Could airlines use digital media to help get themselves out of a rough spot?
This past week I traveled to two different destinations with two different airlines - the contrast couldn’t have been starker. What was the difference? One airline uses digital media to its advantage, the other one is still stuck in analog mode.
While the first trip went without a glitch - we even got to destination earlier both ways - the second one started horribly - with what turned out to be a 5 hour wait, time none of the passengers will ever get back. As I was waiting in line and meeting others who were in my same predicament, I thought about the many ways in which digital media can help this ailing and tired industry.
Implement a notification system
Including a way to rebook yourself, pick among a menu of choices, without having to interact with harried and cranky flight attendants. Most of the booking and ticketing today happens online.
Airlines have passenger data at their fingertips. Why not implement a notification system that will allow them to update people on their mobile phones or through email (give people a choice) when a flight is delayed? One or two keystrokes and alternatives are entered - why not use the data to provide value instead of just push marketing when the organization is ready?
Is there any doubt in your mind that most digital travelers would opt into such system?
Now let’s make it interesting. Instead of using Twitter, the notification system can also become a place where airlines can ask permission to forward coupons, special deals, and valuable travel information - on an opt in basis. Mind you, first provide the value, then propose a permission dialogue.
Airlines could appeal to savvy travelers by extending into products and services that allow customers to learn more about smart travel. Take Chris Guillebeau, for example, his travel products offer tremendous value from someone who's been there.
There's opportunity for someone who can execute a notification system to also start managing travel with people. Are there travel agents who do that proactively today? A delay at the airport triggers a message and the agent reaches out to the traveler she's representing with options.
A gentleman in line mentioned that American Airlines used a notification system with him not long ago. He travels business class, so that could be the reason why the communication was sent. Once you invest in tying in the system with your ticketing, you can do that very cheaply. The upside is loyalty. Don't give me points I need to go crazy to redeem - give me service.
I’d be interested to hear your take. Would you pay a subscription fee to such a system?
The notification system would also ease the considerable stress ground airline staff faces when there is a delay. Better health care costs for the airline, service with a smile for passengers.
Digital media could also help airline staff talk with each other. As we were waiting in line, we realized that a lot of time was spent by the ground staff on the phone with other offices. When I finally got to talk to the attendant, it took a retry to get the right tone - from service to customer. Her first instinct was to tell me how busy she was.
Many businesses are stretched very thin today. Not enough hands to go around by design. I do wonder if an online system would allow employees to problem solve with each other and the airline and apply all available resources to help in spots that require it. A sort of all hands on deck type of system.
Customers have Twitter to talk to each other, what do airline employees have? How about communities of practice on Yammer, or other collaborative tools? When employees feel they have control over their destiny, when they are trusted to make decisions, when they know the company cares, they tend to go out of their way.
We respond to other humans, and the more we can personalize that experience and make it transparent, the better.
Collaborate as a hub
Imagine if all the airlines at each airport collaborated with each other to get people to their destinations. What would happen if each airport operated not just a Web site - in some cases with poor usability - but a portal. With digital media, you could make it possible.
An online portal where airlines could bid out empty seats to certain destinations, distribute coupons, offer last minute fares, and partner with other vendors. Weather delays or any other kinds of delays could be the trigger for fire sales of seats on other airlines going to the same destinations.
Would an environment of co-opetition for the benefit of passengers thrive? If one airline is in a pickle, instead of everyone getting mad at them and exhausted at the gate, there could be a redistribution to airlines that have capacity. Passengers would be in the driver seat.
Certainly there would be less animosity in the air - and less wear and tear on people.
I’m writing this as I’m supposed to be at my destination. None of what I wrote here requires inventing or doing from scratch - just doing. We have the technology and the tools to make it happen. Yet, as I write this, I struggle with the Airport inconsistent wireless, paid system.
Surely, there must be an alternative to status quo.
Someone will find a way to take on the job of caring for air travelers beyond providing notifications of what's happening, which is already a step in the right direction. I’m willing to bet that it will come from outside the industry. Will we begin to vote with our wallet? I surely hope that we begin respecting our own time.
Are we willing to conserve and redirect the human energy that goes to waste in the current system to something more worthwhile? What are your thoughts?
[image by Ivan M who spent 5 hours at this airport]
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