Most people will agree that air travel today isn’t the memorable, fun experience it used to be. We now associate travel with stress, bad food, delays, over-priced tickets and extra charges for seat selection, priority boarding, checked-in bags, aisle seats and even blankets and sodas on some airlines. And while many retail, sports, healthcare and entertainment companies are already using data to improve customer experiences, the airline industry hasn’t caught up yet. A handful of airlines like Southwest, United and Qantas are trying to change this.
By using a data management platform like Umbel to merge web, mobile and social data from multiple sources, and training staff to use this data better, airlines can use actionable data insights to deliver personalized customer experiences that delight flyers and build loyalty.
The key to acquiring and retaining customers starts with learning how to use the wealth of customer data that companies are already collecting. For airlines to remain competitive, they need to unify all their customer data living in various siloes and systems to get a 360-degree view of their customers, in real-time. This includes social channels, third-party software (like SABRE), booking information from transaction systems, web and mobile behavior (searches, site visits, abandoned carts etc.), email data and customer service information. Airlines need to own their relationship with customers, build one-to-one communication channels, and create timely, relevant and customized content to maximize conversions.
It’s not enough to know who your customers are. Now you need to also know where they live, where they shop, where they are likely to go next and how much they will spend on their trips. Tracking baggage, personalizing airfare and hotel offers, improving in-flight entertainment: these are all things that can be made better with a data-driven approach. Take that to the next level and some airlines are already using data to empower flight attendants to learn customers’ travel histories, birthdays, food and beverage preferences and more.
One airline that’s way ahead of its competitors in using big data to create customized experiences and offers is Qantas. In recent years, the Australian airline has made a major push to collect and analyze customer data to increase sales, ROI and customer satisfaction. Since 2007, Qantas has been transforming itself from an airline to a data hub, tracking customer behaviours, preferences, purchases and demographics. The digital team, led by CIO Luc Hennekens has been using the insights to power marketing, redefine the “Qantas Loyalty” frequent flyer program, broaden business offerings and more.
Here are 5 ways that Qantas is using data to delight customers, improve service & build loyalty:
1. Provides Exceptional, Loyalty-Building Service By Using Customer Data
Qantas customers are constantly sharing stories of how the airline went above and beyond to provide amazing customer experiences. The airline has a dedicated team that manages their social media channels and responds to customer complaints and posts in real-time. Their team focuses on monitoring all customer behaviors and online comments, offering real-time responses and building one-to-one relationships with customers.
Qantas’ in-flight staff uses mobile devices like tablets to access customer profiles including allergies, food and seat preferences, previous travel history and notes made by flight attendants on the customer’s previous flights. Social media comments and posts by customers, like the one below by customer Zach Hotckkiss, tell amazing stories of how even their in-flight staff is truly data-driven, using customer data to provide unforgettable customer service to flyers.
Some airlines use their customer data to help in-flight staff know who the top 10 customers are in each class, so they can give them some extra attention and appreciation. The challenge is to offer exceptional, personalized service without being creepy. When Qantas asked some of their frequent fliers to rate their data-driven personalized service, most flyers said that they want the airlines to know certain preferences (love cappuccinos), but not all their very personal information like their pets’ names.
At airports, the airline’s new self-service kiosks enable passengers to print boarding passes and luggage tags, allowing them to skip the check-in desk completely. The airline plans to soon give passengers this functionality directly on their phones.
Based on feedback from customers, passengers on Qantas flights now get complimentary pre-flight access to 4,000+ local, regional, national and international newspapers and magazines via “PressReader.” (PressReader is an independent company that Qantas has partnered with to deliver this service, via the Qantas app.) Prior to their flight, Qantas customers can download the newspapers and magazines of their choice in more than 60 languages, from across 100 countries. Once a customer downloads the Qantas App on his or her smartphone or tablet, a “Download Newspapers and Magazines” tile will appear on their timeline 24 hours prior to departure and customers with then have 12 hours of unlimited access to download content. Once the content is downloaded, passengers can read it anywhere, anytime.
