Airlines have long struggled with customer satisfaction issues and in recent times we have seen an increasing number of horror stories linked to air travel customer experience (CX), from racism, to forcible removals and the recent death of a passenger’s dog. Granted, all of these examples were from the US so it isn’t surprising that airlines are in the bottom third of industries tracked by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. But they can serve as a guide on, what not to do for Australian airlines.
Airline CX issues are not limited to the US and passengers worldwide have all experienced the agony of lost luggage, a rude attendant, a dodgy meal or a friction-laden check in process. From a CX perspective some of these things are easier to fix than others.
For example, in recent years the check in process in particular has been greatly streamlined by technology. Checking in online and getting your boarding pass sent to your phone is now par for the course, which has eliminated much of that friction. But perhaps nothing will stop the inevitable doom of being sat between Tuberculosis Guy and Screaming Baby.
Across all industries the importance of CX is rising. Customers today are increasingly demanding and empowered by social media to advocate or vilify brands. At the touch of a button, they command an audience of potentially millions. The now infamous beating and removal of David Dao from United Airlines flight 3411 would have had far less impact without the power of smartphones to record and disseminate the incident in an instant.
The airline industry has always been competitive, but in recent times has been taking serious measures to lift its CX game. Here are 7 ways different airlines worldwide are tackling this.
#1 Employee Experience
As CX becomes more widespread, there has also been an increasing awareness about employee experience (EX).
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is one airline that is focusing on EX as a way of improving overall CX, as reported by CMO.
Southwest’s senior director of innovation, design and entrepreneurship Heather Figallo recently said that Southwest's emphasis on EX is not new, and is a key to the airline's success.
“If they [employees] were happy, then they would take care of the customers. And if the customer was happy, they would come back, and that would take care of the stockholders and investors,” she said at the CX Tech Fest in Melbourne in July.
As an example, one Southwest employee completed a three-hour drive to return a passenger’s lost luggage.
We hire for personality,” she added. “We don’t hire for specific skill sets, unless it is a real specialist. If they are not a cultural fit, I like to say they glow in the dark. You can just see it doesn’t work. And there is a lot of coaching that will go on.”
It is no secret that chatbots are having a bit of a moment right now. Visit any major company’s website and you are likely to be greeted by a virtual pal looking to assist you with your needs. With continued advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, chatbots are now able to handle a wider range of tasks more effectively.
Chatbots are not exclusively for larger organisations though. For example, Facebook Messenger offers smaller businesses an easy and free way to set automated responses to customer queries.
This week, Malaysia Airlines launched a new flight booking solution for customers to process flights and make payments through Messenger.
The chatbot, which is called MHchat and is designed to mimic human conversations, is able to help customers look up flights, answer questions related to bookings and complete transactions.
“Customer experience is a key priority for Malaysia Airlines and we are deeply committed to constantly improving it.” CEO of Malaysia Airlines said in a statement. Our digital transformation strategy lies at the heart of this, as we continuously harness new and innovative technologies to enhance all touchpoints for our guests.”
As the number of channels increases, the importance of a solid omni-channel strategy does too. People may have varying definitions of what omni-channel is, but the simplest is probably this: it is multi-channel done well.
This month Etihad announced that it has partnered with Farelogix to enhance its merchandising and distribution capabilities.
Using Farelogix’s technology, Etihad will be able to create personalised product and service propositions with the aim of increasing customer satisfaction. Etihad said it also plans to launch a new distribution capability-enabled platform which enables customers to see offerings through digital media whether they are booking via travel agencies, search engines or other channels.
“It is crucial in today’s digital world that we continuously refine our services and utilise progressive technology to elevate our customers travel experiences regardless of the channel they use to book,” Etihad’s chief commercial officer said in a statement. “The solutions offered by Farelogix will allow us to take control of our offer, expand our distribution capabilities and drive product variation.”
#4 Pain points
Anyone who has done a long-haul flight across the globe knows how disruptive jet lag can be. Getting back into sync can take days and my bespoke method of staying awake as long as possible and drinking a bottle of red might not be for everyone.
Earlier this year, Qantas unveiled a menu to help alleviate this common pain point.
The Australian carrier is offering flyers healthy poke bowls, probiotic infused juice shots and a herbal tea designed especially to help reduce jet-lag.
“Working with clinical sleep specialists, nutritionists and metabolic scientists, we’ve designed new menu options using delicious ingredients that have added benefits of hydration, aiding sleep and reducing jet-lag,” Qantas’ creative director of food, beverage and service Neil Perry said in a statement.
The new menus debuted on Qantas’ 787 Dreamliner services from Perth to London in March.
Part of the challenge for airlines improving their CX is that the customer journey is long and varied. Purchasing a ticket, checking in, the flight itself and receiving luggage are all different experiences with their own expectations and unique touch points.
Air New Zealand is one airline that has recently invested in making significant improvement to its in-flight CX. The carrier announced on Wednesday that its first A321neo (new engine option) will enter commercial service in mid-November.
Air New Zealand took customer feedback to help govern design aspects of the neo’s interior. The seats are 3cm wider in the middle and 1cm wider on the aisle and window and they are designed to create up to 7 per cent more space when reclined. Other enhancements include around 25 per cent more overhead compartment space and a new inflight entertainment system with a larger screen.
We extensively tested and refined the neo inflight experience with customers to ensure we could incorporate their feedback while meeting regulatory and operating requirements and we're confident we've delivered an inflight experience our customers are going to enjoy," Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon said in a statement .
Personalisation is another major CX trend that is here to stay. As companies get more targeting in their offerings and the long tail gets longer, the ‘one size fits all’ approach of the past is disappearing. Today's customer want personalised or even hyperpersonalised experiences to go beyond just knowing their names. They expect companies to know what they like and how they like it, although there is an obvious trade off in privacy.
As Fifth Quadrant has noted before , one airline that is using hyperpersonalisation in air travel is Japan Airlines.
Earlier this year VP of products and planning services at the airline Akira Mitsumasu said that airlines need to do more than just move customers from one place to another. As a result, Japan Airlines has come up with hyper-personalised offers including curated ski trips for people with disabilities, a loyalty programme for people who travel with their pets, and tours of regional cities to taste local sake and beer.
#7 The Digital Connection
Another airline looking to improve personalisation is Cathay Pacific. To achieve this, Cathay Pacific is deepening its engagement with global CRM provider Salesforce.
Last week, Cathay announced that it will be deploying Salesforce Marketing Cloud to unify sales, service and marketing, and deliver connected personalised customer experiences across any channel, including email, social, digital advertising and more.
“Expanding our relationship with Salesforce was a very easy decision to make,” Cathay Pacific chief customer and commercial officer Paul Loo said in a statement . "By adding Marketing Cloud, we enrich the understanding of our customers through enhanced engagement across channels and devices.”
Loo said that with the airline industry facing disruption, Cathay Pacific needs to be ready for the digitally-savvy customers of the future.
“Customers today expect seamless and hyper-personalised experiences and their expectations are higher than ever. To stay competitive, airlines need to be able to leverage technology to meet and exceed these expectations,” said Mark Innes, General Manager and Executive Vice President, APAC at Salesforce.
Fifth Quadrant conducts research that empowers companies to improve their CX. To learn more about how Fifth Quadrant can assist your organisation, contact us today.