THE CONNECTED AIRCRAFT – PART I
Curating the Internet of Me [Infographic]
Offering personalized customer service solutions is like orchestrating an elaborate ballet dance. Everything has to be in the right place at the right time to ensure performance goes off without a hitch.
Today, and looking forward into the future, that orchestration most definitely relies heavily on aircraft connectivity — a powerful base that can enrich the passenger experience, empower cabin crew and build customer loyalty to airline brands through quick, considerate service and personalization.
Connectivity also gives airlines a competitive edge, not just by offering hyper-connected flyers what they want most (Wi-Fi, in case you’re wondering), but also by giving customer what they need most before they realize they need it. And if done right, it allows airlines to curate a personalized experience for each of their passengers rather than surrendering them to the likes of Google, Outlook or Facebook.
Crew members empowered by connected devices are at an advantage.
“Airlines are equipping crew with tablets, and in most cases it’s still predominantly prior to the flight,” says Scott Scheer, Director of Panasonic Avionics’ eXTV and Ancillary Services. “They’re providing data in the passenger list which gives the purser information to address any special services for high-value passengers.”
While this is a positive customer-service advancement, and smart application of technology, boosting these tablets with connectivity inflight allows for a greater range of personalized services (e.g. live updates to address passengers’ questions about connecting flights, among others).
“One area that has been looked at is passenger reaccommodation in real-time,” Scheer says. “If there is a flight disruption, they [cabin crew] will proactively reaccommodate a passenger inflight. That’s an operational example of how airlines are taking advantage of real-time communication for passenger services.”
Scheer also points out that inflight connectivity allows crew members to act at the first sign of a problem, giving the airline an opportunity to curb passengers potentially coming away with negative impressions.
“Crew can rapidly respond to an onboard problem, super-serve and recover with a high-value customer in as close to real time as possible,” Scheer says, adding that he’s seen some airlines set up separate online channels to ensure they can communicate outside of the passenger network. These crew portals allow more secure and dedicated communication channels, which can be used for the rapid exchange of information with the customer service team on the ground to address issues.
Many of Panasonic’s 70 connectivity customers are looking to them as a partner in developing customized solutions for these types of back-channel communications which can support a superior signature service.
The most progressive airlines are connecting their services on the ground to those in flight to create a seamless customer experience – a tremendously challenging but rewarding IT task.
Inflight connectivity allows crew members to act at the first sign of a problem, giving the airline an opportunity to curb passengers potentially coming away with negative impressions.
Connectivity also opens up new opportunities for inflight retail. To date, retail is mostly limited to small-ticket items because of the financial risks of larger sales.
“Credit card fraud is always a problem. If you can do real-time credit card authorization before handing the goods to the passenger, that’s a big money-saver,” Scheer says.
Besides saving money, connectivity allows for creative onboard retail. Finnair, for example, has set up a dedicated and co-branded sales portal which lets passengers shop for Finnish fashions onboard, and have items delivered to their home.
Connected retail applications can also include inflight arrangement of destination services like ground transport, hotel bookings, tourism packages — all made possible by live online search and live transaction processing.
These are an added service feature for customers — retail therapy is a popular online distraction, on and off the ground — but they also create new revenue opportunities for airlines who strike up co-branded deals to sell exclusive products and services.
Marketing services such as the analysis of usage statistics or advertising tools that allow agencies to extend ad placements to the inflight environment, are crucial in making the onboard network a successful business platform.
Cabin crew are primarily onboard to ensure the safety and security of the flight, and in order to do that, they undergo intensive training. While they’re taught to deal with a range of issues which could arise during a flight, operating commercial flights comes with a certain baseline of unpredictability.
“If they have medical issues onboard, that’s a big customer-service priority,” says Jeff Rex, Director of Panasonic Weather Solutions, who consults with customers on using connectivity to improve flight operations.
With connectivity and back-channel communications, crew members can respond more readily and confidently to these unforeseen events. “They can call in a doctor on the ground to guide them on what to do when a passenger has a medical issue,” Rex continues. “From an operations standpoint, that keeps them from having to do a diversion, or an emergency landing somewhere, inconveniencing the other passengers on the plane.” As any airline knows, the potential cost savings in this area are tremendous.
