Reaching out to passengers through their mobile phones as a means of both improving their journey and boosting ancillary revenues is a top priority when it comes to information technology spend, according to the latest SITA/Airline Business IT Trends Survey.
Leveraging mobile technology to stay in touch with passengers throughout every touch point of the passenger experience is an area in which 66% of airlines are planning to invest heavily over the next three years, with a further 32% aiming to carry out pilot tests of one kind or another.
“We’ve been asking airlines continuously for a couple of years now about their plans for services related to the passenger journey and what they’re planning to implement over the next couple of years. Mobile technology is topping the investment list,” Thomas Knierim, senior analyst IT trends at SITA, tells the APEX Editor’s Blog.
Mobile services for passengers can be divided into two main tiers, the first being a straight replica of services offered on an airline’s website such as check-in and the ability to search and book flights, says Knierim. “About 50% of airlines offer this,” he notes, adding that passengers are “starting to expect this” from carriers.
The second, and more evolving, tier involves using mobile technology to stay in touch with passengers throughout their journey and interact with them on a more personal level, as Knierim explains: “Airlines are now looking for a deeper integration into the passenger’s journey, and they’re asking ‘what can we offer the passenger that helps them along their journey which is unique to mobiles?’”
This can include functions enabling communication with passengers about missing bags or connecting flights, but the list of other possible interactions is long. “Every stage of the journey where there is a need for information is starting to appear on the mobile phone,” says Knierim.
However, one downside of increasing interaction with passengers via their mobile devices is that touch points “where the passenger actually speaks to someone” start to become less and less common. “This might be a reason why airlines are pushing to provide cabin crew with tablets,” says Knierim, pointing out that more than 75% of airlines in the survey plan to deploy tablets in the cabin to enhance customer service by 2016.
“By using tablets in the cabin, staff can access the airline’s customer relationship data to tailor their service to the individual, as well as capture and resolve issues,” says the survey.
Another key area, and one which remains relatively untapped as yet, is the potential for airlines to drive ancillary revenues by selling products and services to passengers through their mobile phones. Passengers are well-accustomed to being asked after booking a flight online whether they would like to also book a hotel room or a rental car but, as Knierim points out, this is not always the right time to market these add-ons.
“The advantage to a mobile offering is that you can offer these services at a time when the passenger is interested in them,” he says, noting that when a passenger is on their way to the airport can be an opportune moment to market additional products and services. As it stands, less than 2% of ancillary sales are made through mobile phones, but airlines in the survey said they expect this figure to rise to as much as 10% by 2016.
“Not many airlines currently offer the capability to sell car rentals etc through a mobile phone – only about 10% – but all have massive plans to offer this to passengers. About 85% of airlines, depending on the type of service, plan to offer these additional services through mobile phones,” says Knierim.
The survey also examined airlines’ use of social media and produced disappointing results on the ticket sale front. According to the survey, “social media as an alternative sales channel remains behind expectations with only 1.6% of ticket sales generated this way, despite 22% of airlines having invested in social media-embedded apps for ticketing”.
Knierim believes that social media remains “a fantastic medium to reach passengers” and interact with people, but the ability to sell airline tickets through social media websites such as Facebook is “not happening as fast as expected”.
Taking these findings on board, the survey concludes that “non-sales activities, such as marketing and customer service, offer the most beneficial use of this channel”.
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