The ideal digital journey of an airlines customer
Airlines is probably at the top of the most volatile industries in terms of profitability. With everything that’s happening around digital innovation with technology, around 70% of an airline company’s revenue still comes through agent bookings. This trend holds true across the globe, it isn’t so just in the ‘developing countries’.
Fuel cost, airport cost, marketing cost, overheads, add to that agent cost and an airline would be lucky to retain $5 out of every $100 it makes.
Most airlines today tread a thin line between trying to increase online bookings through their website while not antagonizing their agents which would mean huge revenue losses.
Personal is great. Now back off
While the big global brands are embracing technology to innovate in aspects such as travel retail, ancillary merchandising, loyalty programs, mobile payment, etc. – ‘personalizing user experience’ is still at a nascent stage. It is a tricky business since you need to make sure you get it absolutely right. If not, you end up being creepy or intrusive and that means a lost customer for life. Airlines just cant afford that.
Predictive analytics and Machine learning play a massive role in creating a relevant and personalized experience for users. The logical starting point for this is the airlines’ website. The website is a powerful owned channel through which a brand can contextualize conversations with their users, delight them with a cuztomized experience and push them closer to that elusive purchase.
Banks and Insurance companies have made a head start where they are making effective use of the tons of data at their disposal (at an anonymous cookie level) to try and build relevant offerings to their users and target them through various digital touch points – website, display, social, push, email and sms.
With the push towards increasing online bookings, it is indispensable for airlines to be able to hook their users with a 1:1 customized experience across digital channels to ensure consistent brand recall and loyalty.
Let us look at how an ideal digital journey of a user could look like for an airline.
Steve’s digital journey with Fly Airlines
Steve is a frequent flyer with Fly Airlines. FYI, Both Steve and Fly Airlines are figments of my imagination.
1. Steve visits the fly.com website looking for a New York to Singapore flight for a return trip from November 23 – 27. He checks out a few flights, timings and fares and drops off from the website without making the booking, for whatever reason.
Fly.com now has 1st party data on what Steve (by which I mean Steve’s anonymous cookie) looked for on the website.
2. The next time Steve visits the fly.com website, the Home page banner is customized with messaging on NY-Singapore flights along with a beautiful image of the Singapore skyline in the background. Steve clicks on the banner and lands on the results page. He scrolls up and down a bit but still isn’t convinced. He drops off again without making a booking.
3. Later that day, Steve visits cnbc.com to check out the news. He sees a fly.com display ad with a $60 discount on NY-SG flights. He had seen the same ad on his Facebook newsfeed sometime earlier. The discount encourages Steve to click on the ad and he lands directly on the search results page of the fly.com website. Steve uses the discount and books his economy flight.
Booking done! But it doesn’t end there. Not even close.
4. The moment Steve completes his booking, on the confirmation page, a site notification pops up saying ‘Hey Steve, why don’t you upgrade to Business Class with the miles you have in your account’. How cool would that be. Ancillaries contribute to a significant portion of airlines’ revenue. Steve doesn’t do it though. Well that’s alright, you at least tried.
5. It is November 21. Steve’s flight is in 2 days and he is at his office checking his emails. A ‘browser push notification‘ pops up on the top right corner of his screen reminding Steve to do a web checkin and avoid the queue at the airport. (Please note: Steve needs to have previously opted in on the fly.com website to receive notifications). He clicks on the browser push notification, lands on the fly.com website and makes a web checkin. A push notification can be sent to his mobile phone too, if Steve had installed the Fly.com app.
6. Just when he completes his web check in, a site notification pops up with an offer for him to upgrade to a seat with extra leg room since its a long haul flight. Steve thinks about it – ‘it is indeed going to be a long flight, it would be nice to have some extra leg room’ – he goes ahead and upgrades himself to a much more comfortable seat.
Fly.com has managed to take Steve through a personal journey through its digital assets from the moment he came to their website to the moment he checks in to board his flight. Fly also managed to get him to do a web checkin (which at a larger scale contributes to bringing down airport costs) and earn anciillary revenue through the ‘extra leg room’ upgrade.
Steve is a happy customer! He is definitely going to come back to fly.com next time he needs to fly somewhere.
This of course would be the ideal user journey which airlines should be aspiring to. It is not impossible. You just need the right marketing platform which allows you to ingest online and offline data, segment users with predictive algorithms, design relevant offers customized for each user and reach out to them through innovative digital channels.
Okay it is not that simple. Think about this – just being able to overlap your discount data with the data on users who searched for a specific route and targeting only those users with personalized offers through your marketing channels would be a great starting point.