Ai Editorial: IT failure or power outage - how can airlines minimize the adverse impact?

First Published on 29th May, 2017

Ai Editorial: The latest incident featuring British Airways in which the carrier’s flights faced massive disruption indicates that this industry needs to learn how to ensure their core systems and applications shouldn’t ditch them whatever may happen, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta  

 

IT failure, computer glitch, power outage…these are becoming dreadful words for airlines.

Flights getting cancelled for days put a huge question mark over contingency plans and the current state of business continuity planning at airlines. The extent to which British Airways has struggled, with its impact running into the third day now, exemplifies the issue this industry is facing at large. Delta, Southwest Airlines, United…all have been news in the last 12 months or so, featuring in cases where either passengers have been stranded or faced delays owing to such problems.

In case of British Airways, the CEO of the airline, Alex Cruz, told Sky News the IT outage was owing to “a power surge that affected messaging across their systems”. He has also been quoted as saying there wasn’t any indication of a cyber attack as per the initial inspection.

Unlike the recent fiasco at United where a passenger was violently dragged out of the aircraft in the U .S., British Airways has at least attempted to handle the situation better with Cruz featuring in two videos in the first 74 hours. Not that there wasn’t any backlash on social media, still owning up what happened and what to expect at Gatwick and Heathrow airports was a sincere attempt to offer a realistic update. Of course, with their core offering getting disrupted in such a gigantic manner, British Airways would be required to offer an explanation, not to speak of the brand taking a beating and substantial monetary loss owing to this incident.

Digging core issues

In case of British Airways, it needs to be evaluated how a power failure can result in a disaster of such magnitude. Why was it so challenging to recover?

It needs to be ascertained what typically can be issues that have impacted the likes of Delta and British Airways.

At a basic level, evaluate computer programs, the servers backing the running of applications and also what sort of infrastructure is backing these servers.

It is clear that the industry is falling short on one count – in order to avoid computer failures airlines must ensure there is availability of reliable electricity sources to start off. “Airlines need to look at what can result in data centre power outage and what’s in place to overcome such issues. What sort of infrastructure is required to ensure a failure doesn’t convert into a massive disaster? Is cost cutting a fair enough reason to avoid a failover site? In case, requisite power to the servers and applications isn’t reaching out, then what’s the backup plan for running operations? Airlines need to count on a different group of servers and applications, and the location of the same needs to be chosen upon in a diligent manner,” explained a source.

What can be done to simulate failures, especially ones that are already causing huge disruption, and how to ensure this doesn’t happen again. It is not that airlines haven’t done anything to gear up for such unforeseen events, but sometimes back-up plans fail to reach where they are needed. In case of a big airline, it was reported that data centre operations weren’t aptly configured for available back-up power, and as result, there was an IT system failure. “An unforeseen incident could be owing to a strategic alliance, where applications are not necessarily designed for failover, or could have been updated. So a disaster recovery plan needs to be worked out accordingly,” added the source. Even for the disaster recovery site, experts recommend that there needs to be same equipment from the same vendor, and ensure same policies can be simultaneously installed on security devices on both sites.  “It is time airlines sharpen their probability of failure for any set up. Be it for past record or failure data of similar equipment, including the right benchmark for performance of the whole infrastructure, needs to be in place.”

Another question that has been doing rounds for years now is the efficacy of legacy code or mainframes? Is it true that disaster recovery procedures are difficult to be applied on legacy platforms? Not really, even to the extent that there isn't any major issue when it comes to “finding COBOL programmers” if needed.

“Understand the role of flight operation systems and mainframe systems. Where are you running these flight-related systems, assess their network connectivity, and no point in comparing them with mainframes,”  said an executive.

The way forward is to get a balance between mainframe and decentralised technology.

(We highlighted in a report last year that in case of Southwest and Delta, at no time was any mainframe system down at Southwest or Delta, and at no time was any mainframe system suffering from performance problems).

