British airline passengers do place a premium on brand differentiation but want greater control over the communications they have with carriers.
This was the main finding of a survey European data management firm Relay42 has conducted with EyeForTravel in August.
The findings suggest despite the commoditisation of the airline seat, there is scope for carriers to drive loyalty and improve customer service.
Of the 1,800 people who responded, nearly 40% put a premium on brand differentiators, such as service quality and in-flight experience.
In addition 42.5% said technology made airline service “slightly better” and 34.7% said it made it “significantly better”.
However, only one fifth felt technology had influenced their direct communications with carriers for the better and 46% said they would very much prefer an airline that enabled consumers to fully manage communications channels.
Relay42 said the study validates the widely accepted belief that consumers, particularly leisure travellers, rate convenience (26%) and price (25%) as the two most important factors.
However, it says innovative airlines have an opportunity to drive competitive advantage.
Asked what kind of information customers would like to receive from airlines, the survey found:
• 57% of consumers would like mobile or email communication on waiting times at check-in and security;
• 48% would like information about travel options to and from their final destination;
• 36% would like information on activities that they could book;
• 35% would like information on accommodation that they could book;
• 30% would like information on suggested destinations based on previous travel.
Tomas Salfischberger, chief executive and co-founder of Relay42, said: “Our survey findings present a positive way for carriers to overcome the perception of an industry driven by price.
“Carriers are already showing how digital technologies can be adopted to enhance the service they offer to customers. The winners will be those that listen carefully to what customers want and are brave enough to cede more control to customers.”
Relay42 added carriers must consider how they can deploy technology to offer practical information, rather than repeatedly serving offers.
It says this will show a much deeper understanding of their customers’ needs and help to drive value, which will result in improved customer engagement.
Survey respondents indicated where they saw technology adding the most value:
• 52.6% of respondents thought it had made their journey easier;
• 46% said it had been valuable at check-in;
• 37.9% thought that technology had made life easier when paying for a flight;
• Only 19.6% regularly book flights via smartphones, and 23.8% say they search for flight information on their phones, but do not go through the booking phase.
Florent Coudyser, head of travel at Relay42, said: “Every carrier is facing the same competitive pressures, which makes it even more important to find new ways to differentiate your brand.
“The good news is that digital technologies can be quickly implemented. However, carriers need to be methodical and strategic in their approach. If individual applications are not integrated it will create a disjointed picture of customers, which will lead to frustration not stronger customer engagement.”
As part of the survey respondents were asked to rank leading airlines for their customer service.
Long-haul airlines continue to rank best while low-cost airlines struggled with the perception of lower value services.
Among the UK airlines where the number of respondents was statistically significant enough Virgin was ranked the best airline, with British Airways holding off easyJet and Ryanair.
Dutch airline KLM ranked highly having undertaken a significant programme of digitising services. KLM became the first to offers its customers around the world booking and check-in confirmation, boarding pass and flight status updates via Facebook Messenger.
Alex Hadwick, head of research at EyeforTravel, said: “I think the survey shows that the airline that creates a frictionless process will be the one that wins the customer’s booking and subsequently their loyalty.
“Key to this will be identifying individuals across their purchase journey and offering them relevant information at the right time, such as alternative transportation routes to the airport if there are delays. These small details will end up having a big net benefit.”