Capa Airline Leaders’ Summit—an AWS Look at How Digital Transformation Is Reinventing the Customer Experience
I recently attended the CAPA Airline Leaders’ Summit – Airlines in Transition in Manchester, United Kingdom. As noted in my previous blog, I was thrilled to engage with my peers in person again and share my thoughts on how airlines are using digital transformation to prepare for the future and to optimize core operations.
In this blog, I’ll share the second half of that interview, which explores how airlines are also using cloud technology to enhance the customer experience and improve revenue.
Q: How are airlines using the cloud to improve the customer experience?
A: Airlines are improving customer service in many ways. Over the past 2 years, several airlines have updated their digital tools and apps to make travel more seamless.
United Airlines created the Travel Ready Center that pulls in COVID-19 test forms and documents, resulting in the validation of over four million customer documents to date, directly in the mobile app. Travelers check-in online, access boarding passes on their mobile app before arriving to the airport, and go straight to the gate without going to the check-in desk or getting the documents checked by an assistant. This is key for facilitating international travel.
United also refactored and moved more than 100 internal and external apps to Amazon Web Services (AWS), innovating and modernizing them to provide a more intuitive experience and better security. United’s teams love these improvements because it makes assisting customers easier. As a result, Net Promoter Scores (NPS) have increased more than 30 points since the start of the pandemic.
Similarly, Ryanair launched a Day of Travel app in November 2021 to provide travelers live updates and notifications, access to travel documents, and chat functionality. Customers can also change flights, add bags, and purchase other services within the app. The mobile app includes an embedded digital wallet to hold travel documents, like COVID-19 test and vaccination forms, in different formats linked to the passenger boarding pass, making it a one-stop shop for the passenger to be cleared to the destination. Usually this would have taken several weeks to implement, but Ryanair got it done in 3 days. Today, 30 million unique passengers are using the app to travel through Europe.
Q: What are other ways AWS is enhancing customer service?
A: Using contact center modernization solutions on AWS, customer service teams can view and analyze customer data to improve engagement and increase the effectiveness of call center support. Travel companies can also implement self-service options for travelers and guests—for example, chatbot and conversational AI—reducing agent workloads and improving their overall efficiency. With these modern solutions, travel companies can benefit from reduced operational costs, increased productivity, and increased customer satisfaction.
Delta Air Lines has deployed Amazon Connect, an easy-to-use omnichannel cloud contact center, at scale. Specifically, it deployed Amazon Lex, powered bots to capture intent and provide initial self-service. The company facilitated smarter routing and prioritization logic based on loyalty status and travel needs to make the customer experience more seamless. Delta also centralized controls for callback and chat levers to reduce waiting time and increase customer satisfaction (CSAT). Finally, it increased agent efficiency by cutting the number of operational dashboards and reporting sources by 50 percent, as Danielle McPherson, director of global reservation technology, explained it last year at AWS re:Invent.
Q: How has this focus on the customer translated into increased revenue?
A: As noted in the examples above, helping travelers confidently navigate the changing environment has helped stimulate demand. COVID-19 restrictions continue to change as more countries prepare for summer travel. Providing customers with the right information is essential so that they are well informed and can understand where they can go, what COVID-19 restrictions are in place, how much a trip costs, and so forth.
For example, Skyscanner, an AWS all-in customer, presents COVID-19 restrictions on its homepage through the Live COVID-19 Travel Map. Using data from TravelPerk, an AWS Partner, Skyscanner increased customer confidence in resuming international travel by double digits. Stephanie Boyles, head of corporate and industry communications at Skyscanner, told us, “We want to help travelers understand where they can go and how they can get there by providing relevant information and practical tools. Our map was designed to do exactly that. It is a live, interactive, simple-to-use map that helps travelers understand current restrictions, including testing and quarantine requirements.”
Boyles continues, “Alongside the map and our frequently updated travel advice pages, we also developed a number of other features to support travelers and rebuild consumer confidence to travel. We launched flexible ticket filters, allowing travelers to search for flights that had flexible booking options; we introduced airline confidence ratings, which score airlines on their COVID-19 safety measures; and launched a market-first COVID-19 insurance offering in multiple countries.”
Another key to stimulating demand is understanding customers’ price sensitivity. We have been working with a large tour operator to optimize its pricing algorithm to adapt to market conditions using machine learning, artificial intelligence, and reinforced learning to improve package margins. The company built prices in parallel for bookings based on date ranges and dynamically calculated the individual package prices based on factors such as date, duration, and the number of people. Then, they displayed sorted comparable products in subsecond response times and adjusted the prices based on current market conditions to better match customer willingness to pay for the given product.
We tested this for about 3 months in selected markets, and this new scalable model improved margins by 6–10 percent. We are currently looking at expanding the system to be deployed across all the tour operator’s networks and packages.
Q: Are there other ways airlines can improve marketing effectiveness, to current and prospective customers, and increase profitability?
A: One of the best ways to improve marketing and advertising is to have a single, unified view of the customer, also known as customer 360. With a single view of the customer running on AWS, organizations can acquire data from every customer interaction, augment it with third-party data, and store it in a single repository that is constantly augmented and enriched. By storing data on AWS, you can make it accessible across the organization, facilitating more effective marketing campaigns and targeted communications through powerful analytics tools that help personalize the customer experience and identify retail trends. We have been working closely with AWS Travel and Hospitality Competency Partners that are leaders in this space, like Amperity, mParticle, Reltio, and Tealium, to address these needs.
In a recent video, Lauren Wood, vice president of infrastructure at Southwest, points out the company’s low fare marketing automation (LFMA). A team of developers working remotely with no cloud knowledge was able to create this application at Southwest scale in a few months, allowing the company to send customers the lowest available fares, make marketing more effective, and to propose the right product for the right customer by still meeting the Department of Transportation (DOT) regulatory requirements. Wood says, “It has exceeded business expectations and will help weather the challenges that we face.”
Q: Can you tell us any other ways AWS is helping airlines, travel, and hospitality companies?
A: It is exciting to see what is happening in the travel space these days, but we understand not everybody is the size of Delta, United, Ryanair, Qantas, or Southwest or has the resources to build the solutions that they need. We also have smaller customers that have a buy-and-adapt mentality.
With this objective, we not only present best-in-class reference architectures, like the Travel and hospitality data mesh, Streamline airline ticket shopping insights, and Serverless strategy for dynamic pricing, but we are also focusing on using our Travel and Hospitality Competency Partners to create, upgrade, or scale their solutions on AWS. These partners are known players like 3Victors, Boxever, Datalex, Openjaw, and global system integrators like Accenture, Deloitte, IBM, Mphasis, and more.
We are going a step further: where there are gaps in the market, we are developing industry-specific solutions, promoting standards, and facilitating applications’ interoperability. You can find more about the solution areas and the specific use cases we are investing in on our website and our solution library. We are just at the beginning of this journey: there is more to come on this space, so stay tuned!
If you missed my previous blog and want to learn more about how travel companies and airlines are increasing their operational efficiency with the cloud, check it out here.