All Articles Leadership Embracing Technology to Solve Challenges

Embracing Technology to Solve Challenges

5 min read


Iain Meaker

 This post is sponsored by Sabre, Inc.

Iain Meaker is the executive manager for commercial operations for Comair Ltd. (listed company of the He’s been with the firm for nine years and is currently responsible for marketing, loyalty, e-commerce and sales distribution activities. In addition, Iain is also driving initiatives around improving customer experience including: customer data and analytics competencies, optimization of airline retailing abilities and the growth of a “voice of the customer” program integrated into a single view of customer. Iain is currently implementing a number of different platforms and products to fully integrate a personalized customer loyalty program for

In this second of a two-part series, Iain talks about how technology can help airlines tackle industry challenges.

Question: What are the key challenges that airlines need to consider in order to achieve “customer-centric airline retailing?”

Iain Meaker: The first challenge falls in the realm of data. Airlines have numerous data stores that once combined point to a rich understanding of the customer. The real problem is that this data exists in numerous data silos. So by integrating the various sources/silos of data including booking records, origin & destination (O&D) information, ticketing, pricing, operational delivery, baggage management, marketing and campaign engagement, customer relationship management (CRM), ancillary purchase history and loyalty data into a master customer profile becomes a key objective and is now essential. Data on booking records needs to be brought together around a common key association – the customer. An intelligent tool is required to identify these customers with an intelligent and configurable rules engine that will identify and build profiles for both known (loyalty) and unknown customers.

The second challenge is getting access to data that is relevant to the given situation. This requires systems that can process excessive volumes of data in near real-time. Data needs to be accurate as well, and dealing with data in structured and unstructured formats in a huge challenge. Once a customer profile is created, you can then associate numerous other data points to it. This requires a solution that is able to easily create and import those respective data points both in terms of your airline data as well as third-party data sources, delivering these in real-time to ensure contextual and appropriate interaction with customers. Kulula has selected Sabre’s Customer Data Hub (an application that utilizes the master data tool Intelligence Exchange) to ensure it is able to deliver on these goals.

Q: So after you bring together data from multiple disparate systems into a master customer profile, what do you do with it?

IM: Once these profiles are created it becomes critical to create insights into the data that enables scoring of our customers across a number of key variables. The scores become important in getting people and systems appropriately aligned around a specific delivery strategy to ensure long term customer retention and recognition. The ability to create a customer value score that uses variables related to how frequently a customer travels, when last they travelled and what was the value of the travel spend. Understanding the potential frustration you may have caused to a customer’s experience is also critical. Being able to once again score customers against on-time performance, over-booking, schedule changes and delay types can certainly be vital in how you are able to proactively recover from some of the operational setbacks and acknowledge customer frustrations through various mechanisms like compensation, staff engagement and customer communication.

Q: Aside from the enhanced customer benefits, how do you take this valuable data and increase your overall commercial advantage?

IM: The ability to take these data insights and better apply them to how you sell your products will further commercialize this investment in customer insight. True retailing consists of an ability to give the customer better access to the products relevant to them, including tactics such as refined cross-selling, packaged value of adding alternate services and upselling in terms of benefits. Armed with customer purchasing habits and profile information we can better tailor the products we are offering. Likewise if someone keeps rejecting a specific cross-sell offer, maybe remove it to improve his booking experience. Building out our customer profiles with the ability to store preferences or keep advanced search and filter information can also ensure that customers get to see and purchase what they want.

The use of customer value scores will give us the ability to drive recognition and benefits to high value customers once integrated with Sabre’s Dynamic Retailer tool by presenting the right product. Dynamic Retailer is a rules driven framework, allowing us to present better ancillary bundles, customize brands with packaged ancillaries and offer discounts on filed ancillaries. These offers can be customized and personalized at various points-of-sale and channels. By combining customer experience requirements with segmenting and data, we can create a much richer customer engagement eco-system that drives revenue by getting a larger slice of our customers’ wallets and improving loyalty.

Q: What is the end game for airlines? Once this ideal, customer-centric retailing status has been achieved, what long-term outcomes would you expect?

IM: The end game is to keep our customers happy. Satisfied customers equal repeat business when they fully appreciate the value of what they are receiving. This drives long-term airline yield improvement as well. Personalized products and services will further drive a greater share of wallet since customers get what they want. You don’t have to look far to see other industries that are getting these tactics right. One of the real opportunities is to create a scalable, personalized loyalty proposition. Tailoring benefits that are important to customers is what will keep them coming back and spending more when they engage with us.