A big challenge for the airlines industry is that air travel, as a product, has become commoditized. The emergence of low-cost flights, price comparison sites, travel planning companies and unpredictable government regulations have eliminated any possibility of clear product differentiation.
As prices are easy to compare, customer service matters more than ever. Airlines, even the “no-frills” ones, are now forced to work on their customers’ experiences. From easing travel worries, providing better in-flight entertainment and food, to offering better transit services, airlines have come a long way in the past decade.
Exploring avenues for personalization
Today’s digital natives are used to customised interactions and personalised solutions. Airlines need to work in tandem with other members of the industry – airports, travel agents, travel sites,etc. to be able to provide a personalized experience to customers.
So far, most of the personalization attempts by most of the airlines are limited to offers, recommendations and food choices. Here are some next-gen products/services that radically improve the levels of personalization that airlines can offer:
Panasonic’s Waterfront’s concept seat
- This seat allows passengers to control the in-flight entertainment options through the supplied 7’’ tablet.
- They can also order food and drinks through this tablet.
- When they want to sleep, the app on the tablet can adjust the seat’s recline – including turning it into a fully-flat 79-inch bed.
- When the plane lands, the app will provide transit, luggage claim and car rental information.
Customized in-flight entertainment options
ViaSat, a technology that provides high-speed internet access in the skies – has changed the way brands are looking at in-flight entertainment. Airlines are also launching tie-ins with popular streaming services. Passengers flying on select Virgin America flights can sign into their Netflix account to stream shows to their mobile devices or tablets. JetBlue offers the same service for Amazon Prime customers.
- Singapore Airlines passengers can access a ‘Book the Cook’ service that allows them to choose from a wide selection of meals, as well as reserve a meal up to 24 hours before a flight.
- The dutch airline has introduced a ‘Meet and Seat’ feature, allowing people to view the Facebook or LinkedIn profiles of fellow flyers as well as find out where they’ll be sitting.
The role of technology
Airlines have also been limited by decades old legacy technology systems that were not designed for the realities of air travel today. Using technology, airlines are not able to increase their operational efficiency, but also are able to offer a much superior experience to the customer.
For a customer, the experience with an airline starts much before actually boarding the flight. It starts from the time he starts planning for a trip, and extends way after they deboard the flight. Airlines have a large number of digitization opportunities (exclusive and joint) in the entire customer lifecycle.
Digital applications can help airlines personalise customer experience across every touch point.
Some examples are:
- The user can get reminders on his phone about the date of the journey, etc.
- He can be intimated about the check-in and boarding times based on live data (flight delays, overbooked, etc)
- He can be notified about baggage claim status and pickup time on his mobile. Delta airlines has launched RFID bag-tracking. Travellers can see their bags going on and off the plane via push notifications from the Fly Delta mobile app, which they can also access in-flight.
No amount of discussion on digitization is complete without talking about the role of mobile devices. Mobile devices have given travelers a whole new level of information, transparency and control. Leading airlines are working on technology that will allow passengers to complete the self reaccommodation process when a flight is delayed or canceled from their mobile device.
Digitization when implemented right can go a long way in helping the industry with less downtime, better service and higher margins. Biometric identity management, Beacons and Way-Finding solutions, Pre-airport self-service options etc. are some ways the airlines can delegate manual tasks to technology and save costs.