The early days of commercial aviation were full of glamour, with all seats reserved for a small, wealthy elite. Flying was dangerous, noisy and uncomfortable, but remained an unobtainable dream for most. As the industry has become available to the mass market this elitist nature has disappeared. Whilst gold-plated customer experience is still available for the First Class traveller, for most of us it has been replaced with a standard approach to basic no-frills service. After all, commercial flights are fundamentally just another type of public transport: the reason why a flight happens is that hundreds of people pool their resources to fly from ‘here’ to ‘there’ at ‘this price’.
The democratisation of air travel is one of the most stunning achievements of the modern age. It is a vast, collaborative process which has stretched over decades: incrementally learning from mistakes, improving safety, reducing costs. Thousands of people have to work together to ensure just one ordinary flight happens on time. The annual normality of transporting millions of humans trillions of miles, to every corner of the globe, would have made the Wright Brothers heads spin.
However, this process of incremental technology improvement is reaching a point of diminishing returns. Technology has driven aircraft towards the most efficient design – the reason that modern aircraft all look more or less identical. The next big step change will come from data and the way in which it is used throughout the whole aviation ecosystem.
Data innovation drives the new customer experience
The main purpose of aviation is to connect people, globally. Whether friend to friend, relative to relative, or business to business, aviation has succeeded in supporting these long-distance relationships by providing a seamless infrastructure of aircraft, airports and airlines.
In the context of this established global network, the new technologies of the internet and cloud services are now reaching maturity. These innovations are still fairly new, it was only last month that the internet celebrated its 25th birthday, and it is more recent still that they have reached a level of penetration large enough to affect the customer experience in aviation.
These innovations have already had highly disruptive effects across many consumer industries. In the ‘back office’ of aviation, a complex ecosystem, generally conservative and (rightly) risk-averse, the rate of change is relatively slow. But by bringing all elements closer: airlines to airports, manufacturers to airlines, data providers to marketing, the total system will become more responsive to our end customers – the passengers. And by doing this we will enhance our knowledge of each other and enable ourselves to delight our customers. How? By serving them what they want as efficiently as possible.
New applications of data innovation
Cloud services and software are now the order of the day, and the idea of “big data” is much debated. The purpose is to bring core datasets (which include those about the customer) together in order to bring more intelligence to our fingertips than is possible when they are separate – and in turn to enable us to better act upon our customers’ needs.
General Electric has demonstrated itself a pioneer in this field by enhancing its service division. By integrating cloud services right into each and every engine it builds, GE can proactively report and act on the performance of its customers’ engines, before their customers even know anything is wrong. Fixing things before customers are aware is one of the best ways of winning their trust and respect.
Virgin America is another great example of innovation in customer experience. The airline brings its customers in the air closer to the Virgin team on the ground, by offering an integrated messaging system within the seat back entertainment system. Passengers can message staff directly to find out local information, ground travel connections, or even just to chat about the weather!
Airlines are beginning to use social media to create personalised experiences for their customers that were never before possible. The “KLM Surprise” provides passengers waiting for their flight, and who tweet about KLM, a meaningful gift to remember the airline by: and a loyal, if occasionally slightly freaked out, customer is created.
A new era
At RDC Aviation we recognise that data providers have an important part to play in building closer connections to help our industry. We believe that by bringing our proprietary data systems together we can help our customers to understand the bigger picture and make better decisions. We are weaving together different strands of data to create a coherent story, ultimately to understand and respond to passenger needs.
Optimising the complete aviation ecosystem: accurate forecasting to ensure planes are full, finding the best mix of routes in a network, scheduling to enable continuous descent approach: the next stage of evolution in aviation will be data-driven.
By Adam Kendall / Connect on LinkedIn