Category: PSS

Customer centricity in aviation

What does that mean to me?

I keep reflecting on the concept of customer centricity in the context of airline passengers. For a long time, I only saw it from the perspective of an airline loyalty programme, because having a particular status meant I got extra benefits to make my trip more comfortable (sometimes). Over the years, however, I have come to realise that this has little to do with the concept of customer centricity, but rather is used as a vehicle to bind a customer to one particular airline (or group of airlines). It is a one-way street that lures the customer in with the promise of benefits and privileges that are actually becoming less and less valuable as airlines reduce the level of service in order to reduce costs. Indeed, I can often get most of the common airline loyalty benefits with a branded credit card.

As an airline, when it comes to judging the loyalty of a customer, there are many factors that need to be considered beyond the simple mechanism of miles or segments flown. Am I really only judged as “important” to an airline if I flew a lot with them within a fixed timeframe? This is a potentially flawed assessment, particularly considering that, regardless of how much I paid for those flights, I might not actually have paid for them myself if I travel a lot for business. In this case, the “customer” may be the company paying for the travel, however “customer centricity” still focuses on the individual travelling. How should lifetime value be measured and assigned between the customer and the traveller when these are not identical? What about my changing needs and behaviours as a traveller, particularly as airlines evolve their product offerings? The airfare for a journey may be optimised to generate the highest possible revenue, but total spend is often not considered. Ancillary products such as more bags and seats typically have higher margins, however loyalty is often only rewarded on the fare paid or distance flown. The view of measuring loyalty over an arbitrary time period may not be the right way for all customer segments. If I only travel a lot every other year, is my total customer lifetime value not worth anything? By stripping benefits through the loss of a status level, airlines run the risk that customers may be less inclined to remain loyal to the airline, rather than recognising that loyalty spans more than a period of 12 months and providing incentives to keep wallet share even when customers are not flying.

My reasons for travelling are usually different for each journey – even if there are similarities. However, the service I receive (as a loyal customer) is almost always the same. While airlines cannot read my mind, does it always have to be the same service I receive when my needs are constantly changing? There may be clues in my travel patterns and behaviour that can be used to give direction when trying to become more customer centric. However, picking up on these subtle hints can be difficult and actioning them even more so. Maybe, as a result of my status, I get to take a second bag on a short business trip. While I may appreciate the extra luggage if I’m travelling long-haul for two weeks, I don’t need two heavy bags when traveling alone and using public transport upon arrival at my destination.

Recognising such situations is not difficult, but usually airlines do not take time to join the dots and figure out what I might really appreciate. The needs of every traveller are unique, and my needs are different almost every time I head off on a journey. However, there are patterns that are not necessarily common to me as an individual traveller, but rather to my demographic (“segment” or “cohort” if you prefer). Through tracking decisions and actions taken (or not taken), airlines can begin to make sense of a collection of seemingly random data points. If we then apply some machine learning to this and ask the right questions of this data, perhaps things become a little less hazy. When airlines begin to action some of these findings is when I will start feeling that the airline is focussing on my needs. Then I will finally start feeling the customer centricity, and can choose the additional services according to my needs. These needs may, or probably will, be specific to each journey. I may want to forgo the lounge because I prefer a short transit time to get to my destination faster. I may want to take two carry-on bags so I don’t have to go to check-in or risk the bag not arriving. I always want the option to upgrade my flight with miles or for cash if there is space on the flight – I always ask, so why do airlines not ask me, especially if there are premium cabin seats available and I have sufficient miles? Having to wait until I get to the gate only to be told there are not enough meals loaded is neither customer centricity nor good business sense. I am not unique with having these same behavioural patterns, but if we never look for patterns, we will never find them.

Travel is a journey rather than a flight between two points, and as a traveller, I make dozens of decisions along the way. I decide how I get to the airport, how I take my luggage, how comfortable and pampered (or not) I’d like or expect to be on board, where I stay when I get to my destination, how I get there. I make decisions about what I buy and what I don’t buy. And very importantly, I decide on whether I was satisfied with what I bought or whether my needs were not met. Did the airline ask me how I found the service on board or how the booking and check-in process was?

