One of the biggest concerns for airlines hoping to gain a competitive advantage is how to create a distinctive passenger experience. Ambitious airlines analyze every scrap of data they can unearth about their customers to create remarkable, personalized experiences at every customer touch point. Yet one of the biggest, and often neglected, contributors to passenger experience starts with the employee experience.
When you think about it, the passenger experience strongly correlates with employee engagement. The State of CX Management, 2018 study by Qualtrics found that the percentage of customer experience leaders who earned “good” or “very good” employee engagement ratings is more than five times larger than the percentage of customer experience laggards. Engagement rises when employees feel good, have meaningful work and are passionate about the company.
Airlines can engender employee engagement by nurturing the employee experience. This involves providing a healthy company culture, a pleasant physical environment and the right technology. This blog post will focus on how airlines can improve their technology to bolster the employee experience.
Moving from a Factory Mindset to a Laboratory Mindset
Today, airlines rely on GDS and PSS systems to run their passenger-related operations. Most of these systems were built years ago and embody a “factory” mindset that forces employees to perform set, repetitive, often partially manual activities. Because replacing them is a complex, multi-year process, airlines will continue to rely on these systems for some time to come.
Yet if airlines wish to delight passengers, they can no longer treat employees like automatons. Airlines must empower employees to experiment, as if they are in a lab, to create innovative solutions. Imagine a framework allowing airline workers to collect and observe passenger experiential data at various stages and circumstances of travel. How can employees improve travel experience of their customers and more importantly, how can they move the experience delivery from average to individual? The successful framework would need connected systems, data collection and artificial intelligence, but above everything else, it would require human minds, emotions and a number of trials. One thing is certain – unleashing employee creativity also improves employee experience.
How to Modify Existing Technology to Support Innovation
So where do airlines find these additional minds to make the shift to a passenger-centric airline? The good news is that talented people already work for airlines. The bad news is that changes need to happen to unleash the potential. While airlines cannot rip and replace their legacy systems overnight, they nonetheless have several tools at their disposal to improve the systems they already have in place to better support innovation. A passenger-centric airline must create circumstances in which each employee understands the contribution to the passenger experience and is given the opportunity to innovate.
Airlines can streamline and automate end-to-end processes where possible, rather than requiring employees to manually query multiple disconnected systems. Robotic process automation and artificial intelligence can be deployed to remove boring, tedious work from humans, so employees have more time to provide better, creative and enthusiastic service.
Adding open interfaces when possible lets employees experiment with using new types of software to access data that resides in legacy systems and mix it with other airline or third-party information. That way, employees can work with the front-end systems they are accustomed to, with the interfaces they like, that are best suited to the task—if the proper access controls are adhered to.
Creating new insights from the existing and previously unconsidered data is key to innovation. Nevertheless, putting the insights into action is key to execution. For example, say a schedule change disrupts a flight and the airline employee needs to re-accommodate all the passengers on the flight. The airline likely has a legacy tool that can rebook people on the next available flight. But that tool probably isn’t driven by insights from massive amounts of data. What if that rebooking tool could pull in information about customers from a CRM system and from online city guides about events happening at the time of travel? Now, the employee can offer a more targeted solution that not only gets passengers to their destination, but delights them as well. Perhaps they might rebook passengers traveling on vacation to a flight with a long layover at an entertaining locale.
Once the controlled lab experiment proves its value with passengers, the airline may decide to automate it and implement as a branded, differentiated solution.
As airlines make these technology improvements, they should also be sure to provide partners, such as travel agents, access to them as well. After all, if partners do not have a state-of-the-art experience using the airline’s systems, they are more likely to steer customers to another airline. And conversely, better tools will allow partners to better serve the airlines’ customers.
Employees are on the front lines of any airlines’ efforts to please passengers. By using technology to empower employees to be creative, rather than treating them like machines, airlines can unleash the enthusiasm and innovation they need to better succeed in the modern environment.