First Published on 2nd May, 2017
Ai Editorial: A traveller gets lost in today’s technology. How can airlines come up with offers or service that indicates they know their passengers, explores Ai’s Ritesh Gupta
A lot of questions are being raised about the process-centric functioning of airlines.
This is owing to the fact that legacy systems aren’t capable of performing certain tasks because they were never designed to do so.
The way airlines serve passengers today doesn’t fit in with what their customers would ideally look for.
For instance, if a passenger lost her bag during a journey, when she logs in next time on airline.com or checks in would this be acknowledged? Or can the airline staff at the boarding gate offer an upgrade to the same passenger? Not possibly as customer-related information isn’t readily available, and the record of every interaction around an “order” isn’t being updated and the same can’t be accessed, too, by all.
So how can the industry get rid of their inflexible booking, ticketing, delivery and accounting process?
For their part, IATA has envisioned a standard for the ONE Order initiative, paving way for one access spot for passenger orders. And with this, doing away with the need for multiple reservation records as well as e-ticket/ EMD concepts. While a passenger’s journey would be streamlined, for airlines it would mean no more costly reconciliation exercises between varied references.
Of course, the industry isn’t closer yet as airlines are expected to experiment with ONE Order messages in the coming months, the question is – is there a framework that is being worked out to aid airlines in their transformation? How to make the most of offer management, order management etc. as airlines strive to nudge towards customer-centricity?
Right approach for personalisation
JR Technologies has been making steady progress as a specialist, and recommends a platform that’s a blend of both offer and order management, standing out for business intelligence, passenger identification module etc. for a seamless journey (being aware of the current flight, current order, servicing needs etc.). It would also mean that the platform, running in parallel to an airline’s PSS, would feature complete PSS booking connectivity and document processing capability, converting PNR into “orders”. So PSS would pass on information to the NDC platform, where master record would be stored. The approach (for which JR and Unisys recently announced an agreement) counts on historical details provided by the order management system and this vital, real-time business intelligence is leveraged in personalisation of offers.
Airlines need to able to create offers and then change the accepted offers into orders (here offer management system should take all the data points, run them through analysis and business rules, check availability and applicability, bundle the offer items, calculate the pricing, and deliver it along with branding and rich media to the passenger). Then it needs to transition into an order management system for fulfilment and accounting. This is somewhat analogous to the concept of tickets and EMDs in the legacy, but in the Order structure, there aren’t restrictions that are present with these electronic documents.
What’s in for the passenger?
As I interacted with George Khairallah, President, JR Technologies during the 11th edition of Ai’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Palma de Mallorca, I was keen on knowing what can airlines work on to respond to queries, changes etc. via a touchpoint that a passenger chooses? For instance, a disjointed experience like this is common today – requesting a change via Twitter while approaching the gate, and then interacting with the personnel at the gate as if no request was put in.
“Our recommendation is not to start with offer management, rather with order management. Whenever we work on a transformation plan with an airline, we advise to start with order management, take existing data, put into order management system, take business intelligence out of it and use it in offer management system. So when the loop is closed, an airline not only offers the right offering to the passenger, but can also track what is happening to “orders”,” explained Khairallah. “So yes, airline can offer what to buy, and when there is an “order”, one can track what happened to the services. The fundamental concept of order management system is that it becomes the central source of truth. So the airport display, check-in counter, ground handler, catering…every aspect connects to the order management system.”
So be it for changing ticket at the airport or information related to boarding being disorganized at times, such issues would be sorted out.
Or even dealing with issues such as no information about the lost bag for few hours at least. So changes or answering queries in real-time would become a possibility with this central source of truth. And by indexing central repository that features relevant information, a passenger comes and shares the name at a touchpoint, and that is enough to service in the best possible manner – by being aware of the current flight, current order, servicing needs etc. The last interaction, be it for self-service kiosk or a customer service agent, is clearly documented.
All of this would be a welcome change. As Khairallah aptly puts it, the individual gets lost in today’s technology.
So then how to get closer to the passenger? Business traveller also travels as a leisure passenger, and could be the same person, and accordingly the service level would be different depend upon the travel – say with family vs. as an individual. Identifying the same at the time of shopping, booking etc. And with today’s technology this is not possible. Today the data that airlines have is minimal. If it is via airline.com that is fine, otherwise data belongs to a 3rd party.
The objective needs to be – know more about the passenger, and as they order more and more, the goal is to analyze and get close to offering something that would match their intent and they would probably buy – akin to what Amazon specializes in. “This isn’t ready yet in this industry (among airlines) today. This calls for a change in strategy,” explained Khairallah. “But many airlines are already focused on integrating NDC strategic concept into their thinking, their systems development for the next few years in order to meet that goal. They want to know the passenger, how to make the best offer – a passenger shouldn’t be scrolling 50 offers, first few should be enough, simply because they know you. This is what we care about, what passengers care about. This is a long-term process. It would call for changes – the way pricing is done, the way you think about merchandising, creating bundles, packaging your products, about how the passenger is ordering, paying for the same, how your vendors are being paid…it’s an end-to-end solution that has to be presented, and then airlines chart out their plans for transformation (doing it in a phased manner) and ensuring all systems are in place over a period of time.” Of course, in case of a “smaller” airline the effect would be “faster”. Relatively bigger airlines would call for lots of people to be retrained, lots of systems to be changed.
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