Communicating is Everything
Of course, passengers have their own inflight emergencies to deal with — especially business flyers.
It’s not uncommon for professionals to have to reach out to staff, colleagues and customers during long flights. Many airlines find that adding mobile phone service to their inflight services improves passenger satisfaction onboard. It can also prove to be a boost to the onboard Wi-Fi offering.
“We’ve seen evidence that shows that the phone service has a complementary impact on inflight Wi-Fi,” says Lisi Willner, Solutions Strategy Manager at Panasonic Avionics. “There is an uplift in phone service and the two work very well together, rather than one cannibalizing the other.”
“Where we have 3G enabled, the revenue performance is substantially higher than on 2G areas,” Willner says. “As we moved towards 3G, we are seeing a greater take rate. Phone service is primarily used for data, compared to voice. By moving to 3G, we’ve enabled a lot of data-intensive applications which were not previously available to passengers.”
The impact on the airline business case is immediate as increased data rates results in higher data consumption.
“The scoreboard will tell you that there is demand for that type of service,” she adds. “Besides ancillary revenue benefits, it offers options and choice for a segment of their passengers. The ability to turn on your device and use it as though you’re roaming internationally is a great option to have, especially for a business passenger who might not be as price-sensitive.”
The Ultimate Goal
Commercial aviation is a tough game with challenging rules and stiff competition. Success requires strategy, creativity and boldness.
By taking advantage of connectivity technology, today’s leading airlines are delivering experiences onboard unimaginable just 10 years ago.
Live sports are a great example. This popular pastime, with universal appeal, is lost to passengers onboard aircraft without connectivity. Yet sports are so popular that pilots have been known to report the results of the big game to passengers while inflight.
That’s because delivering live sports is a complex task. Options today are sparse. There are some regional offers in collaboration with home satellite TV providers, but the only global 24/7 service is the Sport 24/eXTV collaboration between rights management expert IMG and Panasonic.
Based on the service’s success, they recently added a second live sports channel to seatback systems and passengers’ personal devices.
“If there are two simultaneous matches being played at the same time, passengers can have a dual-screen experience, watching one match on the seat back and another on their personal electronic device,” says Scott Scheer.
“If there are two simultaneous matches being played at the same time, passengers can have a dual-screen experience, watching one match on the seat back and another on their personal electronic device,” says Scott Scheer, Director of Panasonic Avionics’ eXTV and Ancillary Services.
This Time It’s Personal
Furnishing that level of at-home experience has become the prime differentiator for airlines playing the long game.
Inflight entertainment systems serve the purpose of reducing boredom, but without equally good connectivity, the experience is incomplete.
Today’s hyper-connected consumers have a genuine fear of missing out — or as it’s known, FOMO — when they lose touch with the latest happenings on the ground.
On one side, younger generations expect what they want, when they want, wherever they want it. It’s the “Internet of Me.”
Airlines on the other side want to leverage the highly valuable period of interaction they have with their captive audience on board to build closer, lasting relationships with their customers.
Whether that’s following the same match the world is watching, participating in the important meeting they would have otherwise missed, addressing a baggage issue, keeping up with the trending hashtag on social media, or simply reading a goodnight story to their child while inflight – a value-add relationship has many facets.
Connectivity has also opened up new ways to relieve a different sort of passenger anxiety: the stress of being part of a crowd.
By its nature, with millions of people around the world flying every day, commercial air travel can be impersonal. Studies by IATA have found that passengers’ anxiety builds up as they deal with the administrative functions of flying such as checking-in, dropping off bags and clearing security.
By the time they pass the “boarding crowd,” passengers need all the soothing they can get. Airlines are turning to personalization to reduce these stressors, while building lasting bridges to their most loyal customers. Using personal devices as tokens of identification, logging into the setback monitor to access the onboard network technology enables a smarter use of data gathered on passenger preference, and reduces the sense of being “just another number.”
Once an aircraft lands, the airline hopes to have secured a permanent spot on the passengers’ personal devices. At the core of this highest level of engagement are companion apps like the one Singapore Airlines just adopted from Panasonic.
As Willner and Scheer say in unison, “We are placing the airlines in the driver’s seat allowing them to control and curate the ultimate, connected passenger experience.”