Airlines Can’t Even Produce a Frictionless Purchase—How Are They Going to Improve the Travel Experience?

Blog /Airlines-Cant-Even-Produce-a-Frictionless-Purchase

Alright. Confession time. I actually like air travel.

Despite the long lines, cramped seats, and terrible food (if there is food at all), I enjoy flying. Here’s why: at 30,000 feet, I can disconnect. A flight provides the solitary time to focus on that new idea, client presentation or whatever else I cannot get done on the ground. It provides a space for deep think (if I don’t purchase the WiFi).

Of course, my office in the sky does not come without sacrifice. Air travel is notorious for customer friction, and the airlines have done little to combat friction caused by inflexible rules, lack of amenities and reduced capacity.

NTT DATA recently completed a Customer Friction Factor analysis of the top 15 US airlines as defined by revenue. The analysis focused on the most basic customer transaction (booking a ticket) and took that process from website navigation to payment. Arguably, booking a flight should be the transaction every airline wants to make as frictionless as possible since it results in direct revenue.

Unfortunately for both the airlines and the customer, our analysis tells a different story. Here are the highlights.

  • There is a 25% point spread separating our best and worst airline, and only two airlines achieved an overall best-in-class score.
  • One of the most significant sources of friction is the navigation required during the booking process. Any modification during booking requires the customer to start the transaction over. Often, the process is convoluted, with few clues to help the customer make the right choice amid a constant stream of upsells and special offers.
  • The most successful airlines have mastered customer engagement by making it possible to switch channels as they wish and access assistance when necessary. The top five in our study achieved engagement scores that were best in class, scoring 50% greater than the industry average.
  • Technology scores varied greatly across the best and worst scoring airlines and present the best opportunity for quickly improving the customer experience by addressing load times, site navigation and user interfaces that change dramatically as a customer progresses through the transaction.

Our study was blind, so it doesn’t take into account the type of transaction experienced by someone who’s a member of a frequent-flier program. However, with customers becoming increasingly price sensitive and the benefits of loyalty programs evaporating for all but the most elite members, the airline industry as a whole needs to step back and look at what can be done to simplify the booking experience for all customers.

Learning from an unlikely source

There is a bright spot, however, when it comes to international travel. In my experience, every challenging aspect of international travel pales in comparison to the friction that can be experienced at border control. Long lines, confusing forms and inconsistent processes create an incredible amount of customer friction.

Yes, there are solutions aimed at making it easier to enter the country. The Global Entry program in the United States has been gaining in popularity, but at $150, it is a costly solution for the infrequent international traveler. The simple fact that these fast-track programs exist is a testament to the customer friction taking place at border crossings.

Now there’s a better way. United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently introduced the Mobile Passport app, and on a recent business trip, I gave it a try.

All I have to say is, “Way to go CBP!” The app creates a seamless experience across multiple channels (mobile and in person) that removes many of the friction points common to entering a country. I was able to download the app, enter my information and get ready to clear customs before my flight reached the gate. Yes, the federal government has obviously been focusing on the passenger experience.

Here is the experience broken down by NTT DATA’s Customer Friction Factor criteria:

Friction Category Mobile Pass

Technology Friction

Smartphone app was easy to download and set up on my device using technology I had in place.

Engagement Friction

Reducing the channels and allowing me to prepare before hitting the customs lines completely changed how I got across the border.

Ecosystem Friction

Not all airports and airlines are integrated into the app. I got lucky, but others are coming online, so it will only get better.

Knowledge Friction

Passport scanning via camera loaded all of the necessary information to my profile.

Process Friction

Basic setup process and instructions both in the app and the airport made the process easy to follow.

Air travel is so fraught with friction that reducing it is a major undertaking. Still, since it’s a service industry at heart, some airlines are no doubt willing to focus on the customer experience — and they might even learn a thing or two from Uncle Sam.

Learn more about how NTT DATA partners with our clients to understand customer friction and drive improvement in the customer experience at http://www.nttdata.com/CustomerFriction

Post Date: 11/20/2016

Matt Leach Matt Leach

About the author

On his first day as an engineer, someone decided that Matt Leach should write requirements. He soon discovered that project success is not just about technology, but a holistic solution that solves the right problem. Since then, he has helped organizations better understand their business and their customers while delivering solutions that delight both. Currently, Mr. Leach is a Vice President in NTT DATA’s Digital, Applications and Information Management Practice where he leads the Business Analysis and Project Management Practices.

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