A Magazine for airline executives
2013 Issue No. 2

Customer Journey Mapping: A Walk In Customers’ Shoes

A customer journey mapping strategy enables airlines to identify the desires and expectations of individual travelers and provide appropriate products and services at each touchpoint throughout their journey.

Millions of customers have boarded airplanes this year and have embarked on a physical journey to a destination for multitudes of reasons — business travelers, families with children, couples traveling on adventure vacations, guests with special needs. Each one of these, and myriad other travel “personas,” has a very different expectation of the brand promise that an airline presents.

An airline’s brand exhibits its commitment to customers so they know what to expect. However, for many, the first time customers interact with an airline’s brand in person, when it feels real, is when a gate agent or a flight attendant greets them as they are boarding the aircraft.

Based on this reality, how do you know if your customers have the same expectations of your brand at this touchpoint as they did when they were searching for the best itinerary, making their reservation or attempting to check bags? Are you willing to take the chance that you did not meet their needs and they are sharing their less-than-desirable experience with others?

Social media allows customers to share the good and the bad with the world. Customers advocate when things are good, and they promote your product to others through recommendations. They also have a story to tell when things do not go so well.

A bad customer experience posted on Twitter, Facebook and various other social media channels can be very detrimental to your brand. In fact, statistics show that:

  • It takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one negative one.
  • 91 percent of unhappy customers will not return to your airline after a bad experience.
Helping Customers With The Technology Behind Travel

While airlines must take a walk in their customers' shoes to ensure an optimal travel experience, technology partners must also take the same approach to ensure their airline customers receive the highest level of service.

As an airline executive, do you know what your customers expect from your company from the moment they are inspired to travel through to the end of the journey when they are reminiscing with their friends and family? How many opportunities has your airline had to interact with customers before they get to the end of their journey? How important are your customers to your airline, and how do you recognize the needs of each one?

Airlines today are clearly starting to “organize” around the customer. Titles such as vice president of guest experience and chief customer experience officer, which have existed in many industries since the 1990s, are now emerging in the airline world. Airlines realize that “ownership” of the customer has become just as important as operations.

Understanding who your customers are and why they do business with your airline supports your longer-term vision for the business and the goal of keeping customers for life (lifetime value). However, to solidify your customer experience strategy and then fulfill that strategy, it is vital to take a walk in your customers’ shoes. How you treat each customer should be different once you know his needs. This is established through customer journey mapping.

Limit Number Of Personas

When creating personas to support a customer journey mapping strategy, airlines should limit the number of personas (special needs travelers, family travelers, leisure travelers, business travelers, etc.) to between four and seven.

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer journey mapping is the process of tracking and describing all the experiences customers have as they encounter a service or set of services, taking into account not only what happens to them, but also their responses to these experiences. It is about knowing what happens to customers when they do business with you, how they react, and how it makes them feel — every step of the way.

Customer journey mapping can also uncover transitions between interdependent channels that are not comfortable to customers as well as processes where the airline needlessly repeats an action. It can uncover a variety of points of stress to customers throughout their journey.

There are clear benefits of customer journey mapping … both for the airline and its customers. Using this approach, airlines can identify data hand-off points to better understand the role that each department plays in the overall customer-focused strategy.

Used well, customer journey mapping can reveal opportunities to create customer delight and improve the end-to-end travel experience, acting as a strategic tool to ensure every interaction with the customer is as positive as it can be. Understanding which touchpoints are most important to the personas that are critical to your airline’s success provides insights into where your company should be investing to improve the customer experience. It also helps determine which touchpoints require less focus.

To really have a meaningful impact on customer experience, personas and customer journey maps have to be firmly integrated into decision-making processes. That is why customer experience professionals should build personas before or with journey maps.

Developing Personas

Before beginning the process of customer journey mapping, it is important to identify customer personas. Who are the various types of customers? What value does each persona bring to your company? Using each of the personas, we identify the steps in the journey, the touchpoints of interest to each persona in each step of the journey, the relative importance of each step to each persona and the overall importance of each step weighted by importance of each persona.

In the airline industry, if you try to be all things to all people, you will rarely end up fully satisfying anyone. That is why it is important to focus on understanding your customers by persona and serving each persona’s specific needs. So, the recommendation to “take a walk in your customers’ shoes” really means to take a walk in the shoes of the different personas that you identify.

It is possible that an airline may identify numerous personas. The excessive granularity that is encouraged by the goal of creating relatable personas can cause airlines to miss types of customers who do not fit the molds represented by personas. However, in trying to cover every possibility, customer experience teams are tempted to create too many personas. To start with, an airline should create between four and seven different personas.

Impacting The Customer Experience

There are several steps that make up a customer’s end-to-end air travel journey, from the time she begins thinking about taking a trip through to the end of the trip and beyond. Taking a customer journey mapping approach, airlines can focus on the touchpoints most important to individual customers based on their identified persona.

For the purpose of this article, we will introduce four travel personas including:

  • Business — A customer traveling on business,
  • Leisure — A couple traveling on an adventure holiday,
  • Family/group — A family of two adults and two children under 10 traveling to visit friends,
  • Special needs — A customer who is traveling alone and requires a wheelchair.
The Business Traveler

This customer is likely to have a company travel policy that dictates the airlines on which he can travel and the fares that he can book. Therefore, he is more focused on ease of check-in, swift transfers when connecting, perks that are available to him and access to additional options, such as in-flight Wi-Fi, so he can remain constantly connected.

