If You Want to Engage Your Customers, Recognize Them First!

Airline best practices in e-commerce are rapidly evolving as airlines continue to devise methods to pull more business into their direct channels. The more airlines can get around ravenous middlemen in the sales process, the more of the sales price of any ticket sold they get to keep. But while the effort is increasing, the execution is still, in many cases, a little off.

Take a look at this series of promotions for Emirates:

Unlike most fare sales, which advertise set prices (subject to taxes and fees, of course)  on particular routes, Emirates has taken a percentage discount approach. This is fine when you are selling an item that generally holds a consistent price level (think of holiday or clearance sales for clothing items that generally have set prices throughout the rest of the year), but airfares are anything but consistent. While the clothing customer knows what a 20% discount means in terms of actual money saved, the airfare shopper, who has seen fares on the exact same routing vary by thousands of dollars, does not.

(SECTION BREAK: Actually, my intent with writing this post was to argue that “percentage off” discounts don’t really make much sense for airlines. However, I’ve seen a way that these types of promotions can work, but it requires true customer engagement…which is the direction in which this post is trending, starting…now!)

If we look deeper into Emirates’ approach, you can see in the fine print at the bottom that the fares quoted, under this particular sale, are already inclusive of the discount:

Essentially, by structuring the promotion this way, Emirates has taken most of the punch out of what could very well be a great offer. By failing to make the process interactive, and by failing to set a customer expectation first as to what they should expect to pay, Emirates is essentially inviting customers to go to alternative search engines to compare fares to see if they really got a discount. And by driving traffic to a search engine, Emirates inevitably stands to lose some sales to that search engine.

Compare this to a percentage discount offering in play from Virgin America:

By making the process interactive and making the customer actually take an action to receive the discount, Virgin’s approach successfully makes the customer feel exclusive and satisfied that he or she is actually getting a deal. And by supplementing the emotional message with a process that supports it–by issuing me, the prospective passenger, a unique promo code, only known to me–as well as allowing me the option to see the regular fare without the discount applied, my emotional instincts are validated.

As with any choices or opportunities we face in life, the more “exclusive” something is, the more we want it. The power of e-commerce is in that it enables companies to reach customers on a more individual level. In this example, Virgin leverages that power to create a unique, individualized and engaging customer experience, while Emirates, for the same type of promotion, makes it as impersonal as possible.

Which do you think is more effective?

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Customer Engagement Strategy for the Airline Industry