There is a vast ocean of data available on every single airline customer which can be collected from the time of shopping for flights and throughout the customer’s journey. Many customers will be happy to share even more data with airlines if it is used for their benefit and not just for maximising revenues for the airline. This is a call-to-action for airlines to rethink their customer-centricity processes, their availability of the related data, and for the airlines to collect and use the data to improve customer service and create personalised or tailored product offerings.

While I understand that airlines constantly have to balance customer centricity with operational and financial efficiency, a lot can be done with presumably manageable effort and investment. However, unless all organisations within the airline agree on what the airline’s goal and business model is, will there ever be agreement on what customer centricity means?

 

This post has been published in collaboration with Terrapinn.

(Mona Kristensen, 5. December 2022)

 

 

The APAC distribution landscape is “progressing but conservative”

Listen to the interview with our partner Daniel Friedli: The APAC distribution landscape is “progressing but conservative”

In anticipation of the upcoming Aviation Festival Asia, Daniel answered some questions relating to distribution, new distribution capability (NDC), ONE Order, and the transition to modern retailing in the region.

In this twenty-five-minute interview Daniel gave his perspective on the huge topic that is distribution in the Asia-Pacific region. Tackling this extensive subject, Daniel identified areas of variation across the region providing a useful overview of the transformation, uptake, and challenges. Additionally, Daniel highlighted catalysts and barriers to change in the region, shedding light on the current landscape and cautiously drawing comparisons against other areas of the globe.

An important takeaway from the discussion was that many of these changes are costly and have repercussions that must be considered before integrating new systems. With all the future facing conversations concerning implementing updated systems, the complexities and costs around successfully installing new technology and systems cannot be understated.

Hey Airline Exec – Put your bum in my seat!

Hey Airline Exec – Put your bum in my seat!

There is a lot of talk about customer experience, customer centricity, net promotor scores and the like amongst the airlines. Seemingly more now than ever before. But where and when does customer centricity come into play? And more crucially, why is it not working – or at least, not the way the customer feels it should?

What is Customer Experience?

To get us all on the same page, we should define what we mean by the term “customer experience”. Basically, we are talking about how an airline engages with customers in any form – through personal contacts at a counter or on board a flight, through digital means such as an airline website or mobile app, through visual means such as airport signage and onboard materials or through communication such as emails, phone calls, chats, and others.

A good customer experience instils trust, is easy and quick, provides clarity, and focuses on the customer’s need and should be (where possible and feasible), in the customer’s interest even if that clashes with the airline’s. Now, that doesn’t mean that a good customer experience results in an airline always giving in, but it does mean the airline finds a solution.

Also, what may be perceived as a great customer experience for me because it is all digital and self-service does not mean it is a good customer experience for my grandmother.

The Journey

Let’s start with the customer journey to get a better understanding of where and when the customer experience really comes into play. This is fairly simple: the experience encompasses everything from the first interaction with an airline until well after any trip I take. That was easy, wasn’t it? Well, perhaps we can break it down a bit more to get a little more insight.

First, let’s consider the inspiration phase where the airline is sending promotional mails, or a customer is hunting for prices and destinations on an airline website. In this phase, the airline should focus on an initial understanding of the customer – who is asking, and why? Sometimes the airline will know quite a bit about certain customers, in others they know very little. In such cases, creating a meaningful mail or putting the right products and destinations on the website can be done by applying segmentation and sampling logic.

During the shopping phase, very much like in the inspiration, the airline may or may not know the customer. However, the contents of the shopping request and the meta-information related to the request (e.g., what time and which weekday was it made, which channel etc.) can help in figuring out the intent of the customer and give some context. And in the cases a customer is known, previous behaviour and purchases (or the lack thereof) can help.

