Airlines – time to catch that missed data connection

This is a viewpoint by Philippe der Arslanian, acting CMO and head of business development, North America, for Conztanz.

The vast majority of retailers including airlines and airports agree: data is a necessary business enabler to master.

Thanks to data, airlines can dynamically tailor and perfect personalized digital experiences that increase customer satisfaction and yield, while simultaneously reducing integration and operational costs.

But that data is only useful when it is complete, reliable and instantaneous. And according to a recent study by Conztanz covering more than 20 airlines, that is rarely the case.

Indeed, the study found that there is a fundamental disconnect between the data that is needed for bottom-line initiatives, and the fragmented, unreliable and partial data at hand.

At the lowest level, processed data must be ‘valid data’ – with no spelling mistakes, wrong phone numbers, duplicates, unused e-mails, missing passport information and more.

This problem is far bigger than most realize.

As EyeforTravel reported in its “State of Data in Travel Report 2017” the #1 challenge for 250 travel professionals was “data quality/cleanliness”.

If the quality of input is not being levelled, strategic investments in Big Data or AI get exposed, as they are highly likely to yield flawed results.

But not only is current data unreliable at best, it is also often so fragmented as to be unusable.

For retailers, the primary challenge in executing their data-driven customer experience strategy (Marketers Worldwide, Q1 2017) is “fragmented engagement systems that fail to connect or deliver a unified view of the customer experience across touch-points”.

The Conztanz survey confirms this point for airlines, as it uncovers that 46% of respondents maintain between five and 10 traveler data repositories – a key issue as multiple data sources often prevent airline executives from relying on consistent, real-time, end-to-end data with a single, actionable view.

The data is there somewhere, but pulling it out at the right place and the right time is still a major issue – not to mention a constant synchronization challenge across all repositories.

Unfortunately, this is merely the tip of the iceberg in the “Data Disconnect.”

Based on its “Airline Customer Intimacy Data” index, aka the ACID test, Conztanz discovered a consistent, pervasive and surprisingly large gap between how important a set of data was to achieve key objectives, and how easy it was for business executives to simply access on a day-to-day basis. For airlines, this is likely the biggest ‘Missed Connection’.

This model addresses all travelers (not only the loyal frequent flyers) – an important point for airlines seeking to also improve their insights on, and attractiveness to, new audiences such as Millennials.

The study highlighted a typical – and rather expected – perception gap between IT and business divisions within airlines.

At a high-level, IT tends to conclude that data is actually available, if not fully implemented (somewhere), while the business side argues that data such as end-to-end or full 3-year history has yet to surface for an agent to communicate or a digital native to manipulate.

More importantly, this survey revealed which areas have the starkest contrast between what is business-critical for an airline – and – their perceived current state of data access.

On the above chart, the biggest disconnect discovered is ‘End-to-end data’, with a whopping 71 percentage.

Although difficult, being able to use behavioural data “on the go” and throughout the journey (e.g. at the airport, during the flight, after landing) leads to a myriad of new opportunities.

As a start, this could be sending a relevant lounge access offer while travelers are waiting for a delayed flight or pro-actively alerting passengers of a major disruption by SMS or IM with the most convenient new flight/hotel options to choose from.

Meanwhile, at the lower end of the Data Disconnect (but still at a 38 percentage point gap), is the ‘Single-view data’ – which is not in itself surprising.

This should encompass not only traveler explicit and implicit data, but also a holistic experience with three fully-synchronized data-sets:

  • The traveler
  • The transportation (e.g. load factor, ancillary inventory, bag handling…)
  • The travel context (e.g. fare conditions, travel packaging…)

A truly valuable unified view built around these datasets would allow for such things as A/B testing based on a pre-validation of the passenger miles account, the available ancillary inventory, and the fare rules, to offer Wifi access or exit row seats to be paid with a discount, or in miles.

Also of particular interest in this survey are the gaps for ‘Purchasing Data’ and ‘Real Time Data’. The notion of real-time data, coupled with purchasing intelligence is absolutely critical for long-term success.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know (and instantly react to) events such as a completed check-in, just landed, delayed flight, disruption in progress, upgrades becoming available, and this regardless of the interaction channel?

Real-time data is fast becoming essential for airlines as it allows the instant triggering of innovative merchandising offers on all relevant travel moments.

Meanwhile, multi-channel is without doubt one of the most challenging facets of airline data, simply because it usually depends on multiple systems and their unique associated repositories (e.g. web, mobile, kiosks, IFEs, call centers, ATO/CTO, Agencies, and more).

It could also allow airlines not only to understand the preferred communication channel for any given passenger (e.g. messenger, WeChat, email, SMS), but also adapt those to context ‘on-the-go’ (e.g. when passengers are travelling internationally without Wifi).

This model has to be fully agile to cover new data dimensions that the ACID model does not yet cover without incurring any new integration efforts.

On the IT side, the survey shows that a majority of respondents consider that such a data platform must be cloud-based, independent, and expandable.

After all, as the gap closes, the additional data available across all new touch-points (and the inherent complexity thereof) will complement and enrich the overall travel insights with new exchanges such as new social feeds, group travel, IFE interactions, API partners, third-party services, airport feeds and luggage reconciliation – and solving these will also allow for related opportunities e.g. “Sorry, your luggage didn’t make it but here is an online form to fill for you not to wait – twice – in front of the belt and at the customer service desk.”

The conclusion is fairly straightforward: the biggest ‘missed connection’ for airlines is the data disconnect between what is needed and what is seamlessly available, across a wide range of business areas.

Going forward, Airlines need to consider an open Data Agility Platform to not only reduce their current gaps, but also take into account the new data sets to be integrated in the future.

It isn’t an easy task – but it is a necessary one.

For those airlines able to master models like ACID and reconcile business priorities with seamless access however, the road ahead is bright and clear. It is one paved with tremendous opportunities to increase the bottom line, and the ability to guarantee an exceptional journey for all travelers

It’s time to catch that missed data connection.

This is a viewpoint by Philippe der Arslanian, acting CMO and head of business development, North America, of Conztanz. The views expressed are the views and opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the views of her employer, tnooz, its writers or partners.

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