UK consumers tell airlines, “Stop selling to me, just tell me my flight is on time”

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LONDON – Relay42, the leading European data management provider (DMP) and EyeForTravel announced that UK consumers are demanding greater control of their relationships with airlines. As the industry becomes ever more competitive consumers are telling airlines that they need to work much harder for their loyalty, especially with the damning statistic that one in four UK consumers feel airlines only occasionally make an effort or make no effort at all when it comes to customer service. Given that only 7.3% of respondents rate customer service as critical when choosing an airline, this suggests consumers have become conditioned to having low expectations of the quality of care from carriers.  However, the research shows that technology can play a positive role, especially if consumers feel they have more control and airlines offer practical information, rather than bombarding them with discount offers.

The survey, conducted in August 2016 among 1,795 UK consumers, also ranked the leading airlines for their customer service.  While the long-haul companies Emirates (No.1) and Virgin Atlantic (No.2) came out on top, interestingly BA still managed to fend off the likes of easyJet and Ryanair despite its August announcement that it was reducing free meals on long-haul flights for economy passengers. This will perhaps be worrying for Michael O’Leary, CEO, Ryanair, who has made very public commitments to improve customer service.

“Our research shows most consumers treat booking flights as nothing more than going to the supermarket and base their choice on price and convenience,” explained Tomas Salfischberger, CEO and co-founder, Relay42. “The good news is that with the latest technology developments, especially smartphones, airlines have the opportunity to really improve how consumers view them. The key is not to over-complicate things, but be an honest broker.  Rather than trying to sell constantly airlines should be offering customers useful information, like flight times, ways to book onward travel and generally making their journeys easier.”

When it comes to choosing a flight only 7.3% rated customer service as important and even less, 4.6%, rated loyalty programmes as influential in their decision process. Indeed consumers rate convenience (26%) and price (25%) as the two most important factors when choosing a flight, emphasising the challenge for airlines. Clearly price conscious consumers make it harder for airlines who are seeking to maintain profit margins, but the good news is that nearly 40% of respondents put a premium on brand differentiators, such as service quality and in-flight experience.

This shows that opportunities exist for airlines that want to reconnect with consumers and create an enjoyable travel experience. Technology can play its part in improving customer relations, but in its current form less than one fifth of consumers felt technology had influenced their direct communications with carriers for the better. The survey suggested that technology must be used to reflect what customers want, which is less selling and more practical information. When asked what kind of information customers would like to receive, the survey found:

  • 57% of consumers would like mobile or email communication on waiting times at check-in and security
  • 48% would like information about travel options to and from their final destination
  • 36% would like information on activities that they could book
  • 35% would like information on accommodation that they could book
  • 30% would like information on suggested destinations based on previous travel4

“It is clear there is a role for technology to play in enriching the services airlines offer to their customers, but our survey respondents have sent the carriers a message – don’t try to oversell me, just give me the information I need to make my journey as easy as possible,” added Florent Coudyser, Head of Travel, Relay42. “We had fairly damning feedback from consumers, virtually saying they ignored communications from airlines during the sales process, so technology should not be used to bombard them with more offers. Interesting there are areas where consumers would like to see more interaction with airlines such as social media and it still looks as though no one has worked out how to use mobile to drive sales opportunities.”

The survey respondents were quite specific in where they saw technology adding the most value:

  • 52.6% of respondents thought it had made their journey easier
  • 46% said it had been valuable at check-in
  • 37.9% thought that technology had made life easier when paying for a flight
  • Only 19.6% regularly book flights via smartphones, and 23.8% say they search for flight information on their phones, but do not go through the booking phase

A significant majority of respondents found that technology had made airline service “slightly better” (42.5%) and “significantly better (34.7%), so there remains a great opportunity to explore the role of technology in the industry.  However, with nearly half of respondents (46%) saying they would very much prefer an airline that enabled consumers to fully manage the communications channels with airlines there is a need for some brave choices. The successful airlines will be those who are willing to move away from pushing offers and information at consumers to drive sales to one where they follow the lead of their customers. These airlines will have a better grasp of how to use technology to understand the services that their customers want.

Alex Hadwick, Head of Research at EyeforTravel: “The ubiquity of price comparison sites means that airlines have a harder time differentiating themselves and competing on other factors. Our survey suggests that perhaps airlines should be focusing more effort on customer care after the booking. By making their journeys more convenient and customer care more attentive and easier to reach, such as through social media, passengers will remember the experience. It would appear our airline customer service scores underline this and it is difficult to turn a reputation around.”

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