On another note, a report by bbc.com about British Airways, indicated that even when the “power came back on, the systems were unusable because the data was unsynchronised”. What this means is that there could have been “conflicting records of passengers, aircraft and baggage movements”, a tough situation to deal with.

Clearly airlines need to dig a lot and curtail such mishaps. Otherwise, this industry would continue to suffer, especially when the frequency of such incidents is keeping up of late. 

 

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Ai Video – What would it take to identify a flyer?

 

How to start with a transformation plan where the blend of data, technology, content etc. results in customer-centricity?

JR Technologies has been making steady progress as a specialist, and recommends a platform that’s a blend of both offer and order management, standing out for business intelligence, passenger identification module etc. for a seamless journey (being aware of the current flight, current order, servicing needs etc.). It would also mean that the platform, running in parallel to an airline’s PSS, would feature complete PSS booking connectivity and document processing capability, converting PNR into “orders”.

George Khairallah, President, JR Technologies says the company’s recommendation is not to start with offer management, rather with order management.

"Whenever we work on a transformation plan with an airline, we advise to start with order management, take existing data, put into order management system, take business intelligence out of it and use it in offer management system. So when the loop is closed, an airline not only offers the right offering to the passenger, but can also track what is happening to “orders”,” explained Khairallah. “So yes, airline can offer what to buy, and when there is an “order”, one can track what happened to the services. The fundamental concept of order management system is that it becomes the central source of truth. So the airport display, check-in counter, ground handler, catering…every aspect connects to the order management system.”  

By Ritesh Gupta 

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Ai Video: Gearing up for digital retail transformation

First Published on 22nd May, 2017

Shopping in today’s digital economy is increasingly becoming simpler, faster and frictionless. Customers expect the same fluency to stretch beyond the booking experience, too, and in fact, return shopping to be even better! A shopper isn’t likely to differentiate between a travel and retail buying experience, and it wouldn’t be wrong to say shopping for a seat on an air plane, air ancillary or other components of shopping can be disappointing at times.

Daniel Friedli, MD and Partner at Travel in Motion, acknowledges the same and asserts that in today’s digital environment “air travel is a step behind (when compared with other sectors), we are limited by what we can do, and how we do it”.

Friedli emphasised that gearing up for digital retail transformation isn’t just about “tech”, rather airlines must take action on several other fronts as well.

Some aspects that need to be assessed in addition to overcoming the limitations of legacy systems – what is the meaning of “retail mindset” and how can the same be blended with airline domain-specific expertise? How to ensure data is extracted from all systems and sources, acted upon in real-time to ensure a seamless experience is delivered? How to do away with limiting business processes? How the initiative related to the standardization of the IATA NDC XML schemas is shaping up? 

More Videos: 

Ai Video: Identifying right tech for “tech-dependent” passengers

Ai Video: Digital Transformation and Tangible Results 

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Ai Video: Chatbots – finally taking off?

First Published on 18th May, 2017

Chabots, essentially an autonomous program designed to interact with users, are gradually gaining prominence.

So how are chatbots delivering when it comes to one-to-one personalised interactions? Specialists, with expertise in airlines-specific domain, point out that chatbots have moved on from limited utility or benefits to digitization of customer service, as well as encompassing one-click transactions. “No reason why chatbot can’t take an order for a meal in an aircraft, or convey whether the flight is going to be on time or not etc.,” says Jonathan Newman, commercial director at Barcelona-based Caravelo.

Airlines are exploring various aspects as the utility of chatbots comes to the fore:

- What all can be done by chatbots and the level of efficacy? What’s the success and error rate?

- If a 3rd party platform is involved, for instance, Facebook, then how to deal with data ownership?

- How bot training is progressing?

- How to work with an airline’s marketing department for content, tone of voice etc.?  

- Cost control

- Utility and KPIs 

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Ai Video: Identifying right tech for “tech-dependent” passengers

First Published on 9th May, 2017

“Technology’s role is to enable the business. Technology is reaching a point where it will enable new capabilities for the business (airlines) to deliver (to) their customers (a better offering, a better service),” says Malachi Faughnan, Chief Information Officer, Datalex.

