From Firefighting to Service Excellence
Whether it’s a delay, diversion or cancellation, disruptions post a considerable cost to airlines and a major inconvenience to passengers. Regardless of the source of the disruption, every delayed minute, every displaced bag and every missed connection bears a significant cost for the airline – and for the customer as well - but certainly for the industry as a whole.
Disruptions account for billions annually in lost revenue, re-accommodation expenses and compensations. Additionally, in the age of consumer choice and social media, there is a high risk of losing customer loyalty and reputation. Fair or unfair, if a situation is not handled well, the customer may never return. On the other hand, a well-managed response to accommodate the affected passenger could create real customer value and increase loyalty.
Moreover, the cause of the disruption becomes less important – be it a severe weather conditions or a misplaced bag – it really all comes down to how an airline or an airport handles the problem at hand. This is where you can make a difference. It becomes an opportunity.
How this is done by the airlines or service providers and to what extent the passengers have the tools to help themselves is dependent on several variables; the nature of the disruption, the airlines/airports capability to offer options in the air, on ground or via internet/mobile devices.
Despite technological advancements and all the operational data available in the world, it often comes down to staff support and available holding space. From the recent Global Passenger Survey (GPS2019), we know that the passenger wants to be in control and is willing to share information across stakeholders in return for a seamless and efficient travel experience. This implies automation and self-service that goes beyond notifications and real-time information.
The statistics show that while passengers prefer the seamless and quick self-service experience when booking and checking-in and out of travel, when it comes to disruptions, however, the passenger prefers personal assistance over self-service. It is a matter of trust. Provided that excellent self-service options will be offered in the future, will this change the mindset of the passenger?
The passenger journey begins at home and ends at the hotel or the office or with friends or family in their homes at the end destination. Potential time and travel disruptions can happen any time prior to the departure such as using the mobile app for check-in or traffic on the way to the airport. It is key that the airlines can get in touch with the passengers within that timeframe and not just upon their arrival to the airport. Preferably, contact information must be captured at the time of booking.
It’s been well argued over time (GPS2019 and other surveys) that todays and future passengers have much higher expectations with regards to the provision of individual and personalized services. For the passenger the flight segment is just one (important) part of a door-to-door journey. There is a high expectation of consistency for personalized services throughout the journey without having to manage all segments separately. This implies, that solutions in aviation to overcome and manage disruption may involve many other parties than the airline and the airport.
Disruption Management during the current pandemic, COVID-19
Whereas disruptions during pre-COVID-19 times were normally characterized by single incidents, on a local level, impacting individuals or a group of travelers, a pandemic, such as COVID-19 causes massive disruption across the globe affecting all travelers, airports and airlines. A pandemic adds a layer of complexity and disruptions under these terms require unique skills, tools and pre-caution to manage efficiently and effectively.
We see border closures, entry restrictions, quarantine rules and health measures affecting the customer experience on the entire journey. Due to a reduced network, there may be no or very few alternatives to re-accommodate the customer and local restrictions may limit direct interactions with the affected customer.
Disruption often implies wait times and additional processes for the handling of customers and their baggage. However, large gatherings and queuing at key touchpoints should be avoided. All efforts should be made to re-accommodate customers electronically, hereunder offering self-service options, and keep communication on e-platforms such as mobile phones, tablets and internet.
As a starting point all stakeholders need to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization, ICAO, ACI and IATA. These organizations issue a number of guidance materials for respective sectors of the aviation industry.
On this note, IATA’s Strategic Partnerships program has created the Disruption Management area. If you are a technology provider and/or deliver products and services to support an improved customer experience this is an ideal fit. Strategic Partners can participate in the Disruption Management Working Group (DMWG), wherein they will share insights, engage with regulators, explore new technologies and develop new standards and design implementation guides on how to properly manage disruptions.
Senior Manager, Passenger Experience