british airways mobile

Big Data? How some airlines are making a Big Deal out of yours

The age-old mantra of “customer is king” has a new twist in travel – now it’s your data that rules. Yes, especially those of the Big Data variety.

NB: This is an article by Kate Palmer, contributing editor for Ometria.

As 2.5 quintillion bytes of it are generated online everyday we wanted to look at how different airlines use the information they hold about you – and discover that it’s often the price of the ticket that affects how your data is used.

Travellers’ metadata is being collected whether they fly economy or business class.

While budget brands like Ryanair are using data to target yet more advertising the customer’s way, carriers British Airways, American Airlines and Swiss use big data to improve the customer experience.

We know Big Data is big business for most companies. Customer information is always valuable to marketers, but could it also be used to make our flights a more stress free experience?

Ryanair pairs budget brand with targeted ads

Customer data is used in ways we would expect at no-frills airline Ryanair – to give us more targeted marketing.

The brand has long been known for its low fares, bulked out by a wide range of add-on fees and high charges if customers fail to check in correctly.

Now a new revenue stream has been added to its flogging of scratch cards, priority boarding and racy calendars – big data, which is used to target its 1.2m daily users with highly targeted digital campaigns.

And it’s not its own data it uses – but third party data compiled by technology firm Adara, which has access to customer information from many global airlines, hotels and travel distributors who have agreed to sell on their website data.

Ryanair’s communications chief, Robin Kiely, says the move made sense considering the airline’s huge internet traffic generated from 80 million yearly passengers.

Well, indeed.

BA’s “To fly, To serve” mantra in analytics

However, Big Data also means that if you decide to pay a little extra to fly business class with BA for the first time, the crew will be informed to make your flight experience the best it can be.

If you’ve notified the airline of an allergy on previous flights, your data will already be saved to notify staff on your next flight.

In an age of economy travel, British Airways has carved itself a niche in the airline industry as a brand that offers luxury, true to its “To Fly, To Serve” motto.

Far from the anonymous and number-crunching face of the meta data revolution, BA uses a “Know Me” app that aims to use data to bring a meaningful service to the consumer.

The app uses customer information to create a service that rewards traveller loyalty and lets cabin crew address each passenger by name.

If a passenger was delayed in their inbound flight due to poor weather, Know Me lets the cabin crew on the return flight know so that they can apologize in person and thank the customer for travelling with BA again.

British Airways reckons Know Me would let the company bring back individualism to its customer service offering. Other airlines apply it in pockets to certain aspects of the travel experience, but BA says it is “looking at the whole journey from booking to collecting luggage at the carousel”.

It works by sending messages with information about specific customers to the iPads of customer service agents and senior cabin crew, or update check-in staff via the airline’s computer system.

This is not a novel system – this summer 17,000 American Airlines staff piloted a system that uses Galaxy tablets to access customer information on the go.

The device lets cabin crew see how loyal customers are to the airline, what meals they prefer and tell them which gate they need to go to if they are on a connecting flight. The airline is a fellow advocate of Big Data, which it tracks using a loyalty scheme, AwardWallet.

BA says customers have responded well to the system so far. It also offers opt-in permission marketing, where customers can receive targeted offers just like with Ryanair – but this is only available if customers agree, and won’t be displayed on their homepage.

Part of BA’s permission marketing is a “delivery lab” which analyses the way the airline talks to customers so that the most relevant offers are sent to them.

Swiss combines sales and marketing

Combining marketing and customer service, our mid-range operator – Swiss International Airlines – represents travel’s combined use of big data analytics.

Swiss uses information on a customer’s travel plans, which flights they look up and which bookings they actually make to target them with offers tailored to their travel history.

The airline uses marketing vendor E.piphany, a provider of customer relationship management (CRM) tech, to convert customer interactions to sales. The software provides real-time updates to what customers are buying, letting Swiss track any trends in the industry.

The customer only sees the offers from Swiss tailored from their travel preferences, and even track sales against any new developments in the airline’s operations such as new aircraft contracts or revised timetabling.

Integrating campaign and sales is at the heart of Swiss ‘s big data analytics.

When big data backfires

Big data can be used to target or benefit customers – but it can backfire. When targeted marketing turns into targeted pricing, Big Data can prove an unpopular option for customers, as discovered by Orbitz’s recent owning up to promoting more expensive offers to Mac browsers over PC browsers.

The story proved a PR disaster for the brand, which has since adapted its targeted pricing to offer customers targeted deals.

Mobile users are often offered deals not available to a customer booking via a desktop PC.

Orbitz president Chris Orton explained that “nearly two-thirds of our mobile hotel bookings are made for a stay within 24 hours, and 21% of all Orbitz hotel bookings are now made via mobile devices, so mobile exclusive price deals are attracting customers who are quickly adopting mobile as their preferred method to book”.

Opportunities and pitfalls, then, is this new age of Big Data. So are you read?

NB: This is an article by Kate Palmer, contributing editor for Ometria.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.



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