As digital transformation continues to evolve the business landscape, the market remains fiercely competitive for businesses and brands – especially when it comes to customer loyalty and retention.
By Devendra Govender, head of operations at Merchants
One industry where this rings especially true is aviation, where customers’ requirements for on-demand access to expert airline consultants must be met through a variety of channels when navigating their travel experience.
Arguably, nothing is as important to an airline as their customer experience strategy. This experience is not just about the mechanics of sending the customer on a trip and ensuring that everything is booked correctly, it’s about forging an emotional connection with the customer through a hands-on approach that lets them know you have their best interests at heart.
Making travel arrangements can be an exasperating process; taking into account not only the stress of long distance flying and connecting flights, but also all of the arrangements and documents required prior. Business models that are not built around prioritising a positive experience for customers and helping lessen the stress that goes alongside travelling, run the risk of becoming irrelevant in the near future – despite pricing.
Further to this, digital transformation has resulted in increased consumer demand for a more personal, tailored travel experience, not only in terms of products and services, but communication too – which requires airlines to optimise the use of big data around customer insight and behaviour prediction.
Four ways digitalisation is improving the customer experience:
Trend one: Bookings and enquiries
While passengers might look to digital channels to search for the right deals or pre-book add-ons like in-flight connectivity or extra luggage, the contact centre remains an invaluable part of the customer experience, with many customers prioritising the human element offered by this channel – especially when it comes to booking flights, making changes to bookings, enquiring around loyalty programmes, special requests or issues like flight cancellations and delays.
Customers take advantage of digital innovations in all areas of the industry, including contacting the airline via social media or chatbots, managed by the contact centres.
Passengers are turning to digital messaging platforms, such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, to search for their ideal travel times and the best prices. This requires agents to have the relevant insight and experience to connect with and assist passengers throughout their travel journey, with an array of queries and concerns.
Incorporating big data enables contact centres to make real connections with people, and gain insights that assist in addressing their specific pain points.
Trend two: Managing personal data and mitigating fraud
Another area where innovation is best serving customer demands is the facilitation of payment. Digital platforms allowing self-service payments are often favoured over recounting credit card details to agents over the phone, for both security reasons and convenience. Technologies like fingerprint and facial recognition are being built into mobile applications further ensuring the safety of consumer data.
Consider the most recent case with British Airways which was fined a record £183-million for a data breach.
Insights collected through contact centre bookings can also enable airlines to detect certain trends that may be red flags for credit card fraud. These can include bookings where the departure and arrival times don’t match or are too close or far apart, bulk bookings made on the same day as departure, or specific route types. Detecting and stopping fraudulent activities have cost savings benefits, both for airlines and their passengers.
To mitigate data breach and fraud, contact centres have secure measures in place to protect personal information such as credit card details, names, addresses, travel booking details and logins.
Trend three: Analytics can identify ancillary services and new revenue streams
Importantly, data collected through contact centres can assist airlines in identifying ancillary revenue opportunities and offer customers the personalisation they expect from service providers, through customer segmentation.
Segmenting passengers solely by travel class may have worked years ago, but in the age of digital transformation this is too simple. The customer journey has become more complex, and calls for services, products and business strategies at large to do the same.
Using data effectively, airlines will be able to offer their passengers tailored, personal offers that surprise and delight. Tapping into demographics and past experience, contact centres can see whether a regular business traveller has a preferred seating choice, whether they include additional days to their trip for leisure. Airlines can then find ways to create tailored packages with hotel and car rental partners or create dedicated service desks for passengers with specific travel requirements.
Trend four: Tailoring new experiences and mitigating negative ones
Real time data collection allows airlines to provide consumers with tailored services that are updated throughout the journey. Such an example is the tracking of luggage in real time.
Data collected via contact centres can also inform airline employees at check-in desks as to whether a passenger has experienced lost luggage previously and allows them to communicate what steps have been taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again. This gives passengers peace of mind and minimises their stress while travelling.
Using data to track unaccompanied minors who are flying gives parents or guardians step-by-step updates regarding their travel in realtime.
The same technology can be applied for those travelling with disabilities, and real-time updates are provided to passengers regarding where to locate airline employees and their pre-booked wheelchairs. Flight delays are of course a headache, for both the airlines and the passengers. However, through real-time communications, airlines can keep passengers updated and be transparent around the reasons why.
Furthermore, airlines such as Emirates are considering the use of drone technology to help with technical checks of aircrafts after landing and before take-off.
For airlines to remain competitive and win at customer service, contact centres using digital tools to collect big data, coupled with industry expertise, will create better customer experiences resulting in cost savings, revenue generation plus the retention and growth of their customer base. While this is no easy task, collaborating with the right business partners will mean that airlines are well equipped to prioritise the customer experience throughout their digital transformation journey.
Serving aviation partners since 2009 and with a combined experience of over 100 years in the sector, Merchants has been critical in ensuring our clients’ businesses evolve towards a better customer experience by not only leveraging technology but also using the data and tools available to enhance the service that contact centre agents provide to airlines – ensuring they stay ahead of the latest digital trends. There is no doubt that well-trained, empowered people deliver the best customer experience, which, in turn, translates to customer retention for clients.