On the face of it, the airline industry is in rude health, but a raft of brands now compete for customer’s attention, spend and data – from traditional high street travel agents, to aggregator sites, to airlines.

To claim a greater share of wallet, all these companies are attempting to meet the leisure traveller’s every need. Succeeding in this aim means expanding beyond their brand’s core expertise and owning more phases of the customer journey.

The ‘Amazon of travel’

Ryanair CMO Kenny Jacobs has provocatively declared his company’s intent to become the ‘Amazon of travel’. Since the launch of its Always Getting Better programme in 2014, Ryanair has updated its notoriously difficult website and introduced a new mobile app.

But for Ryanair to achieve this goal it would need to look beyond airlines and compete with Booking.com who, according to SimilarWeb, have ten times more traffic. Increasingly, carriers are losing out to OTAs, aggregators, and metasearch sites in the battle for the customer. Airlines have responded by trying to curb their usage: blocking them or adding surcharges.

Despite recent progress, it would be to naïve to overlook the fact that Ryanair’s traditional Customer Experience (revenue driven by friction) is the exact opposite of Amazon’s convenience model. It’s no wonder that whilst Amazon tops the UK Customer Satisfaction Index, Ryanair doesn’t even make the top 50.

Better delivering for customers end-to-end

Instead of aspiring to become the ‘Amazon of travel’, Ryanair (and others) ought to consider where improvements to their Customer Experience can occur. For example, at the booking phase, group travel is an increasingly important market segment. But when it comes to making group bookings, all of the major airlines disappoint. One company looking to exploit this expectation gap is small, but fast-growing Hungarian airline Wizz Air, via their Flexible Travel Partner scheme. At the pre-airport stage, Virgin Australia have found a way to be more relevant via their innovative new remote baggage check-in service.

Google taking off

The popularity of Google Flights demonstrates the size of threat Google poses to competitors. In the US, the volume of traffic that carriers such as American Airlines, United, and Delta are getting from Google Flights has tripled in the last two years.

With a spread of relevant products and services across the customer journey, Google already has insight into a traveller’s tastes, preferences and patterns of behaviour. It’s easy to imagine a joined-up ‘Google Travel’ experience with all services – from Calendar to Flights – working together to power a traveller’s full itinerary: from recommending destinations to suggesting sights to see.

An AI-powered future

There’s a huge opportunity to reduce the customer’s cognitive load through Artificial Intelligence accessed through simple and natural interfaces (specifically voice and messenger platforms).

Leisure travel companies should be aiming to replicate the levels of service associated with an expert agent but at mass scale – digitising and making accessible all the benefits of an informed and personal touch to everyone, irrespective of budget. Defining and designing a great consumer experience is no mean feat – but, with the right skills and spirit, there’s no reason why brands shouldn’t better meet customer expectations.

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