We have entered a new era in travel: the age of traveler power. To serve a more informed, influential, always-connected traveler, the travel industry - and especially airlines - need to deliver a more seamless, end-to-end travel experience that offers greater fulfillment and value.
NB This is a viewpoint by Ilia Kostov, chief commercial officer, Airline IT, Amadeus North America
And when it comes to always-connected travelers, there is one type of “traveler tribe” in particular where airlines should be turning their attention: the “Social Capital Seeker.”
Connecting with the socially connected
Social Capital Seekers are the fastest growing of the six traveler tribes identified in Amadeus’ commissioned research, Future Traveller Tribes 2030: Understanding tomorrow's traveller.
Social Capital Seekers can be influential and powerful. They act as a megaphone to global audiences of existing and potential customers.
This represents both a responsibility as well as an opportunity for airlines to understand the motivations and opinions of this group, in order to better manage their expectations and importantly, their influence on the marketplace.
Put simply, the influence Social Capital Seekers exert on their social media peers– from their online shopping to their latest flight experience - can suddenly put an airline’s brand under the spotlight and its business potentially at risk.
That’s why savvy airlines are getting to know them better, learning how to cater to their needs and communicating with them on their terms.
The hidden cost of the socially-connected, discontented traveler
Crucially, for airlines, there is a substantial cost associated with negative passenger sentiment, which cannot be ignored. This is further accentuated when it comes to Social Capital Seekers.
Let's take a delayed flight. There are obvious cost issues for airlines to consider: passenger re-accommodation, staffing changes, load readjustments, performance penalties.
But what price does an airline pay when a passenger turns to social media to express their discontent?
The impact their influence can exert on brand perception and possibly future sales is almost impossible to measure. However, with a more integrated understanding of the customer, airlines can do much to manage the relationship toward a more positive sentiment.
Six things airlines need to know about Social Capital Seekers
Airlines first need to understand the differentiating characteristics and behaviors of this influential group:
- They are always-connected and will expect free, fast WiFi everywhere while traveling, in order to post continuous messages and files to their online communities.
- Travel is enormously attractive to this group, as it makes compelling content for online audiences – before, during and after a trip -- in order to enhance their “social footprint.”
- Their influence is becoming increasingly monetisable, as growing numbers of network followers boost the value of online endorsement for consumer-facing brands.
- Peer-validated decision-making plays a major role in the travel inspiration and booking stages: a real traveler’s blog can have more clout than a professional's recommendation.
- They assume travel providers have social media know-how, and are equipped to handle price negotiations, cross-sell situations and queries or complaints instantaneously and appropriately via social channels.
- They expect proactive and personalized communication “on-the-go,” wherever it can impact their travel experience. If it's a flight delay, they want to hear about it from the airline first along with action to remedy the situation.
Four practical strategies for serving the social traveler
With an understanding of what makes a socially-connected traveler tick, airlines can adopt strategies to deliver an outstanding customer experience:
- Empower passengers to make their own alternative journey choice in the event of disruption (via self-service kiosks, mobile apps), in order to alleviate any frustration and negativity.
- Be transparent, timely and authoritative in communication practices: passengers would rather know the truth about journey delays/changes directly from the airline and then receive some form of soft compensation (e.g. lounge access, mileage credit, food vouchers).
- Invest in customer-centric technologies which provide a comprehensive, single view of passengers (their travel history, trip purpose, value, level of social activity) in order to personalize the dialogue and communicate proactively throughout the journey touch points.
- Embrace a more strategic approach to social media that goes beyond promotions and brand management. Airlines need to adopt analytical tools to better understand the impact of social media influence when a passengers posts a comment online, as Amadeus highlighted in a report it commissioned from Phocuswright: “Passengers first: rethinking irregular operations."
Social network analysis is an emerging field that looks at a snapshot of social media activity and provides a graphical representation of that social network.
The resulting map offers a visual representation of conversations, and can help airlines identify and implement a strategy to respond to those customers who exert the greatest influence.
Serving Social Capital Seekers has its rewards
You only have to take a look at some of the stories of positive social media experiences to understand the value of engaging the Social Capital Seeker.
There’s the United Airlines customer who decided to 'blog' his account of Perfect Customer Service. Or this example of excellent Twitter customer service from JetBlue.
And WestJet’s Christmas Miracle social media campaign, which earned the airline over 44 million YouTube views and a feel-good factor to last a lifetime.
NB: This is a viewpoint by Ilia Kostov, chief commercial officer, Airline IT, Amadeus North America. The article appears here as part of Tnooz's sponsored content initiative. For examples of top social capital seekers, visit the Amadeus North America blog.
NB2:Woman taking a selfie via Shutterstock