In the pre-travel phase, which are the days and hours leading up to the event and can be somewhat emotional, and stressful, for many who do not travel often, some guidance can help. While many airlines send emails, these are seldom helpful or focused on a specific customer or journey. But hey, it really isn’t that hard to get the context and content right. I don’t need the weather for 10 days if my return flight is two days later. Or instead of a generic, text-only email which is nearly two pages long, how about a mail which is simple to understand, focused on my journey and my travel class, and has links if I need to know more? Has anyone ever asked the customers what they want to know?

At the airport, the biggest challenges are often the signage, and the lack of control over many processes such as security and managing crowds. However, where an airline should be able to take influence is in their staff, or the representation through the ground handlers. The often-heard stories of customers who know more about flight delays than staff should be long gone and shows the lack of a communication strategy within the airline. Better pre-flight information via email or the app can help and simplifying the search for relevant information through enhanced chat and FAQs would serve customers well.

Each flight experience and airline is different. In flight, there are of course many aspects of customer experience we could talk about, from levels of service to staff friendliness and onboard facilities, however this would be enough to cover a blog post itself. Most airlines do a really good job and hats off to them.

Perhaps one of the biggest areas in which improvements can be made is when the need for changing travel plans arises, be that willingly or not. Or, when during a journey, unexpected things happen – because they inevitably do. How do we communicate and interact with the customer? How much information do we share? Can we be proactive in suggesting smart alternatives and solutions?

After the journey, a simple follow-up mail with a thank you would work wonders. I have rarely received one. And when things didn’t go to plan, how about an apology mail? I have never received one of those either. I don’t expect more – I don’t need miles or vouchers – at least not if the disruption wasn’t drastic. But not receiving a “thank you” or “we’re sorry” basically shows that for the airline, the journey is somewhat “fire and forget”. Does the airline even know or care how my journey went?

Well heck, why doesn’t it work?

I have a theory. and will turn this theory into a call to action. First and foremost, I wonder how many C-Level airline executives, VPs and directors actually travel, well, like travellers would travel. In my experience, none. They have staff tickets and people who book for them. They never follow the customer’s path. When missing a flight, they can easily no-show, knowing they can go-show on the next flight. Sure, they sometimes have to deal with being a “passenger available for disembarkation”, however they can also get insight into booking figures or call duty travel to rearrange flights, often with other airlines with no cost to the “customer” at all. Why don’t designated decision makers search, book, rebook and travel like the 99% of people sitting on their aircraft? Why don’t they use the apps to check-in or try to change their bookings like a consumer would? That could result in some eye-openers, I’m certain. Most likely it would also lead to a better understanding of the Net Promoter Score (NPS). Oh wait, you don’t measure that? Or you do, but don’t analyse the results and take action?

Surveys such as NPS are a great means to understanding satisfaction. However, it is not enough to conduct a survey. Two airlines we have worked with over the past years had task forces in place to evaluate NPS surveys and create action plans for improvement. These were very structured processes, with a dedicated team and empowerment to influence the different departments in the airline to constantly improve customer service. The issues, actions and improvements were presented twice a month at executive level, with buy-in from all departments within the airline. In both cases, NPS scores increased, and while the increases were only marginal in the first six months, they grew considerably faster once the improvement team and the processes were established and the first “quick wins” identified and implemented.

We suggest that airlines start doing two things if you do not already:

  • Make sure that decision makers can travel like customers a few times each year. Make them book online or via the app – or even with a travel agency. Travel like the masses – don’t call in for privileges, sit in the back, book non-flex tickets.
  • Measure and act and get help doing so if necessary.

Why are we asking you to do this? Well, as an industry, we have moved so far towards this vision of retailing and customer centricity. All the talk is about systems and technology, about retailing and customer data, about segmentation and creating personalised offers. That is all great, and we share the vision here at Travel in Motion. However, there is more to it than a vision of airline retailing with offers and orders, or other buzzwords like NDC, ONE Order, Dynamic Offers, Continuous Pricing and what have you. At the end of the day, the customer has to be happy.

