A lot of the consulting work I do behind the scenes is to organizations within traditional industries that enjoy massive revenues and scale, but are starting to see that disruptive forces impact upon what they do – perfect examples are banking (see here and here) and telecommunications where new technologies threaten the very core of their business. Other businesses have a massive barrier to entry, but their challenges are more about differentiating what they do from the competition and offering more value to their customers.
Airlines are a perfect example of this and I’ve written before about what “Airline Customer Service 2.0” could look like. As I said at the time, I’ve got a personal interest in the space – I fly a quarter of a million miles or so every year and spend altogether to much time on airplanes and in airports. Making that experience less painful (or, perhaps, even fun) is pretty exciting. I’ve had a number of experiences where an integrated approach towards airline customer services would be hugely beneficial:
- I was flying from New York via LAX home to New Zealand with my wife on my 40th birthday. Wanting to surprise her I requested an upgrade to business class. When we boarded there was no record of our upgrade request (nor the fact that it was a special occasion). Imagine a system whereby flight staff had live access to a passenger’s upgrade requests, important biographical information and communications history. Sure they’d not be able to guarantee every request could be met, but they’d at least be aware of what was going on
- Air New Zealand does an amazing job of making all their customers (and especially their most frequent ones) special. I’m generally specially greeted by the flight service manager which is a lovely touch. Almost without fail however, the FSM has to ask me how to pronounce my last name. While this isn’t a big deal, imagine if the FSM was toting a mobile device which gave them some info about me (like how to pronounce my last name or that while my passport says Benjamin, I far prefer Ben). it’s the little things right?
- I’m something of a control freak and ring the premium contact center on a semi-regular basis to check on small details regarding my travel. Every time I do so, I have to enter my frequent traveller code to obtain priority service (and yes, I’m eternally grateful for the priority service). Imagine a situation where my mobile number (the phone I call from 90% of the time) was known by the contact center and hence I could bypass all the identification steps
- In the past three years I’ve flown on the day of (or the day before depending on timezones) my birthday. That’s not a biggie and I don’t expect or want any attention, but a smart mobile device in the hands of flight staff would give them access to that sort of important information (even better, I’ve flown home from the US a few years running the day before my son’s birthday- imagine a cheery “Hope your kid has a great day” while in flight!)
- Air New Zealand runs regular promotional campaigns giving customers the chance to win incredible and unique experiences. I always enter these competitions (you have to be in to win right?) Every time I do however I have to enter the same details (name, phone number, membership number) into yet another system of record. Imagine if I had one global login to Air New Zealand that crossed all of my needs (booking, support, marketing campaigns etc). Or, by extension, imagine allowing me to use my Facebook credentials to sign into these services
All of these examples are interesting when taken in light of the news that SITA, the airline industry infrastructure and software vendor, has developed some trial technology for Virgin Atlantic that allows its airline concierges to use Google Glasses to give travellers useful information (weather at destination, local events etc).
This is exciting from a “wow, Google Glass is cool, Virgin Atlantic has always been cooler and now it’s even more so” perspective, but leaves so much value on the table. The real benefit to customers would be accrued if the core operating systems that airlines use (passenger manifests, frequent flier applications, promotional campaigns etc) were exposed via API and therefore able to be integrated with interesting applications. In focusing on the deliver device (in this case Google Glass), SITA and Virgin forget that what is really important here is the data itself – without good exposure of the data, alongside embracing a developer community to create value from that data, any initiative is little more than a modern take on a one way publicity site.
Tellingly Virgin is only introducing this for first class passengers and sees it as a way of recreating the allure of air travel. Says Dave Bulman, director of IT for Virgin Atlantic:
While it’s fantastic that more people can now fly than ever before, the fact that air travel has become so accessible has led to some of the sheen being lost for many passengers
Sheen is one thing, but good customer service isn’t about sheen, it’s simply about delivering the very real expectations of customers. As it stands Google Glass is meaningless bling, soon every airline will have it and it’ll be old hat. But truly leveraging the data airlines hold about customers, and offering up personalized, contextual and proactive information… now that’s truly revolutionary.
There’s your challenge Virgin Atlantic and SITA, over to you now.