Why Now Is the Time for Airlines to Put Their Customers First – with Data

From flight delays, cancellations, computer outages and complications with overbooking, the same customer service issues that have plagued the airline industry for years continue to make headlines. Just this month, three of the largest US carriers faced major backlash due to overbooking issues and massive flight delays.

If the past few weeks has taught us anything, it is that airlines are under a microscope and being judged by what goes wrong, not what they are doing right. In order to shift the paradigm and win back customer loyalty and trust, airlines must prioritize their customers first – and focus their attention on delivering superior service for their travelers.

According to Associated Press airline reporter David Koenig’s recent article, Air travel in the US is getting worse. The latest consumer surveys have found that lateness, lost bags and overbooking top the list of customer complaints. Furthermore, as Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times noted in his recent article, How Technology Has Failed to Improve Your Airline Experience, another big issue is that the entire airline process is largely transactional and personalized customer service is often missing from the equation. Customers search online for a price, identify specific travel times, and go ahead and book – leaving a small window of opportunity to form a connection with the brand.

Through smarter uses of technology and data, airlines can capitalize on the buyer journey by gathering key insights and information about their customers to personalize their interactions with travelers to improve the overall customer experience.  Not only can data help inform airlines about their customers’ buying behavior through online transactions, mobile activity and browsing history – it can also provide insights to improve and inform the experience further upstream in the customer journey.

United’s recent overbooking fiasco could have potentially been avoided with better use of data-driven decisioning tools, qualitative insights and a holistic view of the customer journey. Establishing a unified approach to the customer journey allows brands to easily map out potential pain points and design personalized, tailored responses if and when service issues arise. By leveraging smart data, airlines can better map the requirements of the business to align them to the qualitative needs of their customers. This enables businesses to understand when and how to deploy human or digital services to improve the customer experience – whether through email notifications, mobile alerts, digital assistants or through service representatives. By empowering airline service staff, with the proper tools and data, they can get much clearer insights into the booking process, customer preferences and previous flier behavior to improve the experience in the moment and customize an appropriate response in real-time.

Through data, airlines are better positioned to humanize the customer experience and connect with their customers 1:1 along their journey. Whether its knowing that a certain customer travels frequently to New York from London, the fact that they always book the aisle seat or regularly book the early morning flights – these little human touches or “micro-moments” can make all the difference when it comes to improving the overall experience and building brand loyalty.

While having the technology and tools in place won’t prevent weather delays or overbooking issues for good – data can help airlines become smarter, more efficient and improve personalization across all touchpoints along the customer journey.

For today’s airlines, there’s no time to lose. They need to reexamine their personalization strategy today as better customer experience through personalization drives more revenue, builds brand loyalty and, more importantly, helps to build trust and protect the airlines’ reputation!