Though life may be all about the journey, not the destination, we now have a vast number of tools at our disposal to make each stop along the way more enjoyable. For airline passengers, mobile phones have become their primary travel companion, acting as their link to documentation, flight information, and up to the minute delay and gate change alerts. Yet, while most passengers have come to expect such conveniences, many airlines have encountered much turbulence when it comes to delivering the ideal customer experience.
"Airlines have a very long history of communicating and engaging with passengers because they want to increase and improve the customer experience," says Mathieu Hannouz, senior product and marketing manager at Neolane. "However, not all companies are equal. Some are cutting edge, while others fail to connect with customers across all touchpoints."
For companies across industries, SoLoMo (social, local, mobile) technology represents a new and difficult exploration into the ways today's consumer connects and interacts with their favorite brands. SoLoMo offers airlines a particularly interesting way to engage, as their entire businesses revolve around customer service on the go. The demand for such technology continues to soar, but many strategies have yet to leave the tarmac. With the basics in place, most airlines understand the need, but lack implementation. Each must work to differentiate themselves in a way that develops stronger customer relationships and fosters brand loyalty.
In many instances, companies neglect to blend touchpoints and connect siloed data in an effort to create one single view of the customer. As Kelly McGuire, Ph. D, executive director of hospitality and travel global practice at SAS, highlights, interacting with and providing a consistent customer experience across all possible channels typically presents the greatest challenge. Because airlines regularly collect personal customer information, they must maintain and update their records about each individual using a centralized hub that allows the company to establish a "golden record of truth" that can be accessed anywhere. Customers have every incentive to identify themselves by logging in during each contact, so airlines must be sure that they maintain and accurately deliver incoming data to all interaction points, thus creating an easier experience that ultimately engenders loyalty.
But, no matter where airlines happen to be in their strategy development process, there's always room for growth and improvement, as the insight procured from SoLoMo initiatives provides a steady stream of customer feedback and behavioral data.
Social Offers Insight Crucial for Proactive Problem-Solving
Many companies have begun to cultivate their social media presence, connecting with their brands' fan bases via increasingly popular channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. However, Hannouz notes that, in many cases, these touchpoints are used as PR and promotional outlets, but fail to provide any relevant content. Airlines conduct surveys to gather customer feedback and announce contests to win free tickets, but they neglect to market to the individual because they lack the ability to coordinate this data with other channels to connect with the customer on a more intimate level.
However, as McGuire highlights, social media allows airlines to monitor customer sentiment and respond to problems that arise in real time. Companies can track and monitor what's being said about their brands, thus responding and caring for the issue before anything goes viral. Sentiment analysis of this social data also allows airlines to pull every interaction together and spot detailed trends so they can develop a sense of where problems have begun to arise. "Airlines can become more proactive with how they invest their time and energy," says McGuire. "This way, they can broadly anticipate problem areas and enhance the service recovery process."
Localized Content Enhances the Trip from Start to Finish
Because most travelers have their mobile phones in tow, airlines also have access to the individual's geo-location. Companies have the ability to detect where travelers are and when. However, as Hannouz notes, many airlines have yet to fully embrace the benefits that location-based technologies have to offer. Many neglect to use the tools that are right at their fingertips to upsell, cross sell, and boost the overall customer experience.
When taking the customer's location into consideration, airlines can detect when the traveler arrives at the airport and begin pushing notifications and promotions to their mobile devices, such as discounts for the airport lounge. The airline should already have the necessary information collected, so reaching out with relevant messaging boosts engagement, drives customer satisfaction, and cultivates trust, for these travelers are much more likely to continue sharing this crucial data if they know the information is being used in their best interest.
But location-based benefits don't necessarily have to be confined to the airport itself. For many airlines, relevant location data can easily extend to providing the passenger with information regarding their destination. Whether the airline provides site-seeing suggestions or weather reports, this content allows the company at hand to acknowledge the individual's personal destination in a proactive manner in a way that enhances the customer experience and promotes loyalty.
Mobile Technology Keeps Customers Connected on the Go
Though SoLoMo encompasses three emerging technologies, mobile acts as the glue that keeps them all together. Mobile devices connect social media and location-based capabilities as these personal gadgets provide customers with the tools necessary to track their travel information and individualized data. Yet, while many airlines offer mobile applications that allow travelers to check in, carry their boarding passes, and monitor gate changes and delays, most airlines remain in the beginning stages of implementation.
For Comair, mobile technology allows the airline to keep it touch with travelers throughout their journey. "We pride ourselves in keeping customers informed throughout their travel experience," says Cheryl Barnett, digital brand manager at Comair. "Mobile plays an integral part in our communication strategy and any flight disruptions are automatically communicated to our customers via SMS and email. Customers are encouraged to check in on the go. The app even allows customers to select their seats from their handsets."
Though only in the infancy stage of its mobile strategy, many more innovations are in the works, as they use social media channels, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, to educate and assist customers at all stages of their journey. By laying an integrated foundation, Comair and companies that follow this type of approach not only set the stage for a solid customer service strategy, but inevitable SoLoMo success. Third-party apps, such as TripIt and SeatGuru present effective examples of how mobile can enhance the customer experience. While TripIt allows travelers to gather all the details of their trip in a single view, SeatGuru helps passengers explore the plane's layout and choose their seat accordingly. Such new tools may seem foreign to those in the airline industry, but by embracing what technology has to offer, these brands open themselves to the blossoming world of successful, personalized service.