It is vital for airlines to assess how IATA’s NDC XML standard can pave way for customer-centricity, and how they can capitalize on the proficiency of API-led architecture, microservices (with a microservices-based architecture, services are built around business capabilities, systems are broken into multiple services, it allows for frequent changes without affecting the entire system and continuous delivery is enabled) etc. Airlines need to move on swiftly, as passenger experience isn’t up to the mark as of today, and dig deep to assess what’s the apt technology set up for today’s “tech-dependent” passengers.

As Malachi says, “Competitive advantage will only flow to those that see and act on a shift first,” let’s see how traditional carriers evolve, and count on technology to deliver a superlative experience. 

Related links 

Ai Video: Digital Transformation and Tangible Results

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Ai Video: Digital Transformation and Tangible Results

First Published on 4th May, 2017 

Airlines, like any business entity, must make rapid progress and capitalize on the prowess of digital transformation, asserts Dejan Cusic, Business Director, Ireland & UK at Comtrade Digital Services.

Before embarking on a project of such magnitude, airlines need to have a precise understanding of the digital world, how to inch closer to crafting unique customer experience, embracing the requisite speed of innovation and using technology to improve business performance or reach of the business. It has to be ensured that constant testing and an iterative approach to product development takes the project forward, and yet there is no compromise in business continuity. Also, leadership, that paves way for a digital future and overcomes cultural resistance, is a vital component of such initiatives. 

Cusic referred to Ryanair’s steady progress with their Always Getting Better or AGB initiative (into 4th year now), with the carrier currently working on its 2017-18 customer experience improvement plan. The plan is to not only grow passenger numbers to 180 million per annum by 2024, rather let them select their travel preferences by creating a personal profile, securely store payment and passport details (an application was launched last year). “(Through the application), Ryanair is working on continuous study of passengers’ preferences, understanding their habits – which seat is preferred, the destination chosen…so when such data is harvested it would pave way for personalised offers, seamless travel experience in the future,” shared Cusic. 

Traffic has increased by over 50% over the last 3 years.

And the crux of this whole initiative is – the promise of “low fares” stays, where as new initiatives like being able to book connecting Ryanair flights on the Ryanair.com website, with a feeder flight service with other airlines following later this year; pre-saved preferences for faster bookings (3 clicks) etc. are being introduced. 

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Ai Editorial: Getting closer to passengers – count on offer + order management

First Published on 2nd May, 2017

Ai Editorial: A traveller gets lost in today’s technology. How can airlines come up with offers or service that indicates they know their passengers, explores Ai’s Ritesh Gupta    

 

A lot of questions are being raised about the process-centric functioning of airlines.

This is owing to the fact that legacy systems aren’t capable of performing certain tasks because they were never designed to do so.

The way airlines serve passengers today doesn’t fit in with what their customers would ideally look for.

For instance, if a passenger lost her bag during a journey, when she logs in next time on airline.com or checks in would this be acknowledged? Or can the airline staff at the boarding gate offer an upgrade to the same passenger? Not possibly as customer-related information isn’t readily available, and the record of every interaction around an “order” isn’t being updated and the same can’t be accessed, too, by all.

So how can the industry get rid of their inflexible booking, ticketing, delivery and accounting process?

For their part, IATA has envisioned a standard for the ONE Order initiative, paving way for one access spot for passenger orders. And with this, doing away with the need for multiple reserva­tion records as well as e-ticket/ EMD concepts. While a passenger’s journey would be streamlined, for airlines it would mean no more costly reconciliation exercises between varied references.

Of course, the industry isn’t closer yet as airlines are expected to experiment with ONE Order messages in the coming months, the question is - is there a framework that is being worked out to aid airlines in their transformation? How to make the most of offer management, order management etc. as airlines strive to nudge towards customer-centricity?

