First published on 14th July, 2016
Ai Editorial: Airlines need to raise the bar for customer experience (CX) when it comes to the day of travel, in-flight experience etc. writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta
The gap between what all a traveller possibly needs during the course of the journey, and what data, analytics, cloud computing, artificial intelligence etc. can offer is huge. The intricacy lies not only in making the most of technology, data and analytics, but also cross-functional collaboration.
There is a need to remove uncertainty associated with travelling. And this would be only be possible if airlines do away with siloed systems at the technology and business level, and equip their staff with real-time information.
I was recently in Switzerland, and used the SBB Mobile rail and transportation app as part of my travel. My travelling experience could have been better with right recommendations/ information at an opportune time:
- Mapping: Changing trains and switching platforms isn’t easy with luggage and a kid. As I travelled from Lauterbrunnen to Montreux, I changed train thrice. On two occasions hopping to another platform was to be done in a span of few minutes. At this point of time, directions via mobile app would have helped. The same holds for air travel, too, as transfers and moving to another terminal can be exacting at times. Yes, signs are there, but why not trigger an automated direction guidance?
- Alerts: The SBB app clearly states “all information without guarantee”. So as we reach the station, depending upon the itinerary chosen and my location, there could be an update about platforms. Similarly, in air travel, too, there are times when the confirmation of gate comes closer to the flight. A mere push notification can again eradicate uncertainty if any.
- Customer service: I also had mixed experience with Lufthansa while travelling from Geneva to New Delhi via Munich. SWISS messed up our seat allocation for Munich-New Delhi flight, and when we contacted both SWISS and Lufthansa via Twitter, they weren’t able to change despite being aware of the situation five hours before the connecting flight. In fact, Lufthansa’s staff at the gate in Munich wasn’t even aware despite a deluge of Tweets from me. So clearly on the day of travel the operational plan isn’t reaching the airline staff in a timely manner. Another area of hassle is losing baggage. Airlines are responsible for the bags they allow you to check in but their responsibility is limited. On a positive note, the industry is talking about using a RFID tag instead of the digital bar code tag to track the location.
“Most airlines do send customer's notification to support their journey, such as sending gate information updates (via in-app push notifications), but I've not yet been advised which check-in desks are for my flight, easy directions to the lounge, how long I should leave to get to the gate and shopping opportunities,” pointed out James Lever, CTO, CWT Digital.
Areas of improvement
Of course, it is pleasing to hear how the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, big data and predictive analytics can anticipate the needs of a passenger, and streamline the journey.
According to Sabre, airlines need to assess whether they have:
· Streamlined or automated workflows?
· Access to real-time data from other departments?
· Configurable systems than can adapt to change in your business?
· Integration with external systems and processes?
· Automated communication streams to and from other stakeholders?
From a passenger’s perspective, areas of improvement could be:
Ø Airport experience: As a passenger, I would prefer real-time, location-based information on a single platform. For example, I have a couple of hours to board my flight. Can I use one app, preferably an airline app, to search for the nearest shopping outlet where I can buy what I wish? I can rely on artificial intelligence feature on my smartphone, and gain access to information desired. There are other aspects that are related to my travel. For instance, as I walk past the baggage collection area, can I automatically be informed about ground transportation information such as the location, arrival and departure times of buses, taxis etc. Airlines are definitely improving, a prime example being biometric-enabled self-service bag drop units. As Amadeus IT Group points out, airports and airlines need to focus on a single token which can “link passengers’ biometric data to their boarding pass and passport to remove the need to present their documents at multiple stages of the airport journey”.
Ø Integrating touchpoints: When any aspect of travel isn’t going smoothly, the worst part is a traveller accessing a touchpoint, and it shows no alignment with another touchpoint. A case in point is the example of being unable to change seats at the airport while in transit. So when I access a self-service kiosk and can’t change it, it only increases anxiety as I have to wait till reach the boarding gate. During my recent flight, even Lufthansa’s personnel accessed the self-service kiosk, but in vain. So there is lack of integration, no real-time alignment and employees might be going through numerous systems or data sets to find the information they need. As Sabre states, silos at the technology level (i.e. multiple disparate systems) and silos at the business level (i.e. disjointed workflows and processes) often result in siloed decision making.
Ø Data and intent of passengers: Airlines need to look at cognitive computing and artificial intelligence to make the most of structured and non-structured data – could be about offering my favourite seat. It’s time to count on loyalty data, trip data, previous purchase data and with apt permissions in place for social data for a personalised experience. Not too sure about the efficacy of how automated way of answering emails or Tweets is helping, but at least signifies progress. A traveller can tweet 20 times knowing the airline isn’t able to help just because the social media doesn’t have access to a reservation system. So how about getting back to this disgruntled customer? Airlines need to have a consolidated view and real-time visibility into passengers’ interactions, even understanding those who aren’t part of the loyalty program. There is a need to quickly analyze data from any source, including legacy systems, social media, the IoT, machine-to-machine communications etc.
Airlines need to be wary of the personalisation/ push notifications going awry.
Lever says apps such as TripAdvisor are pushing notifications upon airport arrival, the challenge here is as the technology develops we risk overloading the user from push notifications from different vendors - which will result in the user disabling/ rejecting the benefit.
But airlines need to look at the available data and the course of the journey. For instance, as Lever says, this data could be used for in-flight entertainment, ordering content such that it is more relevant to passengers. As Lever points out, if I’ve travelled the same route 2-3 times, do I want to watch the same thing? Do I need to scroll though complex screens, why couldn’t my “favourites” be shown on the home page. “This captive environment when combined with Internet access may be a way for the airlines to understand the user (cookies and privacy law permitting),” said Lever.
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