In recent years there have been great improvements in passenger experience in the aviation industry, however, customers are still looking for that smooth and easy travel experience, where they feel valued and important.
Specific customer needs are overlooked.
Most of the aviation experiences are designed to cater for the business or first class passenger first and foremost. Aviation companies are not designing equally for all customers. Whilst it is true that not all customers have an equal level of short-term value – many that are being deprioritised have great lifetime value.
Many customers have disjointed experiences. This even the customers that receive significant attention have disjointed experiences. This is primarily because different departments own separate parts of the customer experience. For example the sales department will oversee ticketing, whilst another will design the in-flight experience, not to mention the plethora of partners and other service providers involved. As a result passenger experiences are fragmented and inconsistent.
There is an opportunity for third parties to bridge these gaps. One example could be collecting and aggregating the most important passenger travel information into one app, or helping customers unwind in independent lounges, or by helping customers successfully claim compensation for delayed or cancelled flights. However, there is no reason why customers should not rely on their airline for most (if not all) of these services.
What we recommend
Here are five areas that we believe will drive a positive impact for the customer, and which we recommend our aviation clients to explore when they commit to improving passenger experience:
1. Place your focus across the journey
The customers’ journey actually begins before they arrive at the airport, and continues after their flight has landed. You need to find ways to engage with the customer before and after they directly interact with you. Help customers prepare for their time at the airport when they are at home, and give customers a meaningful airline experiences outside of the aircraft. Too many companies fail to cater for the specific needs of their customers outside of the traditional tent pole journey touch points. In the face of increased competition and a need to differentiate this is a missed opportunity.
2. Build relationships with your customers
Build relationships with your customers that go beyond Frequent Flyer Programmes. Focus on meeting specific customer needs and forge a bond with them throughout the whole journey. When you invest in meeting customer needs that go beyond merely transactions – you place the emphasis on their lifetime value with you, and the true value they bring to the business. The end goal is for you to become their preferred lifetime flying partner and a business they trust to deliver consistent levels of customer service quality.
3. Act as one
All of these points highlighted above are only possible when stakeholders work as one.
People working in aviation are aware of the various stakeholders involved in orchestrating a passenger’s travel experience e.g. airline, airport, handler, caterer, police, customs, immigration, retailers, etc. However, most customers don't know where the responsibility of one begins and ends. They effectively morph into one in the mind of the customer. When something goes wrong customers don’t want to waste their time tracking down the responsible party, what they need is the problem solved. Creating such customer-facing boundaries between companies, pushing customers through a responsibility chain is exhausting, and a zero sum gain for the companies involved. Successful aviation companies acknowledge the importance of establishing solid partnerships.
4. View yourself as a hospitality company
Indicators around safety and operational excellence have a strong weight (as they should) in the aviation industry. However, it’s important to focus on the customers’ experience. Aviation companies must not see themselves as logistics or engineering companies alone, but as hospitality ones instead. If you shift the focus towards welcoming, entertaining and supporting passengers (i.e. guests) – the service provision is transformed. You are an experience provider, not just a mode of transport.
5. Create a sense of place
Customers often connect through countries they will never visit, so the airport is sometimes the only glimpse they get of it. Airports are also the gateway to a customer’s final destination, framing the initial first impression customers will have of it. Airlines are similarly under pressure to create a great representation of the experience of a country.
The opportunity and challenge is to find ways of fulfilling customers’ wanderlust by designing aviation experiences that delight and fully represent the hospitality, culture and sensibilities of a destination. Moreover these experiences should build customer anticipation about their destination, and help them reminisce about a place they were in. Doing this will create customer loyalty and associate your company with positive emotive experiences.
6. Give power to the customer
Design aviation experiences in such a way that customers can decide to engage with you to the degree they want to. At one end of the spectrum there are customers who are traveling with a mindset of comfort and pampering, and therefore engage strongly with service providers. On the other end of the same spectrum are travelers that are looking for smooth frill-free travel, who do not wish to be bothered. Be sure to think about both types of customers when orchestrating experiences for your customers, leveraging human and not just digital touchpoints.
Design experiences keeping specific customer needs in mind, and partner with your stakeholders to successfully deliver them, so that you can be competitive and reap the lifetime value of your customers.