Changing experiences and expectations: How well do airlines know their customers?
I remember getting a flight in my teens. We were off on holiday somewhere hot and had booked the tickets through a high street travel agent. The day arrived, we set off, and we got to the airport exactly three hours early (being cautious with arrival times has since become a lifelong habit). I remember holding the folder with all our paper tickets and passports in it as we queued to check our bags in. The folder was full and the queue horrendous – but it never crossed our minds that airlines could or should be any other way.
This really wasn’t so very long ago, and yet – powered by the digital revolution – the travel experience has changed almost beyond recognition. Electronic tickets, facial recognition and personalised offers are commonplace, and the airline industry is now awash with talk of tomorrow’s innovations. Seamless journeys. Robotics. Ever-more colourful airport and in-flight experiences. The future is exciting and it’s on its way.
But in recent months we’ve noticed something strange. Despite such rapid progress – and the ongoing speculation about the experiences of the future – passengers still complain of poor customer service in the industry. Most airlines still compete on price.
We came to ask ourselves whether the industry conversation is keeping pace with passenger expectations. Are airlines truly meeting their needs, or is all the future-gazing talking past them? Given we work with some of the world’s leading airlines, we decided to find out and surveyed 1,000 travellers.
Five simple insights for airlines came through loud and clear.
- As the industry continues to disappoint on customer service, passengers still value traditional channels like email and telephone
- Passengers increasingly expect personalised, not customised experiences – they want airlines to remember or know specific details about them such as seat preferences, past requirements or their family situation
- The majority of respondents expect to hear from their airline within 30 minutes in the event of a problem. This is set to become the norm
- Loyalty programme members appreciate accruing points most, but also value flight upgrades, priority check-in and fee waivers
- Trust between passenger and airline is most likely to be lost when communication isn’t clear or transparent: hidden fees or unexplained delays were most frequently cited as reasons to choose another airline
Pick through the specifics and it’s interesting that, despite the digital revolution still going on around us, the fundamentals of any good relationship remain. Communication, availability and trust and are still the most important factors for passengers. Our survey suggests airlines need to strike a balance between creating new, futuristic experiences and making sure they get the basics right.
Much more detail on the results from our study can be found here. If you’d like to talk through what these findings might mean for your personalisation strategy or how technology can help you harness data to understand and serve customers, drop us a line at [email protected] or on Twitter – we’d love to chat.
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