MIAMI — Global IT travel provider SITA says it had the solution for airlines to take their passenger experience to the next level with Horizon, its next-generation passenger system. Horizon allows airlines to track passengers’ preferences and determine each customer’s overall value so that they can personalize their service and make relevant offerings.

The Horizon passenger ancillary sales portal allows relevant ancillary services to be offered consistently across any sales channel – mobile, online, agency or call center. Horizon is a Passenger Services System – the technology that manages reservations, inventory, ticketing, and departure control for an airline, said Allison O’Neill, SITA’s vice president of passenger services.

“So, any passenger of airlines, ground handlers and other air transport industry organizations that use Horizon benefit from its advanced capabilities.  Last year Horizon helped 137 million passengers make an airline booking and 167 million passengers check-in for flights,” said O’Neill. “In addition to reservations, inventory, ticketing, and departure control, Horizon also manages merchandising, fares management, pricing and shopping capabilities. Self-service booking via web, kiosk and mobile are provided directly to passengers along with distribution via third-parties. Related functions include revenue management tools, loyalty and business intelligence solutions.”

Horizon Customer Profile is a module within the Horizon Portfolio that enriches the experience for all passengers of an airline, said O’Neill. “It is used to create bookings, to record interactions with passengers across touch points, and to equip staff to consistently recognize and acknowledge valuable passengers at any stage in their journey, she said.

Each airline with a Horizon account has access to SITA’s Customer Profile database, a key component of the system, said O’Neill. “This is a  rich repository of data about each individual customer that is shared across the portfolio and users,” she said.

Typical customer data includes:

  • Contact details, passports and preferences as well as payment;
  • Loyalty membership data with entitlements and customer service indicators, driving consistent recognition of loyalty status and ensuring associated benefits are delivered accurately and consistently;
  • Attributes, such as VIP status and relationship data – family, online social, corporate and travel agency relationships, for instance; and
  • Other interests pertinent to destinations and activities and potentially of value to customer service and marketing teams.

Horizon is also able to assess a passenger’s value to the airline based on: loyalty membership tier – taking into account past booking value stored in the loyalty system and linked to the customer profile; booking history, if for example you are not registered in the airline’s loyalty program, based on  past records linked from the customer profile; and other attributes, such as VIP status and relationships to VIPs, social influence and more.

The customer profile paints a complete picture of the airline passenger – it maintains the data in one area to be used consistently at every interaction with the client, said O’Neill. “So that no matter who from [an airline] is dealing with [a passenger], they have all the current information to serve you best,” she said. “It affects what is offered to you at any point of service. If something happens and a front-line employee needs guidance on how to serve you, we can provide service prompts that guide the employee (airline system users) to appropriate courses of action. So in the event of a disservice, the airline can offer appropriate compensation and retain your loyalty.”

On a basic level this is about ensuring that a loyal, top-tier frequent flyer receives the extra perks — extra checked bag, no charge for extra legroom, lounge access — they are entitled to no matter how or where they choose to book and customize their travel with an airline, said O’Neill. “In a more sophisticated sense it’s about giving an airline the ability to recognize and differentiate its offer based on the specific context of a passenger’s journey.

O’Neill cited the example of being able to differentiate a weekend trip with family from a routine business commute and using that knowledge to predict the likelihood to need and want additional services such as meal upgrades based on past purchase behaviors for a similar type of journey. “For this example, after collating the data stored and available in customer profile you, the passenger, could be offered discounted meal upgrades for your entire family and promotional offers specifically curated to include a discounted bundle incorporating your preferred hotel and car rental brands,” she said.

The data is collected from entries made as a passenger books with the airline, either directly or indirectly through an agent, membership of the loyalty system, and information provided at check-in or through interactions with airline staff, said O’Neill. “Notes of interactions can include references to incidents and customer communications as well as a log of automated processes. Airlines using SITA’s Crew Tablet can  relay customer experience data to and from onboard the aircraft,” she said.

It is all about knowing the passenger so that the airline can give them what they want – across the journey and using any device — mobile, web, agent and more, said O’Neill. “Customer profile data can tell the airline about its customer demographics and service preferences. They can learn about which customers are delivering the most business , where, when and why they fly, what additional services they purchase, how they purchase, their  loyalty status, who travels with them and so on,” she said. “That enables the airline to tailor services, including flight network, pricing and services options to meet the needs of its market. They can also learn where their service falls down and take action to rectify it.”

The airline has a lot more data that can be used to understand passenger needs, said O’Neill. “At the IT Summit [recently] held in Brussels, we demonstrated our Horizon Business Intelligence tool that enable airlines to evaluate their business, identify issues, see trends, uncover opportunities and make intelligent decisions on strategic or operational improvements,” she said. “We currently offer five dashboards that enable an airline to understand its business and make informed decisions for improved operations and revenue performance.”

A Horizon customer profile ensures an airline can recognize and recover from a disservice event – in other words to try to make an unhappy customer happy again, said O’Neill. “If a passenger’s flight has been delayed or they have experienced multiple flight cancellation events, then this information can be configured to trigger a recommendation presented to the gate agent or cabin crew indicating that passenger is eligible for a free upgrade or drink voucher along with a heartfelt apology,” she said.

The number of employees will depend on the airline size and the Horizon modules used, said O’Neill. “Horizon serves large and small airlines. Some of our customers have only a handful of airplanes; yet the same system supports major carriers including Air India and Malaysia Airlines. Customers may choose the modules they need,” she said.

Airlines are beginning to see loyalty as central to their mission, as a core philosophy woven into each and every facet of airline operations, said O’Neill. “Loyalty comes from creating customer satisfaction – building an enduring relationship beyond a single sale. To earn it, airlines need to know their customers,” she said. “And based on this knowledge, they need to recognize customers as individuals.”

There’s compelling cost logic to a focus on loyalty as well, said O’Neill. “Acquiring a customer costs: estimates put it between four and ten times the cost of retaining a customer. So it makes sense to recognize that happy customers provide the greatest potential for airline revenue generation initiatives,” she said.

Earning trust and loyalty requires more than simply selling more stuff to each passenger, said O’Neill. “Airlines need to better understand each passenger and use that knowledge to offer them the right product or service in the right channel at the right time,” she said. “SITA is committed to support airlines as they evolve from simply selling more stuff to passengers to implementing more sophisticated retailing practices built on top of enhanced understanding of their passenger’s wants and needs.”

Understanding each passenger and being able to tailor and personalize the products or services offered is essential for airlines to achieve sustained profitability, she added.

SITA’s Customer Profile and the ability to sell ancillary services in direct channels are already available, said O’Neill. “Later this year we will launch an upgraded Customer Profile and Value algorithm that is the cornerstone of enhanced personalized service,” she said. “We are in the processing of rolling this out with a major European airline and expect approximately five more to be using it by the end of the year.”