Why investing in systems which make intelligent use of customer data can lead to increased sales for airlines.

For airlines, as for many businesses, financial success is directly linked to how well they understand their customers, and how central they make the customer experience to their overall operations.  Both of these components hinge on the proper use of customer data.  Just as it is important to treat customers’ personal data respectfully – ensuring compliance with the recent GDPR rules, for example – it is equally important to leverage that data to create better and more personalised passenger experiences.

Passengers want their data to be used in ways that make their journey better and easier – and will do business with airlines that act accordingly. The “culture shift” being required of airlines isn’t as difficult as it sounds. In fact, getting your data in order will make life easier, not harder, and will give the entire airline organisation more visibility into passengers’ needs, preferences and habits. That, in turn, enables airlines to use customer data in ways that directly improve passenger experience, like personalising food and beverage combinations during in-flight service.

Owning the shift

By owning the shift toward a more passenger-centric culture and applying your and your department’s unique expertise to new technology, your investments will achieve real, measurable and incremental results in passenger experience, satisfaction and loyalty.

And as the results validate the process, the business culture can start to shift across the organisation – but it starts with renewed focus on the passenger at the heart of everything.

Incremental improvements for airline buyers

It can sometimes seem like airlines get a bad reputation for anything and everything, including the limitations of their use of technology. That’s partly why carriers are making more use of passengers’ smartphones – like enabling them to track their baggage on the airline’s app, for example. But you’ll need more than basic investments in customer data (and mobile apps) to really personalise passenger experience and bring together different selling opportunities.

And that’s what’s missing right now: the ability to connect passenger data and put it to use – not just at check-in or during the flight, but seamlessly, across the day of travel.  The good news is that airlines don’t have to “boil the ocean” to start making impactful changes to their systems and processes.

Grounding passenger experience in data

Here are three ways airlines are grounding passenger experience in customer data, and shifting their business culture to become more passenger-centric:

– Hiring specialists from the retail space for senior roles on passenger experience teams. They might bring someone in from the digital team at Nike, for example – someone who hasn’t been steeped in legacy airline thinking, but who understands how to use customer data to connect passengers, merchandise and revenue. Learn from these people.

– Taking a pragmatic “order of operations” approach to change their business culture. Once everyone in a unit or department is “on board” with really making improvements to passenger experience, they start looking around them for data that is readily available – and there’s plenty of it.

– Gathering simple insights from readily-available data – for example, knowing the best-selling items on different routes – can help airlines understand passengers’ purchasing habits and better manage inventory. Ultimately, airlines will want to integrate passenger systems and CRM systems for a single “source of truth” for data and decision-making but this doesn’t happen overnight. Moving away from legacy systems and legacy thinking is almost guaranteed to be a gradual process. But airlines will need a “single source of truth” where different data streams can be connected, displayed and segmented.

Airlines can also share product and sales data with retail partners and airports. Recent partnerships like the ones between Deliver and  Dubai Airports, or American and Grab, show  signs of this shift.

The president of Dubai Airports estimates they have about 15 minutes to get a passenger into their duty-free shops once they enter the airport. But that same passenger will spend six to eight hours on average in the air – during which time they could be shopping on-board and picking up the items after the flight.

Personalisation and upsell

Imagine if a retail store knew the exact time a customer would arrive and depart, what their last five purchases were, how many unredeemed loyalty points they had, and so on. Airlines do possess this information – but yet they do nothing with it, while retailers with far less data are able to gain more from it, because they’ve prioritised data and CRM systems for decades.

A greater number of airlines are using existing data to improve their passenger experience and make more money. As an airline partner, we don’t wait for the ‘ocean to boil’ – we have built the technology airlines need to improve passenger experience, increase margins, be more inventory efficient and create new selling opportunities.

But it all starts with the airline’s own data. Taking control of your customer data opens up new possibilities which were impossible before. Not just big possibilities, like ancillary merchandising before and after the flight, but also smaller ones like a passenger pulling out a smartphone, opening an app and upgrading their seat on a packed flight.

Imagine the selling opportunities that would open up if passengers had that sort of experience with your airline?

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