 

This post has been published in collaboration with Terrapinn.

(Daniel Friedli, 3. November 2022)

Meet us at the PROS Outperform Virtual Conference from 16th till 18th November

Meet Travel in Motion at an upcoming industry event that is worthwhile attending: The PROS Outperfom Virtual Conference which will take place from 16th till 18th November. We will be present as sponsors and you can meet us by visiting our sponsor page. Our partner Daniel Friedli will also be on a panel to discuss the shifting airline distribution landscape with Boyan Manev of PROS and Keith Wallis of Air Canada (18th November, 11:00-11:40 Central Time, 18:00-18:40 CET).  This will be a perfect possibility to catch up, discuss and look forward to joint engagements.

 

PSS: Not an easy choice

Undoubtably 2020 was the worst year in aviation since World War II. We have never seen an industrial downturn to this extent and it will take a long time for our industry to recover and reach pre-COVID volumes and results.

However, crises create opportunities, and we at Travel in Motion GmbH (TiM) are proud that we were able to support an airline in mastering the challenges.

Helvetic Airways is a Swiss-based regional carrier founded in 2003. Since the current owner Martin Ebner took over the airline, three years on Helvetic has become a Swiss success story. The airline has grown to 16 Embraer aircraft, with a clear strategy to mainly operate the latest E190-E2 model. This will provide Helvetic with one of Europe’s most eco-friendly and modern fleets. The airline’s business model is based on three pillars:

  • ACMI and wet-lease operations mainly for Swiss International Air Lines, with the ambition to grow in this business segment and become one of the leading ACMI/wet-lease providers in Europe
  • A very successful (ad hoc) charter business with a strong focus on major European sports clubs
  • Own scheduled flights, under Helvetic’s 2L IATA code. Although their scheduled network has not been extensive in the past, with the performance of the new E190-E2 aircraft, Helvetic can now establish a unique and flexible network, differentiating itself from its competitors.

As scheduled operations may become increasingly important for Helvetic Airways, the team soon realised that the simplistic self-built inhouse PSS was not flexible enough to accelerate this part of the business. Helvetic set up a team, led by Chief Technology Officer Christian Suhner and supported by the Head of PSS, Patrick Brunner. Their aim was to find one of the most innovative, user-friendly and easy to operate PSS systems for their type of airline and route network, with the flexibility to integrate with other components and to extract their own data for analytical purposes. To achieve this, they engaged with TiM to run a PSS replacement project covering all the necessary steps, from summarising Helvetic’s business requirements, running a tender, facilitating vendor sessions, supporting the choice of the final supplier and finalising the vendor contracts.

One key business criterion was the need to be able to seamlessly scale scheduled operations up or down, depending on performance of Helvetic’s ACMI and charter business. In addition, as one of the most modern and technology-driven airlines, Helvetic has the highest requirements for quality and – of course – safety, a philosophy which is summarised well in the airline’s motto: “Swiss quality all along the line”. This has been reflected directly in the selection of the new system, especially in the way Helvetic plans to sell their products: no dependency on legacy aggregation and distribution but being able to distribute directly, connect to new-generation aggregators, being accessible for tour operators, while remaining in control of the offer and order process. In other words, distribution based fully on their direct channels complemented by NDC and direct API connectivity to other distributors and retailers. Rarely does a regional airline have such a clear vision on where they are heading.

  “After the successful evaluation phase with the great support of TiM, we’re currently in the phase of implementing our new PSS platform,” confirms Christian Suhner, Chief Technical Officer of Helvetic Airways. “One that will help us further enhance our product offer, and will also enable us to respond more effectively to market developments. With all this going on in IT terms, plus the continuing renewal of our aircraft fleet, the Helvetic Airways transformations are truly well under way”, he adds.  

