Gone are the days of the brick and mortar travel agencies and glossy brochures. If airlines want to win over customers, they’ve got to wow with their digital offering.
That’s about providing excellent digital services, with personalisation, a unique presence, and the brand’s stamp of reliable quality.
Focusing on digital and mobile technologies, we identify four ways global airlines are bringing their brand personality digital.
Chatbots replacing in-house reps
We’re already seeing artificial intelligence finding its way into technology platforms. Chatbots are increasingly being used by airlines and aggregates to troubleshoot customer needs, make bookings, and discover sights to see on trips.
Now, we know you’re here to read about airlines, but Amtrak railroad service’s Julie is a bot you really want to know about. Ask her questions in a natural language, and she’ll reply with a link to the pages you need and a bit of extra info. Julie vocalises answers, as well as typing back to you in the pop-up window. She could potentially be a useful service for the visually impaired - something you might consider for future apps.
Skyscanner’s chatbot works through Facebook Messenger, as does CheapFlights’ intelligent assistant. The experience is made more personable and fun when the sassy bot comments on the destination of choice: “London? I’m so jealous,” she quips. The bot returns with the average cheapest flight, sending you to the site to book. You can also search for hotels and get results in your price range.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines takes this a bit further by letting passengers receive their flight documentation over Facebook Messenger. After booking your flight on KLM.com you can choose to receive your booking confirmation, check-in notification, boarding pass and flight status updates via the messenger app. When booking, the passenger is automatically opted into the plugin (but can opt out.) This puts all travel information in a single, easy to find place; available at the airport, en route or at home. A passenger needs to change their seat? No problem. They can contact the airline through messenger, 24/7.
While many bots only operate in English, KLM’s bot boasts 13 languages. Since just 22% of U.S. consumers are familiar with chatbots, it’s important to make moves like KLM to streamline the experience through its site.
The possibilities? Quicker and smarter booking that’s cheaper for the airline by unclogging call centres. It’s an always-on customer service aid and a helpful hand through the booking system for those with special needs, such as those customers who are visually impaired. Chatbots also give the opportunity to inject a fun, quirky, or otherwise bespoke aspect of the customer brand into online customer service.
Rate my flight
While airlines are upping their reputations with the addition of chatbots, a growing number of carriers are working with rating companies such as TripAdvisor to stand out above the crowd. Again, KLM has advanced on this concept, with its ‘Rate My Flight’ feature, giving customers the option to give a star rating on their experience. This is then collated and shown alongside flight prices in booking. Potential passengers can see the star rating for a particular route and time before they book.
If more airlines take this technique on board it could be a real game changer, with customers given the opportunity to book based on recommendations as opposed to the airline’s word alone. Passengers may move further away from booking on price, and more toward booking on quality. This is great for promoting the benefits of premium service.
Harnessing virtual reality
Show economy passengers what they could be missing out on with premium by showing them, quite literally, through virtual reality (VR.). Research by the International Data Corporation (IDC), the premier global provider of market intelligence for the technology and telecommunications markets, said that 30% of consumer-facing companies in the Forbes Global 2000 will experiment with AR and VR as part of their marketing efforts in 2017.
Lufthansa has already been testing this out at Frankfurt Airport this year at boarding gates. Passengers can pop on a VR headset and experience the extra legroom and high-grade service in 360-degree imaging - without ever need leaving the boarding area. Crew are then on standby with card machines to register the upgrade shortly before the flight. This is an innovative way to tempt customers to upgrade, as well as bulking up your airline’s ancillary revenue.
According to the Lufthansa site:
‘Lufthansa was one of the first airlines to use 360-degree films, and has been doing so since 2015, for example, at trade fairs such as the ITB, for advertising promotions and on social media. In the US, Lufthansa has already achieved considerable success with upgrading passengers to Premium Economy through the use of VR’.
Bring your own device options for in-flight entertainment
Singapore Airlines was the first airline in the world to use Panasonic’s in-flight entertainment system on its travel app. Prior to boarding, passengers can use the app to check out movie trailers and schedule films, music and TV shows for their flight. The app links up with the seatback screens on board, making this a seamless personalised experience. The app can be used as a second screen to browse the media library and access real-time flight information without disturbing playback. Notably, the app won the Air Transport Awards ’2017 ‘Onboard Experience’ award in New York this March.
The following month, Singapore Airlines lead the way again, co-launching the SITA DigitalMedia app, providing passengers with free digital magazines and papers. It not only improves customer experience, but supports the airline’s push to go green. Each day airlines load up to 100,000 kilograms of papers and magazines a day, without even knowing for sure people are going to read them. And yet we know 65 per cent of passengers would access entertainment services on their device if the option was available, and 46 per cent would watch a movie on their devices.
KLM and SWISS airlines have taken a similar tact, giving newspaper and magazine access through its apps. SWISS airline said that this ‘will produce tangible savings in the flight’s weight and, in turn, deliver further ecological benefits, including a reduction of some 450 tonnes in SWISS’ annual carbon dioxide emissions’.
Moving from an airline to a "digital company"
Some major airlines are now even using digital to reposition their brand. “We see ourselves as a digital company”, says easyJet CEO Carolyn McCall. It’s a perception that the airline is backing up with investment in innovation. They have introduced a variety of mobile firsts aimed at creating an unrivalled travellers experience. The first airline (or “digital company”) to integrate FligthRadar24, the first European airline to utilise passport scanning, the first European airline to use ibeacon technology and the first UK airline to use passbook. They have also been regularly featured in the App Store as one of the first airlines to introduce iOS updates such as Apple Pay and the Apple watch extension on day 1. Some impressive digital thinking that goes beyond the basic ‘we’ve got an app’ mentality. easyJet is using digital investment to differentiate its brand, improve customer loyalty as well as grow revenue.
Conclusion: the airline revolution will be digitised
Digital innovations like chatbots, flight-route rating, VR and BYOD have the potential to revolutionise your passengers’ experience; generating ancillary revenue and reducing expenses accrued as the result of heavy in-flight entertainment systems or staffing at help centres. Whether it’s providing relevant, contextual information, deepening customer relationships, or driving sales, there are many different ways for airlines to engage with customers through digital innovations. An abundance of real life examples exist of airlines bringing their brands to live on mobile. Branding is not just about aligning with guidelines, colour palettes, and font. It's so much more, and involves bringing added convenience, services, personal touches and simplicity for customers.
To learn more about how to drive sales via mobile, and to see some real-world examples, download your free copy of ‘The Evolution of Mobile’ eGuide now.