Right approach for personalisation

JR Technologies has been making steady progress as a specialist, and recommends a platform that’s a blend of both offer and order management, standing out for business intelligence, passenger identification module etc. for a seamless journey (being aware of the current flight, current order, servicing needs etc.). It would also mean that the platform, running in parallel to an airline’s PSS, would feature complete PSS booking connectivity and document processing capability, converting PNR into “orders”. So PSS would pass on information to the NDC platform, where master record would be stored. The approach (for which JR and Unisys recently announced an agreement) counts on historical details provided by the order management system and this vital, real-time business intelligence is leveraged in personalisation of offers.

Airlines need to able to create offers and then change the accepted offers into orders (here offer management system should take all the data points, run them through analysis and business rules, check availability and applicability, bundle the offer items, calculate the pricing, and deliver it along with branding and rich media to the passenger). Then it needs to transition into an order management system for fulfilment and accounting.  This is somewhat analogous to the concept of tickets and EMDs in the legacy, but in the Order structure, there aren’t restrictions that are present with these electronic documents. 

What’s in for the passenger?

As I interacted with George Khairallah, President, JR Technologies during the 11th edition of Ai’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Palma de Mallorca, I was keen on knowing what can airlines work on to respond to queries, changes etc. via a touchpoint that a passenger chooses? For instance, a disjointed experience like this is common today - requesting a change via Twitter while approaching the gate, and then interacting with the personnel at the gate as if no request was put in.

 

“Our recommendation is not to start with offer management, rather with order management. Whenever we work on a transformation plan with an airline, we advise to start with order management, take existing data, put into order management system, take business intelligence out of it and use it in offer management system. So when the loop is closed, an airline not only offers the right offering to the passenger, but can also track what is happening to “orders”,” explained Khairallah. “So yes, airline can offer what to buy, and when there is an “order”, one can track what happened to the services. The fundamental concept of order management system is that it becomes the central source of truth. So the airport display, check-in counter, ground handler, catering…every aspect connects to the order management system.”  

So be it for changing ticket at the airport or information related to boarding being disorganized at times, such issues would be sorted out. Or even dealing with issues such as no information about the lost bag for few hours at least. So changes or answering queries in real-time would become a possibility with this central source of truth. And by indexing central repository that features relevant information, a passenger comes and shares the name at a touchpoint, and that is enough to service in the best possible manner – by being aware of the current flight, current order, servicing needs etc. The last interaction, be it for self-service kiosk or a customer service agent, is clearly documented.   

All of this would be a welcome change. As Khairallah aptly puts it, the individual gets lost in today’s technology.

So then how to get closer to the passenger? Business traveller also travels as a leisure passenger, and could be the same person, and accordingly the service level would be different depend upon the travel – say with family vs. as an individual. Identifying the same at the time of shopping, booking etc. And with today’s technology this is not possible. Today the data that airlines have is minimal. If it is via airline.com that is fine, otherwise data belongs to a 3rd party.  

The objective needs to be - know more about the passenger, and as they order more and more, the goal is to analyze and get close to offering something that would match their intent and they would probably buy – akin to what Amazon specializes in. “This isn’t ready yet in this industry (among airlines) today. This calls for a change in strategy,” explained Khairallah. “But many airlines are already focused on integrating NDC strategic concept into their thinking, their systems development for the next few years in order to meet that goal. They want to know the passenger, how to make the best offer – a passenger shouldn’t be scrolling 50 offers, first few should be enough, simply because they know you. This is what we care about, what passengers care about. This is a long-term process. It would call for changes – the way pricing is done, the way you think about merchandising, creating bundles, packaging your products, about how the passenger is ordering, paying for the same, how your vendors are being paid…it’s an end-to-end solution that has to be presented, and then airlines chart out their plans for transformation (doing it in a phased manner) and ensuring all systems are in place over a period of time." Of course, in case of a “smaller” airline the effect would be “faster”. Relatively bigger airlines would call for lots of people to be retrained, lots of systems to be changed.   