Of course, this has not been the first time TiM has successfully delivered such a project, but it was still a very special exercise. Due to the pandemic, only remote interaction was possible with the vendor community. The Helvetic and TiM teams could still physically meet, albeit with social distancing in place, occupying large meeting rooms while sitting in opposite corners. Using TiM’s toolset for understanding and defining the airline’s specific requirements, the tender documents were created. Then, using TiM’s standard model, the tender process was executed. Jointly with the customer, the  the responses were analysed and evaluated based on predefined criteria and weights – fundamental for a successful and fair selection. However, despite the pandemic, such an evaluation still requires close interaction with the various vendors – a pure paper-based evaluation was not sufficient to replace meetings with vendors. As the Helvetic team had not run a PSS procurement process before, evaluating soft in the factors decision-making process was a challenge, especially as many of the vendors ranked relatively equal in the formal evaluation. Thus, the final personal touch, the trust built up through interactions in joint workshops or getting to know one another in face-to-face contract negotiations were missing.

To compensate for this as best as possible, the Helvetic and TiM evaluation teams became MS Teams power users. All vendor sessions were conducted remotely with hours of product demonstrations, reviews, discussions, and negotiations carried out in front of screens and speakers. As the TiM team already knew the various vendors, it was possible to bridge the gap of real face-to-face interaction, however the job still feels somewhat incomplete from a personal interaction perspective.

Helvetic Airways has now completed the process and chosen a new provider for their PSS which supports the uniqueness of the airline. While the project has ended as a success, we think it is safe to say that while remote interaction is possible, it does not replace the need to meet in person, especially if deciding on which system the commercial future of an airline will be based upon. This is just one more reason why the whole team at TiM is looking forward to the re-opening of our industry, allowing us to travel and meet in person again.

Revenue Management Forecasting

March 11, 2021

As we are getting towards the end of the first quarter of 2021, we can see that air traffic is picking up and that several projects are being revamped. But fundamental to a sustainable restart is the recovery of passenger revenues, and particularly a proper forecast of the revenues to come. To give some insight, our Managing Partner Andrea Riesen has summarised her thoughts on Revenue Management (RM) Forecasting in a TiM QuickView paper. It provides an excellent overview of forecasting best practices and guides the reader from the theoretical background of RM to a best practice approach, where Andrea shares her experiences from working within various airline revenue management departments. Feel free to download your personal copy of the whitepaper here.

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Season Break and new Co-Owners of TiM

Dear partners and friends

2020 has been a very challenging year for all of us. Our industry went through the worst crisis ever, with many airlines being forced to cease operations and countless people losing their jobs. However, much more importantly, some of us lost loved ones due to the pandemic. We cannot end this year without remembering them.

In crises and difficult times, it’s easy to tell who your true partners and friends are. It has been an invaluable and enriching experience for us at Travel in Motion in 2020. Although our business was also rather challenged, we still managed to have excellent exchanges, discussions and interesting projects with many of you – we were not let down, and we want to thank you all for this.

The new year is starting to look more promising: vaccinations might lead to an easing of the crisis, and we have good reason to believe that a recovery will come. We at TiM are looking forward to 2021, as we are convinced that aviation will remain one of the key industries in our global economy. This crisis has forced our industry to become more digital, agile and interconnected – attributes which are also the focus of our work. Thus, we’re already looking forward to working with as many of you as possible next year in whatever capacity we can support you.

As we are optimistic for the next year, and many to come, we have decided to set up Travel in Motion GmbH a little differently. We are proud to announce that Andrea Riesen and Boris Padovan have become co-owners of Travel in Motion, as they both share our long term vision and goals. As we continue to remain busy, having Andrea and Boris on board not only as team members but also as owners, shows our commitment and belief in our industry.
With these mixed emotions, the whole Travel in Motion team would like to thank you again for 2020 and wish you, your families, friends and colleagues a happy Season Break and a healthy, safe and prosperous New Year!

