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Data, Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Simon Blunn looks at how data analytics is improving the customer experience in the travel industry

30Jun

The holiday season is upon us. From the May bank holidays through the summer, we have reached peak time for any travel and leisure company. Whether travellers and holidaymakers are looking for a couple of weeks abroad, a staycation or even a long weekend getaway, the pressure is on for anyone working in the industry to meet demand and exceed customer expectation.

While competitiveness across the sector is rife year-round, getting operations and logistics spot on is even more important when travel companies need to ramp up for a piece of the action. Between seats on coaches being offered for £1 or plane fares for as low as £9, travel sector organizations, perhaps more than their counterparts in any other industry, are seeing their margins get lower and lower as they increase their competition each year – all in aid of attracting more customers.

However, securing custom at such a low price is merely the beginning of the relationship. There is still a long way to go to impress customers before you have helped them arrive safely at their destination. So, what steps can you take as a travel operator to make sure customers want to travel with you time and time again? Of course, the different ways to improve a customer’s experience are limitless – and tactics differ from company to company. For some organizations, taking care of the customer means providing the right correspondence with them prior to travel. For many, it’s how you take care of passengers while they’re onboard. And, for others, it could be as simple as making sure the right refreshments are available.

Gaining visual and accurate insight that helps drive improvement and change around any of the above is where making use of customer and operational data comes in. And it’s a tactic some are already doing well. In fact, we have seen a number of Europe’s leading travel companies turn to data-driven analytics and used the insights to help with the development of products, propositions and the contact they have with customers – all in the aim of giving them a top-notch experience.#

One of these organizations making sure its customers are happy through using data analysis is Virgin Trains. The organization has been working closely with creative company ITG Creator to build an app called Awesometer. Driven by Qlik, Awesometer visualizes feedback from online customer surveys for all members of staff, in real-time. The app includes trend analysis, customer loyalty, and sentiment by station, train or route. The information is gathered from customers during their journey and then staff can identify any issues and take steps to increase satisfaction through things such as quicker boarding, better seating allocation, and the most appropriate onboard entertainment. Already, the company has analyzed over 300,000 customer survey responses, with 500,000 comments captured, analyzed and visualized by the app, which is available to 700 Virgin Trains staff. Staff across the organization can see if satisfaction is growing over time, assessing the situation by hour, day, week or month.

Another organization is Europe’s largest airline, Ryanair, which takes previous passenger data to improve its in-flight retail offering. Through data analysis, the airline can make decisions around the food and drink it needs to stock up on for each individual flight. For instance, on a flight to Paris at the weekend during the summer holidays, there might be a lot of children onboard, travelling to Disneyland, so it’s worth getting more of their snack packs for children in stock on those flights, rather than risk passenger disappointment by not having enough supply and running out.

So, from trains and planes to automobiles – another company using visual data analysis to improve its customer proposition is the UK’s largest coach operator, National Express. National Express uses data analysis to gain insights into company logistics, wanting to see the routes drivers were taking and if they were the quickest way from A to B. They found the insights so valuable that they expanded on their project, creating a visual analytics platform for its third-party operators, and helping them gain further and more detailed insight into operations across the company’s wider network.

In the name of ensuring customer satisfaction, all companies affiliated with National Express can now analyze the data to see if any improvements could be made to the service they provide. Anyone, in any department of National Express and its affiliates, can conduct analysis and understand the results. They can see data around a series of key operational metrics focusing on driver, vehicle, and reliability standards to understand how the company is performing against targets and make decisions on how necessary improvements can be made. For example, trends around coach driver performance can easily be identified and, if any issues are a regular occurrence, they can undergo training to ensure the situation is remedied moving forward. Alternatively, if a driver is regularly performing well, they will receive praise as appropriate based on that insight, making sure they keep up the good job.

All of these companies and their competitors will have already started gearing up for the peak travel and holiday period. In a time where competition is at its highest, it’s imperative that the customer experience is seamless. For these companies, they can lead the way – turning to data and analytics to make sure they are proactively delivering and consistently improving their customer propositions – in some cases in real-time – creating brand advocates who will want to travel with them repeatedly. After all, that’s what’s going to make them stand out from the competition.

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