How Airlines Can Engage Customers with SMS

The aviation industry has been continuously driving economic and social progress by connecting people, worldwide to provide access to global markets and generate trade and tourism. With over 8 million passengers flying every day, let alone the number of crew members, staff, and ground teams in airports and other facilities working round the clock to make that happen, it’s no surprise that such massive scale and dynamic environment is simply a logistical nightmare to manage. In fact, it’s almost a miracle that most people reach their desired destinations on time every day, but fear not, technology can certainly help.

With a growing number of globe trotters commuting for work or leisure, the aviation industry faces several challenges in keeping up with all the changes and risk factors affecting daily operations. Between uncontrollable factors like continuously changing weather conditions, natural disasters and political turmoil as well as more controllable yet unforeseeable factors like re-schedules, re-routes, cancellations, etc, the industry must react swiftly to overcome sudden changes on the fly (pun intended). While various technologies are already in place to help interconnect systems, passengers, crews and terminals, SMS remains the most suitable means of communication due to its instant nature as well as inter-carrier compatibility with all GSM devices and mobile subscribers worldwide.

The massive growth in aviation coincided with a relatively wider boom in technology sectors including IT, telecom and others. Those sectors are directly related to most systems, tools and processes undertaken by aviation industry professionals every day. From complex flight control systems to simple ticketing kiosks, almost every piece of equipment is interconnected to a wide network of machines to facilitate timely trips to passengers. Unfortunately, until very recently, the passenger was almost always in the dark about any of that, leading passengers to worry about travel plans and burdened with rigorously pre-planning and preparing for the worst, even for very short trips.

Fortunately, many steps have been taken by airlines to improve passenger experience on many levels, but mostly focused on the flight experience itself like seat comfort, meal quality, media accessibility etc. Very little has been done to improve pre and post boarding activities, which constitutes the biggest piece of the pie of passenger issues and complaints based on passenger surveys. That said, in recent years the aviation industry shifted focus to such issues and began exploring potential solutions that help carry passengers through the full travel experience before, during and after the flight. While e-mail remains the least cost option, it’s reliance on internet connectivity renders it less effective during travel due to spotty internet coverage and the lack of universal plans or access options. This is where SMS comes in handy as most mobile subscribers have unlimited incoming SMS even when roaming, which is not the case with mobile internet or data plans.

Airlines are becoming more aware that a delightful flight experience begins long before the flight itself, primarily when the passenger initiates the ticket booking process so they have been taking strides in improving every step of the process altogether by adopting technological trends like mobility. For example, passengers now have the option to supply a mobile phone number when booking their tickets, allowing airlines to notify them of any changes to departure time, terminal or any other vital information relevant to their travel plans. This not only keeps passengers informed but also reduces wait times, stresses and inconveniences of sudden change in plans which definitely has a negative impact on passengers and crews alike. With that out of the way, innovative use cases extended beyond traditional booking and notification services. Passengers can now use SMS or mobile applications to check-in to their flight before arriving to the airport and other arrival activities like baggage claim, transit instructions, weather conditions and more. Also crew can be notified of instant updates like gate changes, crew member replacement, etc.

Ultimately, continuous customer engagement is the key to success in any business, and airlines are no exception to the rule. That said, increased brand awareness and sense of security have also made a difference in choosing the right airline, so the aviation the industry should choose their messaging partner wisely to help delight their passengers and take them to their comfort zone and not just a not-so-comfortable seat. The benefits to passengers and crew extend well beyond airline ROI, increased revenue, and cost savings. All this coupled with attention to passenger convenience, satisfaction and loyalty directly yields a positive impact on everyone involved.

At Cequens, we look at SMS not as a 160 character blast of text, but as one of several customer engagement channels that our communication platform supports.

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