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Ai Editorial: Sales and servicing, chatbots are doing it for airlines

First Published on 27th April, 2017

Ai Editorial: A chatbot needs to be set up with a well-defined objective, and bots come to life when purpose, utility, tone and context are all an integral part of the experience, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Are chatbots stepping up airline productivity and garnering incremental revenue?

Yes, and even the slightest of progress is a welcome change.

Consider the utility of an official Twitter handle or Facebook business page. If a passenger intends to check the availability of a window seat (say after the check-in) , the social media staff can acknowledge the request but wouldn’t be of use to check the same or even pass this information to the staff at the boarding gate! In this context if chatbots are justifying their tag of being `always available’ in a short span of their existence, this needs to be applauded. A passenger wouldn’t really care whether chatbots are able to access a PSS for an update or a booking that seemingly staff handling Twitter can’t. But as long as the purpose is being served then the utility of chatbots, which are pre-programmed interactions that allow users to communicate with them, is coming to the fore. 

Progress

Chatbot technology garnered loads of attention last year. Some respond to very specific commands, while other use artificial intelligence and can comprehend a language. If chatbots are about “conversationalising” code, paving way for humans to interact with machines using natural language, then it isn’t really a breakthrough. So why so much buzz? It’s the sheer popularity of messaging apps, with over 3 billion monthly active users among top 4 messaging apps at the end of last year.  Of course, automated text-based travel reservation conversation is only effective if the chatbot understands the query completely, but there is optimism at this juncture.

“Similar to the way Uber brought the idea of ‘everyone’s private driver’ to the world, chatbot technology allows the idea of ‘everyone’s travel concierge’ to come to life,” said Jonathan Newman, commercial director at Barcelona-based Caravelo, who presented this week at Ai’s Airline Merchandising Conference in Palma de Mallorca.   The company recently introduced a transactional chatbot (via Facebook Messenger), Vale, for Mexican carrier, Volaris.

Newman asserted that “omnichannel” isn’t as relative as it was in the past. He said brands need to acknowledge the fact consumers expect be “engaged with at any time, at any stage of the journey” through their preferred device. “Bots have a natural home in the billions of monthly users of messaging apps and with the API economy, they can now be powerful: they can do stuff,” mentioned Newman. “In essence, what we are talking about is a change: a change from one-to-many to one-to-one.  Airlines can personalise a little, but without AI, without an ongoing conversation to learn from, customers and airlines can’t realize the value of true personalisation.”

Utility

Newman said chatbots have moved on from limited utility or benefits to digitization of customer service, as well as encompassing one-click transactions. “No reason why chatbot can’t take an order for a meal in an aircraft, or convey whether the flight is going to be on time or not etc.,” he said. 

A traveller might leave the airport but his or her journey continues. As I checked in to my hotel here in Palma de Mallorca, it was Google Allo that presented me with an option to download or explore things to do. Why cant airlines deliver value about anything that is related to travel, and more so when an airline played an integral part in my journey? “How many of you here have had an airline suggest to you a restaurant while you are on your trip?  Or an experience that fits with your personality? Why should airlines retailing capability stop when the passenger lands?” said Newman.   

Newman also demonstrated how a booking can be completed in less than 30 seconds!

At the same time, Newman added that it is vital to look beyond transactions, rather allow users to  self-serve, to get relevant notifications etc. “...to be properly assisted means (like in any shopping environment) they will come back,” he said.

Also, one needs to ascertain various aspects in order to fully capitalize on the prowess of bots, especially related to the objective of such initiative:

·      Is it to sell existing inventory and services? 

·      Is it to search low fare inventory?

·      Is it to add ancillaries or allow customers to make changes to existing bookings? 

·      Is it a guide for activities or to find out useful information to reduce the call centre volumes?  What does your bot allow the customer to do? 

“Without utility, there is no bot: without a clearly defined purpose and well-articulated set of capabilities, users are left frustrated when their expectations are not met. Customers are more likely to come back into the channel if they can do more than just buy: by allowing them to self-serve, to get relevant notifications, to be properly assisted means (like in any shopping environment) they will come back,”  explained Newman.

