Ai Editorial: Serving loyal flyers – can we keep it simple?

First Published, 15th April 2016

Ai Editorial: It's an art to develop and implement a loyalty experience that is simple yet impactful. Processes are in place, but are they efficient? Ai’s Ritesh Gupta finds out


Travelling is refreshing. Meeting new people, trying new cuisines, exploring unknown places and things etc. has its own charm. That’s what travel is all about.

Plus, the sheer joy of embarking on a trip or even receiving a confirmation pertaining to your hotel or flight booking are simple things that build up the crescendo. But sometimes simplicity gets overshadowed. Let’s explore some unwanted areas and areas that can be improved:

Go beyond the mundane: This week I planned a surprise for my wife and daughter, booked at room (Pullman New Delhi Aerocity) three days prior to my travel. The purpose of travel was a city break, a weekend getaway to celebrate my wife’s birthday. I also downloaded Accor’s app and checked-in for my stay. Post this I received an email, enticing me to avail a deal (either for Pullman and Novotel in the same area), something that I had already done. At the bottom of the email there was a note that did mention that the offer “may not take into account the latest transactions passed on the previous 24 hours”. Fair enough. But I expect a better piece of communication. I had spoken to an executive at the time of booking. I conveyed to him about this special day and the reason behind the trip. So I would rather expect a post booking email which has something to do with it. This will be my fifth stay at an Accor property in three years, including a stay with my family in Goa last year.  

Emails and push notifications need to be more meaningful, relevant as per the status of my journey, and luring enough to lend a “feel-good” factor.   

Be cautious with tracking of digital footprint: Recently I interacted with Atlanta, Georgia-based Del Ross Managing Partner, Noctober Value Partners. He mentioned that he doesn’t generally seek “surprise and delight” experiences when he is travelling unless it is purely a leisure trip that features travelling with his wife.  “Since most of my trips are business-related, my biggest priorities are to avoid hassle and problems.  To an extent, I would prefer that my accumulated behavior were not tracked and leveraged without my explicit permission - unexpected offers, no matter how relevant, run the risk of being creepy,” he said.

There is a need to build trust with travellers and offer assurance that personal details/ information will not be utilized other than for the exact reason that the passenger grants access.   

Redemption options: Airlines need to find ways to overcome complications and inefficiencies associated with their respective loyalty programs. In a recent interview, Sean Dennis, Co-Founder and COO, highlighted that travellers want their points right away, and they want more redemption options. “As a customer, I often feel undervalued in loyalty programs. Examples include the `event-type’ reduction in the value of points that I have already earned, in order to limit the operator's liability,” he said. This happens more often than people realize, and can actually have an opposite effect of loyalty.

Also, tier qualification is poorly done sometimes – for example only business or first contributing to top status is too restrictive and just isn’t viable in this day and age.

Understand my journey, my preferences: While loyalty used to be measured by how much you spend, how many times you fly, the number of miles you do – this simply isn’t the case anymore in a data driven world of analytics and business intelligence. Its important to ensure how does a loyalty program offer the perfect level of personalization, rewarding and recognizing each customer throughout the entire pre and post trip process. This should be done without creating a heightened level of expectation that is difficult for the airline to meet consistently – while keeping in mind the potential costs of providing the deepened level of personalized insight.

Effective personalization requires a “collect, predict, act” approach. As a senior executive from GuestLogix told me, airlines need to collect relevant data about the customer, often from a variety of sources, and airlines with a CRM and FFP/ loyalty program partnership already have a decent start. However it is also necessary to have single e-commerce platform that provides a 360-degree view of all digital interactions (including past transaction history and current online behaviour etc.) across the omni-channel (including desktop, mobile, tablet, on-board, contact centre etc.) for the entire customer lifetime, in order to make the most of the personalization opportunity.  

While there may be a complex array of data sets, modelling, predictive analytics, machine learning, 1000’s of servers crunching numbers night and day, and teams of data scientists hypothesizing new models 24/7 – the consumer needs to have a beautiful experience not inhibited by any of this. 

Recognize me: FFPs as a customer touch point remains a mere support function of the entire customer experience for the airline to get it right, the first time, every time, says South African Airways’ Suretha Cruse.  

Let’s face it; there are a large number of inter-dependencies across the airline and all the customer touch points are substantially cross-functional. If the customer satisfaction is not being met by the complete customer experience provided by the airline, the FFP members’ true loyalty towards the airline is questionable and their loyalty to the rewards of the FFP is an unintended consequence.

Whilst most airlines recognise the need and/or invest in their customer experiences to ensure personalisation by anticipating and striving to understand the unique convenience or recognition needs of customers; by large the airline industry is still lagging in their quest for a deeper level of personalisation.

Process and operationalization do not tend to be viewed as a major priority for marketers.  For a consistent CX, one has to clearly define processes and execute flawlessly. 

Delivering benefits such as priority boarding or baggage handling requires consistent process across wide networks.

A senior loyalty executive told me there is no shortage of proposals that promise results – most focus on technology-driven solutions in tandem with business- intelligent processes and yes, it is required as enablers. However, it is the delivery of results that is harder to achieve than the “what” and “how” statements as the critical success factor is often in fact the people aspect. It is an art to develop and implement differentiated and personalised customer experiences that are consistently delivered through people at all customer touch points vis-à-vis a customer experience that the market both expects and is willing to pay for. Adding emotional value, mostly through people, is what primarily develops relationships that guarantee customer loyalty.


How challenging is to make sure loyal customers get what they want? Hear from senior industry executives at the 10th Ancillary Merchandising Conference (to be held in Barcelona, 21- 22 April 2016)

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