This post is sponsored by Sabre, Inc.
Iain Meaker is the executive manager for commercial operations for Comair Ltd. (listed company of Kulula.com). He’s been with the firm for nine years and is currently responsible for marketing, loyalty, e-commerce and sales distribution activities. In addition, Iain is also driving initiatives around improving customer experience including: customer data and analytics competencies, optimization of airline retailing abilities and the growth of a “voice of the customer” program integrated into a single view of customer. Iain is currently implementing a number of different platforms and products to fully integrate a personalized customer loyalty program for kulula.com.
In this first of a two-part series, Iain talks about the state of the airline industry and how customer demands are changing.
Question: You were recently featured on a panel discussion held at NASDAQ MarketSite in New York. What was the purpose of that event and what was the outcome?
Iain Meaker: The purpose of the event was to try and identify the major challenges that airlines face in improving customer engagement in an ever-changing and demanding market. We were tasked with sharing these challenges as well as the building blocks we feel are required to better improve on overall customer experience as well as improve our revenue opportunities. I found the panel conversation hosted by Sabre to be very engaging and it highlighted similar challenges that airlines all face no matter where in the world we operate.
Q: How are customer demands changing when it comes to technology and airlines?
IM: Many of our customers are comparing their airline industry experiences to those they receive when interacting with other businesses and we are falling short in their expectations. Airlines are faced with numerous challenges when looking at how we need to evolve and improve our in-journey customer service delivery and selling processes to match those highly sophisticated and developed entities our customers interact with in retailing, services and merchandising. These shortfalls include: ease of interaction, simplification of booking and service delivery processes, personalization of product selections to the individual, personalized in-journey service delivery, contextual relevance of experiences, staff recognition and multiple platform support for the growing number of always connected digital traveller.
Q: How can airlines adapt to meet those changes and what are the potential benefits?
IM: We need to ensure we become better retailers of what we’re selling in order to present the right product and service to the customer, and deliver it through the right platform at the appropriate time in a way that is visually appealing and easy to understand. We also need to make sure these interactions speak to the needs of the individual. If you get merchandizing right, you improve conversion and revenue through incremental purchases.
As we expand our services to include other travel and airline related experiences, we create a competitive advantage and keep customers engaged with our services and direct booking channels. Failure means that customers shift away from your ‘owned’ dot-com, which can cause significant increase in distribution costs.
Airlines command a high level of trust, which can be leveraged to sell additional services. We’re now developing merchandizing strategies that bring together six critical elements – customer data, customer journey, selling techniques, channel management, service and price – all of which need to be integrated with an airline’s core systems to allow them to better recognize individual customers to better personalize and develop longer term customer loyalty and value. Airlines are now looking to use the customer data they collect to personalize offers to individual travellers. Personalization increases relevance, engagement, conversion and revenue.