Bots identify keywords in the users input and then access a database to give a predefined response or do a predefined act. According to Newman, training is key.

He  mentioned that training bots to identify, contextualize and then relate desired intents with all probable outcomes take effort and time. “We, humans, learn about each other via conversations. A chatbot drives this in a more expedited, scalable way.”   

Travel is fun, and may be the personality that comes from the bot could be about friendliness. Specialists also point out the response time shouldn’t be too quick or too slow, so every aspect is being scrutinized minutely.

“Your brand is what customers see, but your persona is who they talk to.  Your persona is integral to a successful chatbot and representative of every employee within your brand. This is your one opportunity to have an agent that encapsulates the essence of what your company stands for,”  underlined Newman.

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Ai Editorial: “Where is Palma de Mallorca?” the airline doesn’t know, Google knows it!

First Published on 25th April, 2017

By Ritesh Gupta, in Palma de Mallorca

 

The tag of “laggards”  isn’t a nice one, but airlines aren’t willing to move on.

Whatever keeps this industry the same or changing at excruciating slow pace, the traveller wouldn’t care as carriers keep falling short on several counts. It isn’t even worth comparing - a human interaction at a touchpoint owned by the airline vis-à-vis a digital interaction that is initiated by an entity like Google, the latter winning you over for sheer timing,  usefulness and the overall tendency to delight you time and again.

Travelling is fun – the joy of meeting new people, observing cultures/ local nuances, tasting food, exploring unique activities etc. Every touchpoint is an opportunity for airlines to augment the essence of travelling by understanding the intent, preferences, and this doesn’t always call for taking “heavy lifting associated with data”.

Let me cite an example.

I travelled from New Delhi to Palma de Mallorca via Frankfurt. A brief, one-minute interaction with the airline staff  at the New Delhi airport as I embarked on my journey wasn’t thrilling. “Palma de Mallorca, where is this place?” Well, the lady, who knew both the languages that I speak, was pleasant, but few words that she muttered didn’t add any value. May be not many Indians travel to this Spanish destination via Lufthansa, but if your airline takes passengers there and if you decide to speak, make it worthwhile.

15 hours later, I check-into my room. A notification pops up on my mobile screen, not from Melia Hotels where I am booked. It is from Google Allo, enticing me to explore Palma! As I open it, the colors are vibrant, graphics are refreshing, the content is useful,  and the timing isn’t bad either. The interaction was enough to leave a mark, unlike the useless interaction at the airport as I embarked on the journey. Even the hotel provides the free Wi-Fi access, but doesnt take it further as for enjoying the stay or exploring the place. Why hotels and airlines struggle to initiate a decent interaction - be it for the staff or the digital assets they own. Yes, the hotel home page opens when a user access the Internet, but that isnt enough! 

 

There is plenty to learn from this simple experience, and airlines need to change fast:

Be prepared, understand travelling pattern with the brand: I travel Lufthansa quite often, from the same airport. I have searched itineraries a number of times from one IP address, same devices time and again. I have also left comments on Twitter, Facebook etc. about my experiences with the airline and the staff has even given me call from London in the past six months to understand and resurrect what went wrong!  In an age when enterprises are talking of 1st party data, 2nd party data and 3rd party data, the sum of all interactions plus readiness to highlight the quality of your product (be it for human interaction or digital asset) needs to stand out. Otherwise major ecosystems such as Google will continue to find a way to understand me, and airlines despite owning the product, would only come across a mundane component of travel.

Be smart, go for real-time data: “Big airlines can do it, provided they are willing to do it (act on real-time data),” said a source, referring to the likes of KLM, Delta, British Airways, Lufthansa etc. Airlines have to ensure their “systems talk to each other”, a passenger’s request or any information obtained gets updated in real-time. For instance, if a passenger makes a request during the course of the journey, and the team responds on Facebook, then why can’t this request to be fulfilled?

