Customer satisfaction is always top of mind for airlines. Unhappy or disengaged customers naturally mean fewer passengers and less revenue. It’s important that customers have an excellent experience every time they travel. On-time flights, good in-flight entertainment, more (and better) snacks, and more legroom might be the obvious contributors to a good experience and more loyalty.
While we might hear about those aspects the most, the customer experience is not about just the flight itself. It’s everything from purchasing the ticket on the company’s website or mobile app to checking bags in at the airport or via a mobile app to waiting in the terminal. Self-service has been top-of-mind for airlines since the introduction of airport kiosks that enable passengers to check-in, upgrade their seats, and even make flight changes. This mindset has been, and continues to be, adapted to the post-security, onboard, and post-flight experience.
In a paper titled “Flight Data Powers the On-demand Economy,” OAG, the leading global provider of digital flight information, said, “Traveler expectations continue to be influenced by the immediacy of the on-demand economy. As technologies like Uber and Airbnb make hailing a car or renting a room within minutes the norm, consumers are beginning to expect similar real-time availability and convenience from other travel brands they frequently use.”
United shared a handful of customer-facing achievements before its January 2018 earnings call.
- Unveiled new enhancements to its award-winning mobile app, including a bag-tracking feature, the ability to change and cancel flights in the app, the addition of MileagePlus and United Club cards to the Apple Wallet, and allowing customers to access boarding passes for 19 other carriers
- Became the first airline to give customers access to flight information and other amenities skills for Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and the Fitbit Ionic smartwatch
Robin Hayes, president and CEO of JetBlue Airways, said the company has “a number of work streams underway to drive a digital transformation over the next few years. We’ve been rolling out a suite of customer self-service tools, which integrate technology in all aspects of travel and improve the customer experience as we work to reduce our costs.”
However, many other factors are tied to the overall customer experience, and these can drive or hinder growth.
In a January 23, 2018 press release, United president Scott Kirby said, “Our focus will be on continuing to improve customer service and expanding United’s network to offer customers more choice.”
During the company’s earnings call earlier this year, Kirby spoke in detail about the company’s plans to strengthen and grow the airline’s route networks. He said it’s the “foundation that everything else is built upon.” The benefits of more “connectivity,” as he put it, are exponential. “You add one flight into a hub that has 80 connections. You don’t just add one market like a point-to-point carrier would be doing; you add 80 new markets, and that strengthens the whole network.”
Speaking to CNBC about the improvement of its core operations, Scandinavian Airlines president and CEO Rickard Gustafson said, “…we need to increase productivity.” He said that the industry will experience significant change because of advancements in technology. A greater need exists to use data and artificial intelligence to create more personal relationships, as opposed to “one-to-many” relationships. “Artificial intelligence will come into play in the way we distribute products and the way we service customers.” Longer term, Gustafson thinks the changes will be related more to “hardware,” like self-driving trucks at the airport or airplanes and how they power up. Bottom line, he firmly believes that the path to efficiency will be through data and new technology.
What we know is this: higher customer satisfaction increases customer loyalty, resulting in customers who are willing to purchase more of – and spend more for – products and services. Knowing the relationship between customer satisfaction and yield is critical.
Perficient published a new guide that focuses on the airline industry – the companies that operate air transport networks. It looks at the current and future state of the industry. Specifically, it discusses some of the initiatives on which airlines are focusing in the hopes of driving growth and value for their businesses, as well as their customers, employees, partners, and shareholders.