Service the key to airline survival
Gurbinder Nijor, technical director EMEA for technology firm Avaya, argues that technology could help carriers deliver a first class customer experience for all passengers.
With fluctuations in oil prices, increased competition and general uncertainty about the European economy in the wake of the UK’s Brexit vote, the airline industry is clearly facing some challenging times.
CEOs of most airlines are, consequently, looking at improving efficiency and enhancing the customer experience, as they aim to reduce costs, while continuing to increase customer lifetime value and the size of their customer base.
While this is sensible enough in theory, how airlines actually achieve this is not so straightforward.
With such complex businesses, knowing where to start can be extremely daunting and I’ve seen several boards paralysed by their inability to agree a starting point.
One area that is in particular need of attention, and could be improved relatively simply, is increasing efficiency in actually getting passengers on to aircraft in good time to meet their take-off slots, and then getting those aircraft in the air.
Why am I focusing on this? Well, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), delayed flights cost the industry $22 billion per year in the US alone.
Fortunately, good progress is already being made in this area through the successful creation of specific mobile applications, which have introduced features such as remote check-in by mobile device.
Others have implemented radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags on hold and hand luggage so that they can locate baggage both on planes, and in the airport before take-off, to try and find out exactly where passengers are before they board.
But more can be done, and here are my top three suggestions:
• Avoiding duty free distraction:
A common cause of delayed flights is passengers who checked in on time but have spent too long in the shops and restaurants airside and, therefore, are late to the departure gate. Creating an app that automatically sends an SMS to passengers not yet at the gate, or even calls their mobile phone with a pre-recorded message that says they need to go to the gate right away, could solve this problem.
It could even be coded to require a response back to ensure the passenger has received the message. It could also push a map showing where the gate is located.
And how about if it sent a smartphone message to all airline staff in the vicinity, with the passenger’s current location and a photograph of them?
• Accommodating the traffic jams on the airport slip road:
Pretty much every flight has booked passengers who do not arrive at the airport by the stated check-in time, usually due to heavy traffic or other transport delays on the way to the airport.
By matching geo-location data of passengers with information on who has checked in for a particular flight, a smart application could automatically contact those not yet at the airport. It could, for example, offer these passengers a “click-to-call” option to reach specific airport staff ensuring they are directed to a specific latecomers’ desk as soon as they arrive at the airport.
• Making the most of the early birds:
These days there are also many passengers who arrive at the airport so early they could actually catch a prior flight, on which there well may be empty seats.
In this case, an app could be built that would automatically contact these passengers and run them through a pre-defined process for getting on board the earlier flight quickly. As well as providing an enhanced customer experience, this app would also improve seat management for the airline.
However, in order for these apps to work and to ensure their development is cost-effective, airlines need an appropriate underlying technology platform. Oceana is a good example.
It’s important that customer experience apps are built on the common architecture, so they work together rather than standalone, and be integrated with other initiatives already in place, such as RFID baggage tags.
Oceana works on a template approach and, for the aviation industry, it enables airlines to create and manage multi-touch customer ‘journeys’, while an analytics component delivers a single, comprehensive view of customers across all sources.
From managing costs to managing digital-savvy customers, airline bosses certainly have plenty on their plates. However, technology-enabled customer experience can have a real impact on the bottom line and not just in terms of growing a passenger base.