook Messenger, a WeChat chatbot etc. or could be airline.com, OTA.com, meta-search engine etc. As long as one is being served apt content, choice/ recommendation, offer, payment method…it’s fine.

Airlines, meta-search engines, OTAs etc. have to find out ways to crack seamlessness, one that depicts understanding the intent of the traveller as per the booking funnel and aiding them in taking a decision.

The industry needs to add to the joy of travelling, and take painpoints out of the equation. Be it for itinerary, in-flight meal, clarity over seating and baggage allowance, experience at the airport and so on makes a trip worthwhile.

In this context meta-search engines are being keenly followed, considering that their position comes into play quite early in the booking funnel.

Evolving role of meta-search engines

If on one hand, meta-search companies are even “moving further up” via features such as traveller inspiration timeline and push notification of travel ideas, on the other side they are also drifting away from pure lead generation. The focus is on meeting requirements of a trip, rather than just offering standalone products, and also facilitating transactions within the meta-search environment.

And there is more to this, as the category is looking at fulfilment and customer service, too. At a time when even the definition of direct distribution is being questioned, it is worth assessing how meta-search engines approach the omni-channel shopping. If “instant booking” isn’t enough, then what are meta-search engines working on? How are they working with airlines to showcase their products, including branded fares, bundled products etc.?

Meta-search engines have been working with airlines to craft an attractive merchandising offer with rich content (for instance, baggage allowance, upgrade options etc.) and whatever can differentiate the offering. One key development here is IATA’s data standard NDC.

 

Standarization via NDC – a work in progress

Even as airlines have been working on the objective of letting sales partners connect to their IT systems directly based on the IATA NDC standard, it is clear that there was too much flexibility in the initial versions of schema and implementations weren’t the same. As one executive pointed out, “The big problem came when the players like KAYAK and SkyScanner, and NDC consuming parties tried to build a one-time NDC connection in order to connect to multiple airlines with the least amount of effort considering that a standard was being planned. But the reality is that because of the varying level of interpretation, connections had to be modified somewhat. So with implementers providing their feedback to the IATA, the industry body has worked out a data modelling exercise. So they are redefining and tightening relationships in the NDC schema to ensure that the flexibility and looseness of the interpretation will go away. The new 17.1 scheme are going to be partly generated from the new airline data model and later on 17.2, the full schema set would be generated from the IATA data model. So when that’s done, there should be standardization in projects and implementations.”

A senior executive with a meta-search engine mentioned that for the company or the category in general, there are many different sources of a product - via GDSs, airline-direct, OTA-direct etc. “There is a network of connectivity and the objective is to aggregate as much as possible.  But we need to standardization job as well. We do focus on it, as if entities converge on that, it would be beneficial for us, too. It is still a work in progress, as others are moving, too. And everyone has their own agenda, and time scale.”

So what happens when there are different versions of one standard, then aggregating multiple airline APIs requires the “normalisation” of these APIs into a single version. As of now, it seems like over the past few years, there will be evolving versions of the schema that will impact the specific XML messaging, in that messages themselves will change over time – new ones added, existing ones modified, etc. So considering that airlines have developed their API based on a particular XML standard (NDC or even other), it would result in different interpretation of these standards.

As for airlines, there is a need to re-look at their own IT infrastructure to refine retailing capabilities. In fact, the industry is already looking at major transition, embracing cloud-native, API-led architecture as part of digital transformation. As for sector-specific systems, airlines have been separating core functioning of a PSS that are needed to run operations, and opting to control their own merchandising (control over distribution as well as showcasing core product and air ancillaries to depict value to passengers), e-commerce and API technologies for differentiation. Also, airlines need to scale up for the meta-search world in a cost-effective way, delivering massive search volumes without look-to-book restrictions and the ability to respond in fraction of a second.

Hear from Scoot and Skyscanner at MegaAPAC in Singapore

Trevor Spinks, Head of Sales & Distribution, Scoot and Filip Filipov, VP Product Management, Skyscanner are scheduled to speak at the upcoming The Mega Event Asia-Pacific 2017 - 4th Annual Profitabilty Summit, to be held at the Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel in Singapore (23-25 August, 2017).

 

For more, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Editorial: Assessing the role of cloud-native applications in digital transformation

 First Published on 7th August, 2017

Ai Editorial: Airlines recognize that speed is of essence when it comes to the efficacy of their customer-facing systems. Ai’s Ritesh Gupta explores the role of a cloud-native architecture in delivery velocity as part of the overall digital transformation.  

