Three Ways Airlines Can Build Customer Loyalty

We all have that one friend who loves their Jetblue credit card, and is more than willing to pay for dinner because they are close to getting a “free” flight to Florida and need the points. From that angle, you’d think that the airline industry has a pretty loyal customer base. Everyone seems to belong to an airline loyalty program, looking to get more points, more miles, upgrades, etc. Yet according to a Bond Loyalty Report in 2018, member satisfaction is the lowest in the airline industry. 

At first it sounds a bit surprising. However when you think about it more, it is pretty rare that someone has a truly delightful flight experience, beginning to end. There are so many factors in a traveler’s experience that airlines have to tackle to really gain their loyalty. In this blog post, we will walk through 3 ways airlines can build customer loyalty that will hopefully help bump satisfaction up a little higher than 36%. 

So, what can they be doing differently? 

1.Go beyond points & miles

We all know that miles drive people to join programs. The more you spend, the more miles you get, the more you can redeem and get off your next flight, and so on. This is definitely a successful acquisition tactic. I’ll have to admit I am one of those people who is an American Advantage member (I think I have a sad 2,000 miles), a Norwegian Rewards, and I don’t even know what else, but I’m sure if I dug through my email I could find some others. Yet for me, I don’t care which one I fly, it’s more about the price and value. Very different from a business traveler, who is essentially swimming in points, so they don’t think twice about booking. The problem for both of these situations? Points don’t influence people like they used to. Customers expect more today. Getting points on a flight doesn’t necessarily change the behavior of a business traveler to become more loyal to the brand. And for me, say I could actually use my 2,000 good for nothing miles, to redeem something I’d use during my flight experience, maybe I’d actually go for American instead of the cheapest flight. Why not focus on going beyond points, and taking a different approach to loyalty. Hint: take a note out of Starbucks’ book with their recent loyalty upgrade, and build a status based loyalty program where you can redeem at any point. For example, fly X amount of times and get priority check in, or when you get to a certain points level and you can access our lounge. For me, that would be a special treat, and for business travelers, that is something they expect anyway and the more points they get, the more perks they get, the happier they are.

2.Use your data (pre, during and post flight)

Airlines fail to engage their customers. Actually, I take that back – they engage with them when there is an issue or complaint. One idea to avoid this, while also simultaneously driving customer loyalty, is to leverage the data collected on customers to engage them on a personalized level. Groundbreaking, right? 

We know, there is a lot of data flying around from different places (no pun intended). The first step with that would be to unify that data to achieve a single customer view. If you’re not there yet, read more about our platform here around how you can do so. Once your data is unified, you’re able to know who your customers are; their preferences, their flying patterns, their purchases in flight, their activity in your app. Having this data at your fingertips is a goldmine, and a prime opportunity to provide an experience that gets them to want to fly your airline again. 

Preflight: this can mean they are getting ready for their flight, or maybe they haven’t even bought a flight yet. Either way, you can use your data collected to build out targeted campaigns to be delivered. Maybe it is a special deal of the week to get those who haven’t flown with you over 6 months. Maybe it’s to those who have a flight coming up to get them excited for their trip. 

During flight: By having a single view of your customers, you know what seat they are in, their previous purchase data, if they opted in for an upgrade, use your mobile app etc. Use this to your advantage to provide them with class A service, no matter if they are in business or first class – it will make them feel special. Did you know that 87% of Americans are willing to have various details of their activity monitored in exchange for more personalized rewards? (Bond report)

Post flight: This one is pretty simple. Ask them how their experience was. Give them a chance to share their experience, whether good or bad. You’d rather give them this option than have them use Twitter as their outlet, which leads to your customer service giving them free miles, or points, etc. By connecting with your customers throughout their whole flight experience, not just while they are on the plane, you’re gaining brand champions. In the airline industry, having people on your side goes a long way.

3.Keep Customer service in the loop 

Those in Airline customer service are constantly getting an earful of complaints, issues, and demands. Some of it is out of their control (the weather, mechanical issues, etc), yet some of it could most likely be preventable, which subsequently keeps the customers happier (and more loyal). When customers don’t feel heard, they get frustrated.

The issue here is that customer service data is typically separate from everything else collected. Imagine if you had a customer profile, and the customer service rep could see who the person was, where they were going to and from, their seat, if they booked with others, if they have had complaints in the past, etc. It would not only save time, but it would save frustration from the customer’s end. Customer service wouldn’t have to ask endless questions, but could help solve the issue more quickly, and with a more personalized approach.

Doing these three things all starts with how you manage your customer data. If it isn’t unified, how are you supposed to do any of the above? If it is, using that data in the right way throughout their whole flight experience from pre-booking, to customer service interactions, to post flight,  can drastically improve your customer loyalty.