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Airline Digital Retail – Vendors’ View on Challenges and Opportunities of the COVID Crisis

September 2020 – The airline industry has been hard hit by the global Covid-19 pandemic. Airlines have grounded their fleets, or reduced their capacity by 60, 70% or more. Since March 2020, travel has drastically changed, and the market is very slow to recover. At the time of this blog post at the end of September 2020, we are seeing a very slow recovery in the global air transportation market. For some domestic markets, things look a lot better, especially for China where domestic travel is at over 90% of the capacity it was one year ago, thanks in large parts to their effective management of the pandemic as well as government stimulus to travel.

Basically, the airlines’ opportunity to sell travel and related ancillary services has become almost impossible. However, it is not yet time to give up. Governments have been helping airlines through loans, while the airlines themselves have been streamlining their operations and reducing their fixed costs and their fleets. They are also becomming innovative and creative, offering products which are pandemic-compliant, giving customers the opportunity to travel more safely, rebook when necessary and protecting their staff from direct interaction with customers where there are other possibilities. Two such examples are the sales of free middle seats and a charge for checking in in person at the airport. Now, while neither is new, both of these product have been given considerable boosts through the pandemic, and more airlines have decided to offer these as a result of Covid-19. Supporting the airlines through the crisis are also the technology solution providers. They too are suffering from the loss of key revenue streams, however, have an invested interest in supporting their airline customers in the recovery.

Travel in Motion took this opportunity to talk to five of the leading airline digital retailers to gain an understanding of how this pandemic is affecting them, and how they are helping their airline customers get through this. We also heard a lot of considerations around how this is affecting their own companies and their respective strategies and key learnings. Except for the last podcast, which was moderated by Boris Padovan, Principal Consultant at TiM, the interviews were conducted by Daniel Friedli, Managing Director of Travel in Motion.

A final session with all five participants will close this series of TiM’s podcasts. In this 45 minute “virtual” panel we will jointly reflect on the consequences of this global disruption and discuss learnings for the overall aviation industry. This podcast will be conducted after the five individual interviews have been published.

We kicked off our discussion with Jim Davidson, Chief Product Officer at Accelya. After the acquisition of Farelogix through Accelya, Jim has taken the challenge to work on setting up Accelya to offer end-to-end retailing, from offers to selling, delivery to settlement.
Our favourite quote from Jim: The concept of retailing is proven to be resistant even to the pandemic… the concept is still trying to match those services that are best equipped to the needs of the flying customer.” Listen to our interview with Jim.

In the second podcast, we discussed these topics with Sean Corkery, CEO of Datalex. Having gone through a large transformation programme in 2019, they had already set themselves up to be very efficient and delivery focused.
Our favourite quote from Sean:This is not a time for gain, this is a time for really underlining your value-add to your customers.Listen to our interview with Sean.

The third interview was with Bryan Porter, Chief Commercial Officer of OpenJaw Technologies. OpenJaw is in the privileged situation to have a considerable part of their business in China, in which the domestic market is recovering faster than anywhere else in the world.
Our favourite quote from Bryan: Reassurance has become the watch-word for recovery.Listen to our interview with Bryan.

PROSSurain Adyanthaya was our fourth guest. With PROS’ growing ecosystem from revenue management to airline digital retailing solutions, their view on the market, especially with the insights into their customers’ revenue management strategies, was very interesting.
Our favourite quote from Surain: The key to success for airlines is to be nimble and flexible. Things happen!

Finally, we spoke with Andy Kidd from SAP. Andy outlined how airlines, especially in Asia, have circled toward digital, and how this will benefit them in these challenging times. He further elaborates on how the customer experience is affected and can be improved with ONE Order.
Our favourite quote from Andy: The majority, if not all airlines, have a digital transformation programme but what we’ve seen in retail is that some companies have accelerated what was years into months…

For the final session we are looking forward to hosting Jim, Sean, Bryan, Surain and Andy. It will certainly be an interesting discussion and we hope that it will gain more insights for our industry community.

These podcasts will be released in the upcoming weeks, one per week, on Mondays. The first podcast will be released on Monday, 5 October. Each subsequent release will be available on the Travel in Motion website. If you would like to be notified of each podcast, subscribe to our newsletter here.