Want Personalization? Listen - Really Listen - to Customers

January 30, 2012

As consumers, we are accustomed to contextual, collaborative and intuitive conversations with retailers such as Amazon, Zappos or eBay feeding our demand for relevance in real time. We search and share conversations and experiences across our preferred social networks. We look to minimize dwell time in an always-connected world across an ever-increasing range of touch points. We do not want irrelevant content, or content that adds complexity but no value.

We expect the retailer to intuitively “listen” to our value, intent, preference and history. We expect the retailer to know that we are multiple personas and multiple markets, offering relevance and value in real time. The opportunity for a captive customer engagement throughout the entire purchase continuum is a retailer’s dream. For the airline retailer however, it can only secure wallet share if the airline can deliver a relevant and tailored engagement.

Data is crucial retail currency in the pursuit of active customer listening and engagement. Google, Facebook and Apple now lead the ‘datarati’ generation, aggregating data from billions of potential travelers. Airlines must increasingly compete for engagement with the traveler.

Airlines have unique and powerful data about their customers’ shopping and travelling habits. Yet current CRM, analytics and loyalty systems focus on a one-to-one personalization dynamic which can only address a percentage of customers who self-identify and that are not adequately integrated into the always-connected travel journey continuum. Many airlines are working with disruptive technology partners, moving to incorporate innovative tactical and actionable methods to leverage data for actionable listening and engagement with the traveler.

The next challenge is to leverage the listening to enable the airline to characterize and segment personas. At Datalex, we have shown that in every customer interaction, the airline can continuously listen for historical and real-time data to identify characteristics. This correlates to the key persona characteristics that enable a relevant and compelling product, price, promotion or reward in real time, and at every available interaction.

The listening must also be cognizant of travelers’ multiple personas and markets. For example, Sarah Jones travelling as a high-value, frequent corporate traveler, is also a leisure family traveler booking 45 days to departure. Sarah expects the airline to know this and to engage accordingly, adding value to each journey at every touch point.

Airlines have tasted the profitability reward from enhanced products and services and are keenly aware of the opportunity to further enhance the offering through more effective customer engagement at every touch point - a basic tenet of retailing. We believe the challenge is not data, technology or skill. Disruptive technologies are enabling and delivering tactical and immediate results. Sustaining technologies wait to “fast follow,” and some have conflicting supply chain interests. The challenge lies in obsolete business models and structure that slows the pace of innovation and advancement.

There are two certainties.  First, the traveller is in control and wallet share will go those that actively listen, engage, tailor, “delight and surprise.” Second, the airline imperative should be to drive profitability and growth. Only those that can keep pace in competing for the customer engagement will survive.


Ornagh Hoban
Datalex VP Marketing & Strategy

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