While planning a recent trip to Rome, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of support I received (or rather failed to) from my airline. It struck me – not only was this a missed opportunity from the perspective of strengthening my loyalty with the brand, but also in terms of boosting transactional revenue.
Airline ancillary revenue increased by 11% to $36bn in 2012 but looking at my own experience, I wonder if this was only the tip of the iceberg. What would happen if airlines planned ancillary revenue with the customer in mind?
Let’s start from the beginning. Since I’d already decided that Rome was my destination, the first part of my customer journey was searching for the best flight options. Like many cities across the world, Rome has two airports and different carriers fly into both. I wanted to check which was the most convenient and get a better understanding of exactly how far each was from the city centre, as well as the features each airport offered. I imagine that many, if not all of us, have made similar searches in the past. So it comes as somewhat of surprise that as customers, we still have to leave an airline’s website in order to find out much of this information. Why would an airline want a potential customer to leave their homepage in order to find information which could very easily be provided on the same page?
Luckily for the airline in question, I did return to the booking page. With a better understanding of the distances involved, the best route and the total costs of my flights, I made the relevant bookings. A generic, and frankly rather bland email confirmation landed in my inbox a few seconds later, and that was basically the end of my communication with the airline. The only exception was one reminder the day before my flight telling me the baggage allowance restrictions on the flight. Hardly very inspiring!
My experience is indicative of thousands of flights booked every day across the world. Compared to other online retailers, airlines are in the enviable position when it comes to continuing the customer relationship past the point of sale. As airline customers, we don’t just click-to-buy and sit back and wait for delivery. The average flight purchase is made 45 days ahead of time, giving airlines plenty of time to provide me with a unique customer experience which, if done well, would result in increased ancillary revenue and customer loyalty.
In my case, I had just booked four tickets to the second most popular city in Europe, staying for a long weekend. There were therefore probably a number of additional services that would have been of interest to me ahead of departure day. The fact that I received little-to-no communication from the airline is a very clear missed opportunity.
So what exactly could the airline have done differently?
From the timing and number of tickets that were purchased, you would assume an airline might have intelligent enough systems to predict that I was a leisure traveller. Failing that, they could have just asked me. In a recent IATA passenger survey report, 79% of people said they would provide additional personal information where they saw value.
When I speak of intelligent systems, I am not referring to the mass cross-sell that I am usually offered when booking a flight, but rather more personalized recommendations. Take for example the taxi. As there were four people travelling on the booking, it would make more financial sense for us to take a taxi service to our hotel, rather than the airport coach. Had the airline realised this, it could have sent an email two weeks before my flight, offering information about taxi bookings and giving me advice on Rome and how to get around. The email could have included the five most-visited sites in the city, as well as how and when to book tours and taxi services. It could have provided me with a weather forecast for the days I am due to be in Rome. Many of the services I eventually went ahead and booked could have been offered by the airline.
As it happens, I ended up researching and pre-ordering a hotel, taxi services, city tours, restaurants and duty free. Had the airline provided the right information, at the right time, they could greatly have reduced the hassle for me, strengthened my loyalty to the brand and increased their own revenue.
If I knew that I was going to get add-on services because I booked a particular airline, I would definitely be more likely to use all or some of them. People are time-poor and we don’t mind paying a little extra for things if it will make our lives easier.
Airlines, put yourself into the shoes of your customers and you will soon find out what we need and want. After all, a happy customer is a returning customer.
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