Do away with business processes that are still based on the paper-based workflows that were developed and perfected over the 50 years before the digital revolution.  We have ended up with digitalization of processes that are fundamentally unchanged from the analog process, which while does represent an improvement in efficiency, is still quite a way from optimization in the digital age. The reality is, there are just some things that the legacy systems cannot do because they were never designed to. 

Be where a passenger is likely to be: Passengers are on Facebook, Whatsapp, WeChat etc. and these avenues are evolving. Leverage the power of APIs and find a way to serve passengers on these independent platforms. Yes, a move such as activation of search chatbot on Facebook Messenger is kind of presence that a brand needs. “Some of the airlines with the greatest ability in this area are the ones that run their own systems completely and can do whatever they want to do with it.  The problem is, there are very few airlines in the world that either want to take that level of involvement or can afford to do it,” a source told me recently.

Airlines can’t ignore the fact entities like Google, Uber, Alibaba, etc. with massive valuations are already thriving on data. They might or might not own the actual product, but they are capable of driving experiences. They are becoming increasingly adept at that, and the simple reason is:  ability to serve their offerings with outstanding accuracy, maximising their operations while engaging directly with and owning their consumers. They have leveraged technology to unify their end-to-end operations. Airlines have to fine their own niche, working on a blend of serving travellers via their own platforms and also 3rd party platforms via a collaborative approach (facilitated by  ability to interoperate with other enterprise solutions regardless of technology or platform).

Airlines have their own set of challenges – regulatory, security, labor relations, etc., but change is mandatory now. If 3rd party ecosystems or apps know too much and airlines just can’t get the basics of digital world right then they will remain laggards in the race of experience optimization.

Can’t wait for discussions here at Palma de Mallorca to unfold!

 

Ai’s 11th edition of Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Spain this week. 

Date: 25 Apr 2017 - 27 Apr 2017;

 

Location: Mallorca, Spain 

For more info, click here

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Ai Editorial: Cart abandonment email is evolving, are you?

First published on 20th April, 2017

Ai Editorial: Automation, personalisation and data-driven marketing in addition to certain basics such as content and timing are lending a new dimension to the abandonment email initiative, writes Ai's Ritesh Gupta

 

You are shopping for your next trip, finalise a flight itinerary, eventually can’t decide and are about to leave the site.

Just then you are given a chance to save the itinerary or a visual pops up that entices you to wrap up the booking, but you decide against taking an action.

After six hours, you receive an email, a reminder about your booking. It is based on a certain travel product bought in the past, your latest search and also acknowledges the fact your birthday is coming up around the same dates you were searching for a flight! You end up booking this flight sooner or later. The efficacy of data-driven automation, a luring video, timing etc. resulted in a conversion.

Such cart abandonment or checkout abandonment recovery is critical for travel e-ecommerce brands.  

As much as companies are trying to keep in check the abandonment rate, the fact remains that the average conversion rate (0.75% - 3%) remains an issue.

Yes, factors such as average order value and comparison shopping do impact travel shopping, but a lot is at stake when a traveller decides to move on or delays the decision to book.

In this context, follow-up emails based on-site browsing behaviour and abandonment has proven to be a strong weapon in lifting up the conversion rate.

Status of shopping “abandonment”  

In its recent study, Diggintravel.com, a content platform for travel marketing, assessed the efficacy of shopping cart abandonment emails, and evaluated 20 airline websites, 10 hotel and OTA websites, and 10 car rental websites.

 

 

“More airlines should do shopping cart abandonment, as more than half of the tested airlines don’t use it at all,” shared Iztok Franko, founder, Diggintravel.com. Buying a travel product is an intricate process, and once a traveller has considered airline.com, then airlines need to scrutinize the purchase funnel. And abandonment email can keep them “alive” in the process, says Franko. As for the study, he said Virgin Atlantic stood out among airlines, rentalcars.com in general among the travel websites.

How to keep interest “alive”?

