We"™re in a unique time period for air travel. More and more people are traveling, particularly as the middle-classes in developing countries grow. While once exotic, people see flying as yet another mode of transportation "“ but the best one for traveling long distances. Ironically, however, flyers seem to be complaining more or at least have become more vocal in their complaints. Certainly, consumers are using social media to register their opinions and the reputational impact can be significant. It also appears that consumers of retail services in general have come to expect more in terms of service.
With airline profits up, thanks to lower fuel prices and capacity discipline, it"™s an opportune time to improve the overall customer experience. The question is where to focus efforts. And findings from the annual IATA survey on passenger behavior and emerging trends in the airline industry provide valuable insights.
I will be co-presenting key findings from the survey at the World Passenger Symposium, October 20-22. They point to areas of opportunity for airlines that will improve their brand and build competitive advantage. Below are a few of the highlights:
Interaction with staff. An airline"™s staff is the face of the company and an important determinant of customer goodwill. Together with on-time performance and aircraft quality, staff interaction is one of most critical aspects of the flight experience. Airlines may consider boosting training to help staff better respond to customer inquiries, especially in pressured situations, and empower employees to deal with difficult issues.
Comfort. Passengers want to be comfortable. But the survey indicates that fewer people were willing to pay for ancillary products or services and price was the major reason. As airlines look to better align profits gained by ancillary products with improved customer experience, it may be helpful to prioritize which products are really "ancillary" in the eyes of the customer and adjust pricing accordingly.
Baggage handling. At least three-quarters of respondents said they like baggage tracking. If bags go missing, passengers at least want to know where their bags are and when they can expect to get them. As for how to relay baggage information, airlines could personalize the experience by determining how an individual passenger wants to notified (phone, email, or text).
Frequent flyer program. Nearly 60% of flyers preferred experiential benefits over monetary ones as redemption alternatives. These benefits include early boarding, free upgrades, and access to private lounges. By matching benefits to customer preferences, airlines can customize the travel experience and make passengers feel recognized.
Purchasing behavior. Consumers continue to use airline websites to buy tickets, but other booking sites are becoming more popular. Almost a quarter of respondents said they found the sites unclear or hard to use, which provides another possible avenue for improvement…