Couple’s Adventure Holiday

These leisure travelers place more emphasis on the planning phase, taking time to shop online or through a travel agent. They typically seek advice from people with similar likes and dislikes that they may discover on travel advisory websites.

Two Adults, Two Children

Families traveling with children have similar needs to the leisure couple but have more expectations of the in-flight experience and also seek a stress-free check-in process.

Importance To Personas

When considering the “in-flight” step of the customer journey, business travelers and families traveling with children indicated that in-flight services and amenities were more important than other aspects of their trip. However, leisure travelers and those with special needs did not rate the in-flight portion of their trip as high when weighed against other touchpoints throughout the travel journey.

Special Needs

Special needs customers, such as someone traveling with a wheelchair, are concerned with connections and the physical movement through the process of checking in and getting through security. In flight, they expect crew awareness of their special needs.

Identifying Steps In The Journey

Having created the personas, the next task is to identify the steps in the air travel journey from the perspective of the different passenger personas. The outcome of this will reveal the touchpoints within each step that impact the customer experience for each persona. It will identify the relative importance to the customer experience for each persona of each step in the air travel journey. Additionally, it will indicate the relative importance of each touchpoint within the steps each persona found to be the most important.

Last year, customer experience leaders at Sabre Airline Solutions® conducted research, organized workshops and validated initial findings that have revealed how customer journey mapping can identify the most important touchpoints for customers.

For each step in the journey (our research revealed as many as 26 steps), we identify the different elements within that step. For example, a customer could be concerned about items that fall within the “in-flight” step. Will the airline feed me? What type of entertainment will there be for the children? Is there on-board Internet access?

Importance Of Personas

To determine the importance of each persona, an airline must determine how many elements in each step of the travel journey are important to each persona. In this case, the business traveler indicated that 13 elements were important, compared to three areas of importance for the special needs traveler, five for families traveling with children and eight for leisure travelers. It is, therefore determined that regarding this particular step in the journey the business traveler persona has the highest level of importance.

Within the step, consider the types of interaction your airline could have with each of the different personas. Interactions happen directly with airline employees, over the phone, through mobile phones, at self-service kiosks, on the airline’s website, and through social media and various other channels.

Identifying the most important touchpoints and associated interactions to focus on is derived by combining the weighted importance of the persona to the airline at that step (determined by the amount of elements in the step) with the weighted importance to the persona of each step.

For example, a customer traveling on business indicated that 13 different elements were important. Therefore, we may conclude that the business traveler is the most important persona to the airline at that particular step. In terms of importance to the persona, using the example of the “in-flight” step, the customer traveling on business and the family traveling with children have rated the step higher than the couple taking an adventure holiday and the customer traveling with a wheelchair.

Once an airline recognizes what each of its customers desire and expect, it is critical to align these needs and expectations with the company brand. From a business perspective, it is equally important to assign a value to each customer.

Customer Value

Some customers drive more value to your airline than others. An airline can determine customer value in a number of ways, including:

  • Customers who drive additional revenue for the airline through the purchase of ancillaries and upgrades;
  • Existing customer value based on the data derived from information about the most recent trips, the frequency of trips and the price paid;
  • Likelihood to recommend;
  • A combination of all of the above.
Interdependent Channel Transitions

In the ever-connected online world, customers want data and information that is customized, aggregated, relevant and social. They also want to travel with an airline that knows them, offers them the right information when they need it, and respects and helps them. Customers want effortless experiences that are simple, responsive, highly contextual, proactive and personal. They also expect that the experience across channels is consistent.

In a previous issue of Ascend, we introduced the typical touchpoints where an airline can capture the heart of the guest. However, with customer journey mapping, airlines can go deeper and uncover previously untapped opportunities to interact with customers, providing that seamless experience across all channels.

Shift To Customer Journey Mapping

Ultimately, the process of customer journey mapping enables an airline to hone in on the touchpoints that emerge as the most important to interact with customers from the customer’s point of view. This enables the airline to determine what it is doing well, where improvements are needed and where to invest in solutions to enhance the customer experience, increase revenue and grow brand loyalty.

Persona creation and customer journey mapping are just two elements that can help customer experience professionals create a sound customer-centric strategy. To be completely successful, chief customer experience officers need a coalition of top executives who take an active role in transforming the organization through customer experience governance.

While most executives support the idea of customer centricity, many fail to act because they don’t understand the business value or don’t know how to help. Shifting the entire airline to become more customer focused and its employees to become active supporters of customer experience, those responsible for the strategy should identify top influencers, rate their current level of support and develop a customized plan to bring each department along.

However, much more is needed than just a shift in mindset and processes. An airline should find an experienced business partner, such as Sabre Airline Solutions, that can help develop the customer journey mapping strategy and drive it forward. And equally important, it must identify the right technology to support the strategy, such as SabreSonic® Customer Sales & Service, a fully integrated customer-centric portfolio. This advanced technology provides the capability to identify and recognize your customers, collect and distribute customer information for operational decisions, and provide a holistic view of your customers to aid your airline in fulfilling its customer promises.

Interacting With Customers

Customer journey mapping enables an airline to identify the touchpoints for which individual customers want and expect airline interaction. This approach helps airlines verify what is working well, what isn’t and where they need to invest.

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