Brenda logs into her Frequent Flyer Program (FFP) member portal. She has been accumulating Frequent Flyer Miles that she intends to redeem. Brenda realizes that she needs 300 extra miles over her existing balance of 9000 miles to complete the purchase. Will Brenda now have to buy additional miles? Or will she have to wait till she accrues enough miles? Or, is there a brilliant marketing opportunity hidden in this potentially frustrating customer experience? One that not only rewards the customer, but also helps the airline collate more member information and actual purchase preferences?
Today, almost all airlines have a mature FFP aimed at not just improving customer loyalty but also to fend off fierce competition from low-cost airlines on short and medium-haul as well as international routes. Way back, when Texas International introduced the FFP in 1979 to award miles based on distances flown, it was the only way customers could earn loyalty miles. Now, anything from dining out to shopping online on co-branded credit cards does the trick. However, the key to customer loyalty remains a positive, end to end travel experience. Accrual of miles alone can’t do this.
In Brenda’s case, the airline which had ‘gamified’ its FFP immediately helped her overcome her dilemma. It prompted her to fill in additional information related to her personal travel preferences. While this earned her extra miles, it gave the airline precious member data that helped them refine their services. Interestingly, it does not stop here. Brenda utilized her newly earned miles to book her holiday tickets. Later, she came to post travelogues on their website and shared these on social media, which kept earning her more miles! Of course, Brenda is thrilled. But, so is the marketing team at her favorite airlines. For, not only do they have information related to Brenda’s actual preferences and her lifestyle, she is also their very own brand advocate on social media!
While a positive travel experience includes minutest details like zero re-booking fees, quick and hassle free check-in, more legroom, inflight entertainment (especially in long haul flights) or free Wi-Fi, airlines cannot ignore the omni-channel loyalty experience through multiple access points across social media. Passengers use social media to check-in to locations, endorse the airline, participate in their social media activities, provide valuable feedback and become the airline’s brand ambassador.
Social media is a powerful tool in driving meaningful passenger experiences and can add value in terms of incentivizing options that include non-mileage-based rewards. Airlines can no longer ignore this emerging reality. Especially, not in a competitive environment where customers are subscribed to multiple loyalty programs that vie for their attention. This has meant a steady decline in the number of ‘active’ members despite ‘new’ memberships.
Airlines looking for customer-engagement find that relationships have become more transactional than emotional. Another critical aspect is the information database itself has become huge and unwieldy, resulting in abundant transaction data but scarce personal member information.
What airlines need is detailed, authentic data supplied voluntarily by frequent flyers that can be used for effective customization and personalization. Most of the personal information comes from the enrolment form that members fill-up. On an average, of all the fields in an enrolment form, only a few are mandatory. Often, customers choose to skip the non-mandatory fields leaving behind a large void in the information related to valuable details like relationship status, family members, employment, actual travel preferences, etc. This information is critical in behavioral analysis and subsequent personalization.
This is where ‘loyalty gamification’ steps in.