Transforming Airline Experiences with Customer Conversations

In 2017, we’ve made a commitment to attending some of the world’s biggest aviation conferences.

In April, Layer competed in the Start-Up Awards at EyeforTravel. Then in early May, we were at Aviation Festival Americas learning more about how airlines are addressing digital challenges. And just a couple of weeks ago in early September, we were at the biggest event of the group—Aviation Festival in London.

It was great speaking with some of the 1,100 people in attendance, listening to great keynotes from industry giants like Pieter Elbers (CEO of KLM) and Eash Sundaram (CIO of jetBlue), and taking part in speaker tracks like AirXperience and Aviation Marketing.

Now that the conference is over, here are some of my biggest takeaways about how the airline industry can transform itself through customer conversations.

Social Media Becoming More of an Ally—With One Caveat

One thing that I kept hearing throughout the conference was the idea of reaching customers where they are. There may have been pushback for social media in the past, but now airlines are recognizing that social media is a real ally in customer engagement.

It’s true that social media helps airlines leverage the power of conversations. However, there’s one main problem with the airline perspective of social media as a shortcut to customer conversations—the lack of control.

After hearing some of the speakers and interacting in various roundtable discussions, I felt like ownership was missing from the social media topic. Even though airlines can get access to some data through Facebook Messenger and other platforms, the reality is that those social media platforms own the data.

At any point, social media platforms can limit access to data or even sell that information to competitors and other industries. Social media is a great ally, but there needs to be more recognition of the risk that comes with it.

And this is where we step into the conversation as a full-stack messaging platform. I spoke with many attendees about owning and customizing the conversation experience, leveraging the Layer platform to integrate customer service, ancillary up-selling, loyalty upgrades, and more into one event stream that is always present.

As the limitations of social media as a primary conversation platform become clearer, more airlines will start to mimic industries like retail and start focusing on owned customer conversations.

Opening the Retail Playbook for Airline Transformation

Airlines are starting to peer over the fence at retail, seeing how Amazon is impacting the industry and recognizing that consumer behavior is changing.

Even though airlines aren’t directly impacted by Amazon, it’s clear the digital giant has changed the way people are conditioned to consume. And at the moment, airline offerings aren’t aligned with this new behavior.

Aviation Festival attendees recognize that they’re missing a big opportunity. They’re already the gateway to vacations and have the undivided attention of consumers for a fixed period of time—they just aren’t doing anything with that attention right now.

Now, they’re welcoming ideas that can help them capitalize on the opportunity to own travel experiences by increasing personalization via mobile messaging.

Airlines Starting to Take Action

There was a time when you’d hear airline leaders talk about digital transformation, but actions were few and far between. Now, big companies are ready to take action. And nothing made that clearer than the last keynote of the event from Pieter Elbers, CEO of KLM.

When Elbers was on stage, the room was packed and everyone was ready to hear his thoughts on KLM’s move to selling tickets through WeChat. The discussion revolved around airlines embracing social media platforms. But my biggest takeaway from the keynote was one reporter’s question.

She asked if Elbers had a chance to read Twitter’s latest terms of service and if the lack of ownership over third-party conversations concerned him. The question gave everyone in the room something to consider and opened the door for me to approach Elbers after the keynote.

My best indication that the airline industry is ready to embrace mobile messaging and customer conversations is that I told Elbers we could help address the problem from the reporter’s questions and he was completely engaged. He even brought his CTO into the conversation to learn more about the technology behind our Customer Conversation Platform.

We’re just in the early days of airline transformation, but the industry’s biggest players are ready to execute. If you’re one of the airlines ready to start taking complete ownership over customer conversations, contact us for a free demo of the Layer Customer Conversation Platform.