16/02/2017 5:54 PM IST | Updated 16/02/2017 5:58 PM IST

How Airlines Can Use Technology To Deliver A First-Class Experience To All Passengers

The cut-throat competition is making CEOs of most airlines to look at improving efficiency and enhancing the customer experience, with an aim to reduce costs, while continuing to increase customer lifetime value and the size of their customer base.

While this is sensible enough in theory, how airlines actually achieve this is not so straightforward. With such complex businesses, knowing where to start can be extremely daunting and there can be disagreement in boards due to inability to decide on a starting point.

Technology-enabled customer experience can have a real impact on the bottom line and not just in terms of growing a passenger base.

One area that is in particular need of attention, and could be improved relatively simply, is increasing efficiency in actually getting passengers on planes in good time to meet their take-off slots, and then getting those planes in the air. Fortunately good progress is already being made in this area through the successful creation of specific mobile applications, which have introduced features such as remote check-in by mobile device. Others have implemented RFID tags on hold and hand luggage so that they can locate baggage both on planes and in the airport before take-off to try and find out exactly where passengers are before they board.

But more can be done, and here are top three suggestions:

Working around duty-free distraction

A common cause of delayed flights is passengers who checked in on time, but have spent too long in the shops and restaurants airside and therefore are late to the departure gate. This could be solved by creating an app that automatically sends an SMS to passengers not yet at the gate, or even calls their mobile phone with a pre-recorded message that says they need to go to the gate right away. It could even be coded to require a response back to ensure the passenger has received the message. Perhaps something along the lines of "press 1 to confirm you're on your way, press 2 if you have a problem and need to speak with an agent directly for help." In addition to the SMS, the app could also push a map showing where the gate actually is.

And how about if the app could also send a smartphone message to all airline staff in the vicinity, with the passenger's current location and a photograph of them, so staff can help direct the passenger to the gate. This sort of approach would not only increase customer satisfaction from an operational point of view, it would also help maintain the take-off slot.

Accommodating traffic jams on the airport slip-road

Pretty much every flight has booked passengers who do not arrive at the airport by the stated check-in time, usually due to heavy traffic or other transport delays. By matching geo-location data of passengers with information on who has checked in for a particular flight, a smart application could automatically contact those not yet at the airport. For example, offering these passengers a "click-to-call" option to reach specific airport staff—this will ensure passengers are directed to a specific "latecomers" desk as soon as they arrive at the airport, and from there can be routed through security quickly.

A common cause of delayed flights is passengers who checked in on time, but have spent too long in the duty-free section. An app could solve this problem too...

Another option would be a click to call button connected to a specific agent who deals with flight-re-bookings for passengers who know they are going to miss their original flights. As with the previous example, this simple app not only improves the customer experience, it also improves operational efficiency.

Making the most of the early birds

These days there are also many passengers that arrive at the airport so early they could actually catch a prior flight, on which there well may be empty seats. In this case an app could be built that would automatically contact these passengers, and run them through a pre-defined process for getting on board the earlier flight quickly. As well as providing an enhanced customer experience, this app would also improve seat management for the airline.

However, in order for these apps to work and to ensure their development is cost-effective, airlines need an appropriate underlying technology platform. It's important too, that any customer experience apps are built on common architecture so they work together and can also be integrated with other initiatives already in place, such as RFID baggage tags, for instance.

From managing costs to managing digital-savvy customers, airline bosses certainly have plenty on their plates. However, technology-enabled customer experience can have a real impact on the bottom line and not just in terms of growing a passenger base. What's more, as other industries roll-out smart apps for both operations and customer relations, employees and passengers alike will begin to expect a similar service from their airline.