The smartphone is changing the way we travel, but what does it mean for the airlines?
New commercial technology can be both magnificent and terrible. At its best, new technology refines a process and simplifies tasks we once thought were impossible. At its worst, new technology adds a whole new set of problems to an already challenging procedure.
Technology is designed as a direct response to our needs, but when it makes our lives harder, it endangers the public’s perception of the brands to which it’s tied. That’s why airlines looking to develop a smartphone app for their customers should think long and hard about what they include. One path leads to increased bookings, greater customer loyalty and more overall revenue. The other – where an airline app actually frustrates the check-in process – leads to lost sales, angry customers and a damaged brand.
Simplify the process
A branded airline app has a myriad of benefits for the typical passenger, but at its heart, an airline app works because it invariably makes the booking, boarding and flying experience more convenient – and that’s good news for the customer and the airlines. For passengers, it means there’s no need to worry about remembering tickets, as they can download digital plane tickets direct to their smartphone (and who’s really going to forget their phone in this day and age?).
The airline app also makes booking easier by centralising the process on one, easy to navigate platform. The structure of browsers on mobile makes it difficult for a booking site to cache all the details entered, especially if the process isn’t finished in one. Customers are more likely to look elsewhere when a website forces them to jump through hoops to reach the payment page. An official airline app allows the passenger to save their details and book a last-minute flight securely and quickly through a personalised platform.
Apps = increased sales opportunities
An app can do far more than just simplify the boarding process. It also provides many more opportunities to sell than the traditional online site. Airlines that think of the entire travel process, and make provisions for it, are in a better position to increase ancillary revenue. In-app check boxes inquiring the customer’s preferred transport for getting to the airport can lead to additional sales opportunities, if not by the airline, then by a partner company.
In turn, airlines can push through new offers and upgrades and offer cut-rate flights tailored to the optimum times for that individual based on previous in-app behaviour. An app can provide useful links to other services offered by the airline. For instance, EasyJet’s official app links to their car hire service, so passengers can book a car from the airport when they arrive. In this way, airlines can look to increase ancillary revenue and encourage brand loyalty.
Smartphone apps come with a range of dividends for the passenger, but their real value lies in the direct link they provide between the airline and the customer. Encouraging passengers to book through the smartphone app enables airlines to study customer behaviour on an individual level, and tailor subsequent offers around this knowledge. Because the app caches previous interactions, airlines can build up a more accurate profile of the customer and, from this information, they can provide offers specifically tailored to the customer’s needs.
An official airline app can also provide additional features for passengers, like a handy travel guide. Digital guides to the weather, currency rates or cultural practices may seem like a simple gesture, but they actually serve a double purpose. Not only do they give passengers a convenient and enjoyable start to their holiday, guides establish the airline as a travel authority, making it more likely passengers will refer back to them for their next flight.
Cut out the middle man
By using an app, customers can be sure they’re getting their tickets directly from the source, without the worry of third-party hidden fees. There’s nothing more frustrating for passengers when they check flight times on a third-party meta-search engine and see one price, then realise there was a better offer through the company’s official website, or vice-versa.
For customers, the appeal of an app comes down to the impression they are communicating directly with a corporation, and are therefore getting the most up-to-date offers and information. Flight changes can happen in an instant – push notifications sent through the app can alert passengers immediately and give them more time to react; an essential feature in a large airport that can take hours to navigate. With this direct connection, however, comes a responsibility on behalf of the company. To maintain the trust garnered through an app, airlines must constantly develop, update and innovate their line of communication.
With opportunity comes responsibility
While features like mobile notifications of flight landings, gate announcements, delays and an onboard flight tracker can streamline the boarding procedure, these only work when they’re managed effectively. Failure to regularly update information on the app opens airlines up to a slew of potential complaints. That’s why it’s vital airlines consider their capabilities before investing in an official airline app, and automate as much of the process as possible.
Likewise, a poorly designed app is unlikely to inspire confidence in first-time customers. Ensuring the app has a functional, clean user interface (UI) will go a long way to bringing customers back for their next holiday. A cluttered, glitchy UI, on the other hand, could put customers off for life, particularly if an in-app error has cost them money or, worse yet, caused them to miss a flight. Consistent branding is also key; a branded app has succeeded when a customer can’t book a holiday without first checking the app.
Of course, airlines that can offer a stress-free check-in are more likely to get return customers. Those that fail to adapt now will be left behind as the smartphone generation becomes the ultimate source of revenue for airlines.
Ironically, the rigmarole of a holiday can be a stressful enough experience – embracing technology brings us one step closer to consolidating all these little chores into one, manageable platform.