 

Airlines have been relying on cloud services platforms, signalling a shift in the IT consumption model. So rather than paying for IT infrastructure capacity upfront, today’s organizations are opting for pay-as-you-go model, accessing servers, storage, databases and application services over the Internet.

As seen over the years, cloud has played a key part in digital commerce. For instance, page speed is critical, with every millisecond being crucial. So to step up the conversion rate, cloud infrastructure was chosen to keep latency to minimum, supporting application servers and databases in specific regions to support users.  Airlines have been relying on cloud technologies to deliver services such as luggage drops with label printing and self-boarding gates, and personalisation by enabling the customer-facing staff, for instance, providing the airline’s cabin crew with contextual, relevant information to serve their loyalty program members in a consistent manner.

As for emerging cloud developments, airlines can step up their ancillary revenue generation by capitalizing on journey data. As it emerged during our Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Spain this year, a new 3rd party cloud-based platform is emerging that can integrate airline’s inventory system and central reservation system to display contextually relevant information or ads in real-time. So airlines can make the most of their data to garner incremental revenue. Also, in the wake of outages, it is being pointed out that mission-critical systems have to move to the cloud, ensuring stored backups are secure, data is stored in multiple locations to ensure sufficient backup etc.

Cloud transformation

Airlines are scrutinizing and even executing plans to embrace cloud transformation, banking on open-source offerings rather being bogged down by proprietary technology.

Focus is on ways to integrate real-time data, search, and analytics into applications to optimize travellers’ journey. This essentially has become an integral part of digital transformation, a massive undertaking that features speedy and constructive progress on several counts to strategically leverage digital technology.

In fact, considering the complexity of the IT set up that this industry has, there are options available to integrate applications, data and processes across both on-premises and cloud environments. There are 3 models for cloud computing - Infrastructure as a Service, Platforms as a service and Software as a Service.

Taking advantage of cloud computing:

·          Use cloud as a route to market (APIs are the digital services)

·          Garner data, integrate data from multiple sources

·          Create and capture value – optimize traveller’s journey

Among established organizations in this industry, American Airlines has decided to migrate to cloud a quota of their crucial applications, including aa.com, mobile app and network of check-in kiosks. The plan is to enable developers to swiftly set up and modify application functionalities for American’s passengers. These customer-facing systems will be on cloud. As American chose to move its applications into the cloud, it considered factors such as security (the role of technologies such as encryption and tokenisation comes into the picture) as well as connecting legacy applications to the cloud at enterprise scale.

The cloud business model that the airline has chosen is a hybrid one.

According to the airline’s partner, IBM, the airline would maintain backend connectivity to other on-premise legacy and third-party systems, for “true hybrid cloud functionality”.

Cloud-native architecture as part of digital transformation

As American says, the goal is set up a cloud-native architecture.

What does this mean? It is about capitalizing on cloud computing – making use of vast computing power on-demand and pay-as-you-go. An organization needs a platform for running cloud-native applications and services, as a method for abstracting away from core infrastructure dependencies. For their part, American Airlines intends to create, try and release applications frequently and speedily. Also, all of this would be change ready for release as soon as it is ready. This would be made possible via a microservices architecture (working on an application as a collection of small services; each service implements business capabilities), agile methodology, continuous delivery (individual software updates available for release as soon as they are ready), DevOps (association between software developers and IT with the objective of automating the procedure of software delivery and infrastructure changes), and lean development. So a cloud services platform is must for operating cloud-native applications and services that automates and integrates all these concepts that fall under digital transformation.

Preparation

Harnessing cloud for digital transformation isn’t a straightforward process, with re-designing of IT architecture or operating in functional silos within IT being primary challenges.

For cloud service delivery, some of the areas specialists recommend that airlines need to assess:

·          Assess business goals and their alignment with current IT ecosystem

·          How to move to a structured, agile program? Evaluate technologies and the role of staff to deliver new applications

·          Ensuring IT understands the business challenges and is aligned with the DevOps cycle

·          Finalising cloud service delivery model  

·          Operating model and training – detailed insight into IT architecture, data and technology

·          How to migrate applications to a cloud-native microservice architecture? What makes for a resilient cloud native microservice architecture?

·          To what extent one can bring down the probability of prolonged irregular operations?

The days of traditional software development and infrastructure management processes are getting numbered. Cloud has positioned itself as a competitive advantage, letting developers optimize what they offer and presenting airlines with an opportunity to run with lean methodology and automated IT operations.  

 

Hear from senior travel industry executives about digitization and ancillary revenue at the upcoming The Mega Event Asia-Pacific 2017 - 4th Annual Profitabilty Summit, to be held at the Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel in Singapore (23-25 August, 2017).

For more, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

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