Airlines: The Gap Between Thinking and Doing

May 20, 2021 By: Guest Author

The travel and tourism industry has been on its knees since March 2020.  For anyone who works, or was working, in that sector, the months between then and now will surely be remembered as ones that are best forgotten, ironically enough.  Incomes, both from international and domestic sources, dried up almost completely, while small home industries and massive international organisations alike were thrown into turmoil.  The charge to restructure business models and replace revenue tested both the sanity and the creativity of all involved. Some have won through, whilst sadly, others have  not. The ones that have seen success have found new ways to add value to their customer bases, expanding into new verticals such as retail and logistics.

Thankfully the ancient Persian adage, ‘This too shall pass,’ seems to be finally winning through, and businesses are starting to take bookings again, and planes are starting to fill.  At the World Aviation Festival (WAF) in April this year, I was thrilled to see both the number of airlines looking to the future, but also feedback on how many companies have taken the opportunity to become more agile and customer centric.  As part of the show, we conducted a short  questionnaire for visitors to our virtual booth about what was on their minds as a priority for the next year, and the  results drew a fascinating picture.

Certainly it seems that the injuries from the pandemic are far from healed. Almost a third of all respondents (33%) believed that their main priority for the next year was to make passengers feel safe in their travels, whilst another third (31%) felt they were still going to be adjusting to the pandemic itself.  In a related result, increasing the focus on customer needs came in third place (23%).  This means that apparently, focusing on customers overall accounted for over half of all responses, something that surely bodes well for customer experience in the future.

Perhaps the reality is a little different though.  It’s all well and good aiming for something, but it’s something entirely different being able to actually do it.  When we looked further into how Airlines secured customer feedback, 47.7% had only one mechanism for gathering data, and of those, almost half were based on customer feedback surveys (the overall most popular way of gathering feedback). 

It’s laudable that airlines are making the effort to listen to what customers have to say, but there remains a huge disconnect between customer satisfaction surveys and actionable data for companies looking to improve their digital product experience.  Furthermore, using just one source of data to judge  the quality of the sales experience  is far too narrow to be reliable by itself. Multiple sources are the only reliable way to create trustworthy feedback.

Thankfully, customer replay sessions  are also quite popular for discovering friction points in the digital product customer experience (23%).  The opportunity to actually see where the experience is going wrong is arguably the single most effective way of showing all individuals in the business that there is a problem with the digital experience. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t help bridge the gap between the problem that exists and the technical issues causing it, and nor does it highlight how many people might be suffering from the same problem and how impactful it might be to the business.

Sixty per cent (60%) of respondents said the most important aspect of post-pandemic recovery was being agile enough to move quickly and safely to respond to customer needs, and almost 80% said they were constantly adapting the customer journey to the situation. Again, an admirable statement and a strong suggestion that agility is key to survival.  Unfortunately, the reality may be slightly different.   Well over a year since the start of the pandemic, only 31% of respondents have already implemented new technology to cope with changes and provide a better customer experience. The rest (69%) were either still testing new technology, considering it, or not going to implement new technology at all.  This is not being agile, it’s just thinking about agility, and there’s a huge gap between the thought and the action.

At the WAF show this year, Quantum Metric was lucky enough to be joined by United Airlines in it’s keynote interview session.  United has a long history of innovation, and it didn’t stop with the start of the pandemic. In direct response to the pandemic, just two and a half  months after the world realised it had a global catastrophe on its hands, United had already installed contactless check-in and booking facilities at all it’s terminals across the US.  This is agility in theory and practise.

There is a land-grab (or maybe air-grab?) in progress within aviation, and some companies are going to lose.  As always, it’s those with the best attitude and culture for adapting to change that will thrive.  The 31% of companies that have already invested in technology to deal with that change have a massive head-start.  Those that haven’t, have an uphill battle to catch-up, otherwise they may find that their next flight takes off without them.

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