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Experiential Search, Speed and Mobile Integration Highlight Key Themes from Amadeus Airline e-Commerce Conference

With his large responsibility as VP of Product Development for Sales and e-Commerce Platforms for Amadeus, Denis Lacroix doesn’t often know when he’ll get to go on holiday. What he does know, however, is that he wants to see Lady Gaga. And thanks to that, passengers around the world are now able to search for flights from their hometowns to wherever Lady Gaga happens to be.

Such is the flexibility offered by Amadeus technology with its Affinity Shopper platform, which Lufthansa and Croatia Airlines are currently piloting. Rather than searching the familiar pattern of flights and dates, customers search for experiences—essentially putting in any criteria into the search and having the best options that meet that criteria populate in a completely bookable form. That could mean searching for a warm, sunny beach with moderate humidity, or a place where you can watch live theatre and a sporting event in the same afternoon, or a countless number of other creative search inputs. “We really want to change the user experience when it comes to booking,” Lacroix says. “The idea was to rethink the way people search for flights. I know Lady Gaga is touring in Europe and I’m in Nice, so where can I go see Lady Gaga?”

While this type of search capability is certainly game changing for online shopping, technology alone doesn’t make the experience. As Susan Kidwell, Amadeus’ head of Global Strategic e-Commerce Consulting points out, the customer experience comes down to how an airline includes technology to enhance the entire customer life cycle—from inspiration, shopping and booking through pre-travel, travel and post-travel. “You have to incorporate this kind of technology into the customer’s experience and expectation,” Kidwell says. “You can’t just show them flight results—you need content that talks about the destination and social media tools that offer reviews and insights. You need to integrate social and mobile into that technology.”

The Quick Integration of Mobile

Mobile was another major theme at Amadeus’ 18th Airline e-Commerce Conference held in Cannes, France last week. One of the highlights of the event was a study released by Amadeus in conjunction with Norm Rose, President of Travel Tech Consulting, that discusses how mobile integration will transform the travel experience moving forward. “What we’re going to see is much more of an interactive environment, that will be both personalized or situationally relevant as well as location-sensitive,” Rose said. “The airlines are starting to realize that and selling some of the ancillary services they have online and getting them on mobile.”

Rose feels that the airlines seem to have the ancillary penalty fees, such as baggage, down to a science, but are missing a huge opportunity by not using the ability mobile technology enables them to offer customers things of value wherever or in whatever stage of the travel experience they happen to be. Airlines will soon, he predicts, be in a rush to integrate these value-added services like priority boarding, seat assignments and other experience-enhancing options into the mobile space.

What is Missing

They say that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. And despite the technology that is currently available, airlines still seem to be struggling to embrace some of the tools that, according to Amadeus, are available now. Jerome Letissier, Director of Marketing and Portfolio Management for Amadeus’ Airline IT group, kicked off the conference with a very clear message to airlines that the first step to adapting to the new customer environment is to adopt what is currently available to them—some of which “can have a huge impact on customer satisfaction and revenue.” Letissier attributes the airlines’ collectively slow adoption practices to limited IT resources—being busy with bigger operational items like departure control systems—and the silo structure that makes it extremely difficult to implement initiatives that impact multiple areas, from marketing to e-commerce to sales to revenue management.

Eloi Prado de Assis, TAM Airlines’ Sales and Marketing Systems Manager, agreed to some extent, but added that there is also a consideration given to the customer, so that a technological change impacting one area does not create an unrealistic expectation for another part of the overall customer experience. “There is a certain set of processes that already exist in an airline, so it’s hard to make a change happen—you have to change an entire series of processes in order to accommodate the new technologies,” he said. “It’s not just putting up a new website. You also have to change your check-in, your call center, and every other part of the customer experience so that they experience the same change from the web through the end.”

The Speed Premium

Regardless of when exactly experiential search mechanisms and value-added mobile options become mainstream, the Amadeus conference certainly gave attendees a taste of what to expect on the horizon. With integration being the common theme to every technology discussed, speed is at a premium, and Lacroix even went so far as to give airlines hope that their search mechanisms can become faster than Google. “Whatever you do, you have to do it fast, and that’s why we are very much focused on building speed into our technology,” he said, stating a goal to shave the entire two- or three-minute search process down to seconds, and the actual results return time upon clicking down to milliseconds.

“The customer experience is what is going to allow airlines to differentiate themselves,” Kidwell added. “Airlines all want to differentiate themselves, and we need to provide the technology to be able to do that.”

See my full interview with Jerome Letissier below, with links to the other interviews from the conference following.

Denis Lacroix, Amadeus

Susan Kidwell, Amadeus

Norm Rose, Travel Tech Consulting and Dominic Carvalho, Amadeus

Gwen Robinson, CityJet

Andrew Miller, CAPA Consulting

Eloi Prado de Assis, TAM Airlines

Mike Slone, Vail Resorts

 

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