Travel Technology

When will airlines use customer data intelligently?

Dec 04, 2019 / By Vanessa Horwell

As consumers and travelers, many of us have endured what it feels likewhen an airline treats us a transaction instead of a customer – a chattel to be loaded onto a flying metal tube. Wwander aimlessly around airports, stressed and unsure of who can help us when there’s a delay or flight cancellation, swiping through disconnected travel apps to receivhotel promotions for La Paz when we’re actually headed to Cabogetting redundant offers from credit card partners with whom we already spend all our money, having to recheck luggage or track down missing bags, and so on.   

Sadly, the vast majority of travelers feel this way, stressed-out and on their own everywhere they goBut why? Airlines lack the real-time communications needed to support customers at every step of their journey as they deal with different travel merchants involved in their trip as well as their own issuesDuring a recent trip to Australia, I was dumbfounded that not a single airline agent was available in Brisbane’s domestic terminal when a Jetstar flight was delayed… for 2.5 hours. Like lemmings,180 passengers just sat there waiting for an announcement – any announcement, which never arrived. The plane did, eventually. 

Air travel has become so stressful that some airlines now offer meditation appsBut instead of building an app to alleviate the stress they’re causing, why don’t they just invest in their own technology to avoid that happening in the first place? 

Here’s where innovation from outside the airline sector comes into play; travel technology companies that are building solutions to help airlines solve many of these awful travel experience problems. 

Airlines should guide travelers, not spam them 

Using existing customer data is a start; the rich store of information airlines have already amassed through their customers’ booking history and loyalty program interactions enables them to pinpoint where customers are, where they’re going, and what they might need before they check in, once they’re at the airport or even after arriving at their destination. And yet they don’t. 

Personalization, localization and experience curation can help. Travel technology platforms are being developed to address traveler pain points and needs by combining customer-level data with machine learning and AI to create “people like me” personas, allowing airlines to match inventory and offers based on similar transactional or behavioral histories.  

One example of a common traveler pain point is having booked a flightbut noaccommodationInstead of leaving the traveler on their own, airlines could utilize technology that already exists to deliver personalized hotel or short-stay rental offers because they know where their customer is going and for how longEven if it’s not done in the booking path, airlines already have the necessary information and can show customers they actually give a damn.  

It’s the little things that matter (and add up) 

Accommodations are just one area where technology can help airlines improve their service. But think about the little things like reminders to pack phone chargers and converters, or sending a calendar of what’s happening at the destination their customer is traveling to. Of the hundreds of flights I’ve booked with American Airlines, I don’t think I’ve ever received a notification to assist with a trip beyond a meal-reservation reminder or selling me more miles to help “pay” for the next one.  

Of course, not every airline wants to do this. They are in the business of carrying passengers, first and foremost. But traveler expectations have evolved tremendously and it’s the little things (and experiences) that really do matter. Especially when it comes to retaining their loyalty. 

The possibilities are limitless, but only if airlines equip themselves with the right mindset, i.e., getting out of their legacy way of doing things, and applying the right solutions to: 

  • Use data more intelligently to help customers solve their travel problems 
  • Make relevant offers, product and destination suggestions that are useful and relevant 
  • Add new value to the overall journey 

Leveraging the wealth of data they already possess, airlines can smooth outsome of the travel hiccups and disruptions along the way. While customer satisfaction isn’t always guaranteed, using data intelligently can help travel feel less shitty. After all, it’s much easier to figure out what your customers need when you know exactly where they’ll be stuck at for hours at a time, where they’re headed next and what they’ve done in the past.  

Airlines can make the right offer at the right time, in-context and supportive of the larger journey. And today, that means leaning on a host of travel technology partners to achieve that. 

Instead of announcing a special credit card offer over the loudspeaker – and annoying every traveler that isn’t interested– data should be used to create relevant offers for travelers whowould be interested based on their pasttransactional and behavioral data.  

What could else could be achieved by using our data intelligentlyGive customers more value and they’ll probably give you more money. 

Airlines have become more sophisticated merchandisers and retailers when it comes to providing third-party offers such as hotels and car rentals – but their ancillary offers are still largely hit-or-miss. The right technology solution that uses data to determine what offer is most relevant and likely to convert can add tremendous value to those served up in the booking path - and help airlines complete the sale. By connecting all their data streams, airlines can build a much richer profile of each customer and uncover ways to add more value and make more money, too. 

Offer pain medication with each flight? No. Just get smarter about using all the data we’re giving you every day. Some of the worst travel experiences can be alleviated when airlines use the data they have to identify potential stress points and disruptions, and help their customers better manage those situations. 

All the information is already at your fingertips, airline folks. 

Enjoy this post? You might also like this recent one about travel start ups.   

Vanessa Horwell

Vanessa Horwell
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