Ai Editorial: Big Data = Good Data?

Combining all valuable data sources into one customer hub – how to make it work?

What’s impeding the effort of airlines to fully capitalize on the prowess of personalization? Ai assesses the same, featuring recommendations from Boxever and OpenJaw

Advancements in data analytics and how the same paves way for understanding the intent of the customer is one area that is being followed closely.

As Datalex’s CEO Aidan Brogan puts it, the effort is in combining all valuable data sources into one customer hub and ensuring that the commerce system can turn an insight into an offer.

It is also vital to ensure that passengers are duly recognized across every digital touch point. In this context, it becomes imperative to have a single view of the customer. But then there are still hurdles in attaining the same.

Ai’s Ritesh Gupta spoke to senior industry executives about some of the crucial areas related to personalisation and analytics: 

  • Being data-driven

Boxever’s CEO Dave O’Flanagan explains there are several key points to being data-driven:

1) Understand why you’re doing it. There’s no point in building a large repository of data unless you’re clear on the RoI and can clearly demonstrate the business value to your organisation, which can be direct revenue, says O’Flanagan.

2) Start small. Deploy the solution in your digital channels first, focusing on minimizing integration while and maximising impact. “We find that web, email and mobile are great places to start then expand to call centre, operations, in-flight and beyond. This allows you to build the business case to deploy the solution across your organization,” says O’Flanagan.

3) Hire the best talent. O’Flanagan says data is useless without people to help you understand it and translate the insights into personalized customer experiences. 

4) Align your organization. Omni-channel can mean omni-department for your organization and key functions will need to work together to make it a reality. “We’ve found that the organisational challenges in achieving true omni-channel are every bit as difficult as the technical ones,” says O’Flanagan.

  • Single customer view – dealing with silos

O’Flanagan says, “In our experience the toughest part of creating a single view of the customer is that it requires many departments to work together for a common purpose.”

He says coordinating this against other priorities, aligning on common goals, allocating resources, defining ownership of the new SCV (single customer view) - these are all new efforts for many of these departments, who have traditionally worked within their own silo. “Orienting around the customer really means transforming how the company thinks about its data, resources, and operations. Part of Boxever’s approach to addressing this challenge is helping companies understand the organisational as well as the technical challenges to doing this,” says O’Flanagan.

Mark Lenahan, VP of Product Strategy at OpenJaw says the biggest barrier to a single customer view is the persistence of technology and corporate silos, per customer touch point, as opposed to the creation of a single platform for retailing.

According to him, a single platform is one where the airline can leverage its buying power to present any product in any channel. “For example, contracting a hotel takes effort (direct connect or channel manager integration takes a different kind of effort), but why repeat it for every airline brand and again for the holidays company and again for the loyalty program?” questions Lenahan. He further probes and says: from the customer’s point of view, why are they seeing entirely different hotel products on the website than they see on the website, or the website, and again on board the plane? Why are they seeing different offers in-line, before they ticket, than post sale, after they ticket, pre-departure and on-board? 

“I'm not saying every product must be visible in every channel. What I do believe is that the decision of what products to offer where should be a business decision, not a technical one,” he says.

At this point, not only do very few airlines have a true multi-channel single-platform approach to travel retailing, they also don’t have corporate structure to support retailing. There isn’t a single person who can own the business case for a product across all channels - direct/ indirect, web/ mobile, holidays, loyalty, on-board, at destination etc., added Lenahan.

  • Identifying a customer

Technology is making progress when it comes to identifying a customer in the multi-device environment.

“My view on this is that the suitability of probabilistic methods depends on what you are going to subsequently do with that assumption of identity,” says Lenahan. He says if you are using aggregate data to discover patterns in consumer behavior, probabilistic is probably fine within error bars that your data scientists and analysts will understand. “Likewise if you are targeting advertising, you only need a good percentage of hits, and even the misses are quite likely to be similar people,” he says. “Although it is based on cookies, I like Amazon’s multiple levels of authentication. They welcome you back with an assumption, but you still need to deterministically “log in” to view account details or complete an order.”

Lenahan says he also thinks customers have a right to some transparency here. If a consumer has a reasonable expectation of anonymity and they are not in fact anonymous, the airline risks some reputation damage “if they abuse that and get caught,” warned Lenahan. “There should be a way for any consumer to see the standard, anonymous market price for example. I think common sense will prevail, and no matter how clever you think you are as a retailer, you can't outsmart a market (in the long run) and you shouldn't try. Ultimately, retailers work for the customer not against them and they mustn’t forget that,” he said.

O’Flanagan says right now the strike rates for generic matching based on cookies, IP and other environmental factors are pretty unimpressive but if you can look at booking information, search behavior and other travel-specific factors the match rate increase significantly and this is where travel-specific solutions have the edge.

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