Guest Post: Happy customers are flying customers

Guest Post: Happy customers are flying customers

Are brands giving people the experiences they want asks J F Grossen, global VP of customer experience of Publicis Sapient

2024 looks to be a milestone for global passenger traffic, with the airline industry expected to reach 9.5 billion travellers next year. Yet shifting consumer patterns in a post-pandemic world are still forcing travel brands to guess at the new ‘normal’.

A Publicis Sapient survey examined more than 6,500 consumers across France, Germany, the UK and the US to find out what people want from their customer experience and in this new landscape what they think they’re not getting.

As part of a travel focus, there was a 26% overall gap in airline customer satisfaction and experience. In the UK that gap was 32%, showing a significant difference between what customers want from experiences versus what they are actually getting.

As 25% of those same consumers indicated they would stop interacting with a brand after one bad experience, there is a real risk of brands losing customers if they don’t improve their satisfaction.

The solution is a focus on the customer’s digital interactions across their flying journey. Insights from data can target moments throughout the customer journey where the right content and support can be delivered to be the most effective and solve travel challenges or inspiring for new adventures.

Brands must embrace new technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and approaches to close the customer experience gap or watch their customers fly off… forever.

Capturing effective data to act on insights 

The changing attitudes of customers post-pandemic means that travel brands can’t rely on what they once thought was true.

For example, the growth in work-from-anywhere culture means people are interacting with airlines in a completely different way than pre-pandemic corporate flyers. Even as some industries are seeing a more 'return to normal' with in-person meetings and conference attendance, there are new challenges around balancing work and leisure.

‘Bleisure’ (business and leisure) trips are becoming increasingly popular with consumers, as people look to tie personal travel into their work trips, made possible by hybrid working technology. The emphasis for these travellers is the flexibility, price, and quality of the brand.

Brands need to reconnect with customers, so they can understand how to best help their new needs. Effective data collection is key to this.

Luckily, new technologies like AI can analyse consumer behaviour in half the time it would have been possible, as well as provide much more relevant results for users.

In April, Expedia launched a travel planner app powered by ChatGPT that recommends places to go and stay based on conversations people have in the chat and saves hotels mentioned for easy booking. Subsequently, Priceline, Airbnb, and have all signalled their interest in using AI to improve customer service or help plan trips.

Generative AI has the promise of planning trips in a more human and less mechanical way - moving from keyword searches to conversations that shape where what and how people want to travel.

Proactive hyper-personalisation

Nearly 50% of UK consumers in our survey said recent experiences are just as important as past ones.

If the focus is on the price and quality of the brand, travel companies should highlight deals, reward schemes, discounts, and tailored experiences for customers.

Delta Airlines understands this, having opened a pop-up shop at John F. Kennedy International Airport for Thanksgiving, including goods from several international destinations, and exciting travel experiences – such as the chance to play basketball at Madison Square Garden before watching a New York Knicks game – only available to Delta cardholders and SkyMiles loyalty members.

With additional e-commerce components, Delta will track how the shop engages with its loyal customers, and how many nonmembers will convert and make purchases. Each purchase will contribute points to the brand’s loyalty program, increasing customer annual rewards status.

Delta knows it needs to rethink its loyalty programs to cement customer connections and manage costs. But with an oversaturation of loyalty and rewards schemes, the brands that truly cut through will be the ones able to speak to individual consumer behaviour and create unique experiences that only they can deliver.

44% of global consumers we spoke to liked brands that sent them promotions based on what they knew about them, and 33% of people liked being reminded of things they wanted to know about but weren’t keeping track of.

Using generative AI to collect and communicate travellers’ needs, brands can offer tailored recommendations based on preferences and real-time constraints during the trip. They could also help resolve unexpected disruptions, find alternative flights in case of delay or cancellation or automatically book your preferred hotel for the unfortunate layover.

In a world of shifting behaviours, brands need to be proactive, understand each consumer and deliver exactly what they want, when they want it.

Travel brands need to think outside the box regarding the overall customer experience, and think how they can extend their digital learnings. Being able to be with the consumer throughout every step of the journey will create a deeper brand connection.

As travellers’ expectations continue to change, brands must change with them. Using the power of digital transformation and new tools like AI can help unlock new value.

Transformation, done right, happens with and for people, not to them. By putting the customer at the centre of everything, and using data to understand and meet their needs, brands can fly higher, faster, and further than ever before.