Article by Jonathan Keane, Global Industry Managing Director for Aviation, Accenture and Ng Tze-Yang, Lead, Products Client Service Group, Accenture ASEAN
Customer experience today is no respecter of traditional industry boundaries. When the bar is raised higher in one industry or sector, everyone else must play catchup. This modern phenomenon is called “liquid expectations”. It’s where baseline standards set by the best brand experiences spread rapidly across different industries, disrupting even big-beast incumbents whose offerings risk seeming outdated in comparison.
This is something that the commercial aviation industry has been grappling with for a while. Carriers can no longer just look left and right at what their peers are doing, they have to take a much broader view and understand how the leading brands in other industries are meeting a much more demanding set of consumer expectations.
When they do that, they see that today’s flyers now expect seamless, responsive, end-to-end experiences. They want interactions to be real-time, consistent and multi-channel. They expect brands to recognise their individual needs in each moment and each context and adapt their services accordingly.
The challenge of meeting these raised expectations is by no means limited to aviation. In fact, Accenture research suggests that nearly three-quarters of CEOs from numerous industries around the world recognise the value in tailoring services and experiences to the specific and real-time needs of a customer.
In contrast, however, only 22 percent of customers think brands are achieving this in practice. This highlights the stark gap that often exists between brand promise and fulfilled experience.
Airlines need to aim higher
Commercial aviation must look to bridge that expectation gap amid a host of other challenges. Airlines are feeling squeezed on all sides. Pricing pressures and fuel price volatility are suppressing profits. New entrants and new business models are encroaching on traditional sources of revenue. Many airlines are encumbered with legacy IT systems that will need lengthy and costly projects to upgrade.
The challenge is to think differently. In practice, that means adopting a much more “retail” mindset for a customer-centric world and there is much to do. Just look at some of the ways commercial aviation is still making life difficult for itself and is struggling to fully orient around the customer.
What other industry, for example, has such difficulty identifying an individual customer consistently, especially given the myriad of references available (i.e. passenger name records, agency locators, e-tickets). Why is every airport experience designed so differently in its approach to check-in, security, and lounge announcements?
Landing a transformation in customer experience
A true retail transformation in commercial aviation is needed. That will take the whole industry coming together in a genuinely collaborative effort: airlines, airports, and authorities (the “triple A”). Each part of the industry needs to look beyond its own “firewall” and think – and act – holistically with an end-to-end mindset, across every aspect of the business from sales and servicing to customers and colleagues.
At the same time, there are steps that individual businesses can be taking on their own. That includes thinking differently about principles, pace, partnerships, and profit (the “Four Ps”):
- Principles. Airlines should look to take their excellent cultural focus on safety and scheduling and extend it to the fulfilment of the customer promise. Take data analytics. Instead of devoting resources to aggregating data in the back office, carriers should be developing skills and capabilities in drawing out insights and then taking action in real time to deliver value to customers and colleagues.
- Pace. Not every project needs the same rigid delivery schedule. In working with many airlines, Accenture has seen first-hand the need for a “multispeed” approach to delivering business and technology outcomes. This mindset needs to be pervasive across the business from boardroom down to the shop (or aircraft) floor.
- Partnership. To deliver individual customer value at speed, airlines need better partnerships both within the organisation and across the full ecosystem. These partnerships must be seamless, offering customers a consistent streamlined experience across commercial departments, customer service and operations.
- Profit. Airlines must focus relentlessly on releasing trapped value. The industry has made great strides in accurate route profitability and real-time flight profitability analysis. Now it’s time to become obsessed with customer profitability – making informed decisions in real-time that unlock value by improving the customer and colleague experience.
In the end, aviation needs to recognise that its 100 years of experience is an asset, not an impediment to change. Consumer expectations are racing ahead and change is a necessity. New mindsets and new ways of working are needed. That’s how to chart a path to future and sustained profitability in this industry.