Several pieces of a puzzle need to come together while crafting an email, and it might take only a couple of seconds to either revive that booking or be left in the lurch again.

“Ones (those airlines) that do it shouldn’t do it as a “one-and-done” process, but measure and optimize it as any other e-commerce process. Meaning test frequency (most send 1 email only), timing, subject lines, images, call to actions…,” explained Franko.

Here are some steps that are propping up the initiative:

1.    Automation: Email marketing is being streamlined via enterprise-level automation. And cart abandonment is an integral part of this. Simplicity is coming to the fore via the way emails can be designed (opting for a template, user’s cart details from website or a digital platform, timing etc.), how to manage a sequence of abandoned cart reminders, and even ensuring that in case a traveller has completed the transaction before the email is sent, then this user isn’t sent a reminder to get back to the buying process. Of course, emails can be sent depending upon whether users meet trigger and sending criteria or not.

The workflow optimization is must – based on the digital (or online + offline) activity of the shopper, personal details etc. It also needs to be ascertained whether automated needs to be avoided – for instance, in case of sending a personalised email to loyal customers who have abandoned a cart. How to deal with them? Can automation really help?

2.    Being data-driven: As we highlighted in one of our articles, it is time for airlines to go for a platform where relevant data is centralized, structured and connected. The vision is to making every touchpoint, channel an asset, deliver precise passenger communication etc. So work out a mechanism for real-time updates – enterprise-level information, funnel analytics, in-app analytics etc. So how to use contextual data, in real-time for cart abandonment email? How to base it on email eye tracking tests or predictive intelligence layer? How to count on machines for content matching?

Also, the whole effort of abandonment recovery needs to be blended with data around a user wherever applicable.

“They (airlines) capture the search data, but then process is pretty static. Apart from the rare cases (Virgin) most have static workflows of one abandonment email. The opportunities are much bigger here, as most airlines collect a lot of data (number of passengers, seasonality, trip type - business/leisure, gender, age…) that could be used to personalize and make emails more relevant,” recommended Franko.

3.    Making it work: Be it for what is being shown in the subject line or the main copy to the device for which email has been crafted to the timing and frequency of the delivery – all of this is being constantly being tested. Of course, there is a need to understand the performance, and there are basic metrics for email abandonment that airlines should measure and benchmark against - emails sent, open rates, click-through-rates, recovered carts - conversion rate, average order value of recovered cart.

Few tips that have worked:

-       A certain level of exclusivity or immediacy can help.

-       Do highlight the product/ itinerary browsed or added to the cart in a way that it lures ones to book it or take certain action. Place it at the top, should garner the attention once email is opened. An insipid mail won’t serve the purpose. Rather take the conversation to the next level – say showcasing the product via a charming image, a useful video etc.

-       The user abandoned a travel offering and isn’t interested in it. Combat this by cross-selling related products.

-       Specialists recommend inclusion of two call-to-action buttons – one above the cart content and one below.

   “Airlines could do different things to understand abandonment reasons. To begin with having detailed analytics in place to understand booking paths and drop-offs. Additionally, site tracking tools, user testing sessions, interviews, on-exit surveys, etc. could be used to identify reasons,” said Franko. According to him, most mistakes include –

-       Not using customer data to personalise messages;

-       Abandonment emails not being “mobile-first designed”; not clear call to actions and missing deeplinks to proper offers;

-       Not optimized display (subject and other) for Gmail inbox  

As a parting message, Franko recommended that one should look at abandonment emails in a vacuum. You need to have your booking journey mapped and decide which abandonment you will address with email, which with remarketing. Communication on emails should be in-line with the website and other communication so customers “feel” abandonment emails as part of the overall user experience. Additionally, you should have analytics and at least simple email automation in place to monitor the performance of these campaigns.

 

Gain an insight into intriguing issues at Ai’s 11th edition of Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Spain this year. 

Date: 25 Apr 2017 - 27 Apr 2017; Location: Mallorca, Spain 

For more info, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

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