2. Shows That The Airline Values Customers’ Data by Offering Miles in Exchange
Earlier this month, Qantas announced the launch of their unique, first-of-its-kind customer insights program that will reward customers who share their data by offering them airline miles. Qantas’ data analytics division, Red Planet, has developed such extensive data analytics capabilities over the years that they decided to convert it into a commercial, external offering to their third-party clients. Red Planet hopes to get atleast 100,000 of the millions of frequent flyer members to sign up to share their data and preferences with third-party clients in exchange for miles.
Red Planet has already started inviting frequent flyer members who can earn up to 300 points for each survey they fill out, starting in August. The airline plans to only share anonymized data from these surveys with its clients. Red Planet says they’ve already signed up clients like Hilton Hotels, Avis Car Rental, NAB, Bankwest and American Express as clients for this new service that offers them ethically-collected, real and high-value insights from actual people.
3. Hosts Hackathon That Uses Data to Find Solutions to Common Travel Problems
In April this year, Qantas held its first weekend hackathon in the airline’s centre of service excellence facility in Alexandria, Sydney. Developers had 30 hours to come up with and create new apps or solutions to improve Qantas’ customer service. The 50 developers at the event used public flight and travel data (like airfare prices and hotel room availability for a certain destination) and none of the data provided was private or sensitive. The goal of the hackathon according to Qantas was to “bring a group of smart people together to try and solve common business problems in a collaborative way.”
Developers in the hackathon paid $10 to enter, had five minutes to present their ideas to the judges, and got to keep all rights to anything they created. Plus the winner of the hackathon got $4000 in plane tickets. The airline is already using technology to improve customer experiences during ticket booking, flight check-ins (online and in airports), in-flight entertainment and more.
4. Can Make Accurate Predictions About What Flyers Will Buy
Many airlines are already using data management platform like Umbel to cost-effectively grow their customer base and ROI. By getting a clear understanding of who their customers are, data insights helps them identify similar people with a high propensity to buy certain products. Collecting and analyzing hundreds of data points per customer in real-time, including previous purchase history (total spend, destination, time of year etc.) and demographics, allows marketing teams to dynamically optimize ads and customize content for various customer segments.
Real-time data insights also helps airlines like Qantas optimize website and newsletter content, videos, social media posts, contests and promotions to convert more site visitors, grow engagement and increase loyalty across multiple channels and drive ROI. Giving multiple teams across the company access to this data empowers them to offer more informed and personalized customer service and marketing offers. For example, data helps identify why and at which stage of the purchase journey customers left the website, or abandoned shopping carts so they can automatically trigger personalized emails to those customers.
Some airlines have reduced their customer-acquisition costs on paid media by more than 20 percent by using data to truly understand customers, and identify their demographics, online behaviors and preferences. Deep data has also helped airlines move customers to more cost-effective retention channels (like email), and upsell customers by cross-selling the right add-ons (like car rentals and hotel rooms).
The ultimate goal for an airline should be to use data effectively, to act as an intuitive travel assistant that can predict exactly what the customer wants to buy, and to make the discovery and purchase process seamless. Airlines can also offer valuable and timely information on flight check-ins, airport navigation, weather updates, hotel discounts and local activities that make the whole travel journey itself more memorable.
5. Redefining How Loyalty Programs Are Run
Qantas, like many other airlines, has found data especially useful in building and improving their loyalty programs. By using data insights to understand their customers’ behaviours and preferences, the airline created Qantas Loyalty in 2007. The airline now has extensive data and a deep understanding of who their customers are, which helped them redefine their frequent flyer program. One major data-driven change to Qantas Loyalty is that members can now redeem miles on products and services other than just flight tickets, and can earn miles when they shop on certain third-party websites and stores.
Annually, Qantas Loyalty now has a revenue of AU$1.3 billion, and tracks 800,000 unique member opinions. The company uses this data to build hundreds of highly-targeted and successful marketing campaigns. So while the average Qantas Loyalty member gets about 50 emails each year, each of these emails are customized and vary by customer segments. The airline says each of their monthly e-newsletters has a staggering 150,000 variations.
The other valuable benefit of Qantas Loyalty is that the company is using all the data insights to make improvements across the whole business including product design, new routes and destinations, capital allocations, customer support training, and creative strategy.