DALLAS — Airways interviews Richárd Deák, Mito Digital‘s Business Unit Director in Aviation. The company has worked with various European and American carriers, such as Wizz Air (W6), Play Airlines (OG), and Frontier Airlines (F9).
Richard – or rather Richie – is a true aviation professional. Being responsible for airline clients, he has been leading Mito Digital’s respective business unit since 2015. Thanks to his over 15 years of industry experience, he knows it all about leading teams and building top-notch interfaces that millions of customers use around the globe. Also, he is president of the Hungarian Ducati Owners Club.
DC: Could you please explain the key elements that contribute to the success of an airline website?
RD: Success for airlines means meeting the online-related business KPIs that vary based on the airline’s business strategy. Airlines set different goals for booking-focused or ancillary-focused strategies. The general success metric for all is reaching conversions on the website with maximized financial value during booking and post-booking.
The key elements contributing to those success metrics are the followings:
● A failproof, monitored, maintained, optimized booking flow and post-booking management features.
● A website that serves market-specific needs, including payments. For example, in South America, in-store payment for an online purchase service is not uncommon due to the distrust of online credit/debit card usage. In other countries, such as China, digital wallets are extensively used, so airlines should accommodate those payment methods.
● Finally, an IBE digital experience should have no significant distance from the airline’s positioning. A premium airline must provide a matching experience online; otherwise, customers might choose the competition – given that it is available on the selected route.
In your opinion, what are the most important factors from a passenger perspective that airlines should consider when designing their websites?
In general, customer experience is essential to airlines’ success. It should include:
● A smooth transition between inspiration and the booking journey, both in time and in-between mobile and web platforms.
● A straightforward booking experience, alleviating the stress associated with flight bookings. A good example is Ryanair’s 48 hours time window to correct passenger name typos – up to three characters – for free. Another one is showing passenger-tailored information during the booking process, such as infant-baggage allowance for sessions including small children. (It’s often unclear whether one can carry a stroller for free.) Another confusing use case is displaying COVID-related regulations, including whether you still need to take flight masks.
● A way to easily book for someone else (e.g., parents). Sharing booking details is often cumbersome while handing over permissions to handle the booking is simply impossible.
● Post-booking journey experience with the transfer, parking, lounge info, baggage allowance, management features, return flight, etc.
However, it’s worth noting that passengers’ tolerance towards inferior customer experience can vary significantly based on the route availability and the price when selecting a specific airline – especially for passengers traveling with (ultra) low-cost airlines and for leisure. I.e., a particular audience finding a cheap flight to their destination is willing to “fight through” even the worse IBEs.
What are the security and privacy considerations that airlines should prioritize? How about the protection of customer data?
There are many areas where information security is crucial for airlines. They are global enterprises that must comply with various local regulations and international industry standards. Airlines are also a part of the critical infrastructure establishment; countries, economies, and societies depend on these providers’ services. The airline services’ operational security, resiliency, and availability are key factors.
The main areas that information security has to offer solutions are:
● Customer data protection and privacy regulations compliance.
● Secure handling and processing of sensitive information, both customer and corporate data. Many airlines process payment data; hence they have to comply with PCI-DSS. Operating an information security management system compliant with international standards (like the ISO/IEC 27001) significantly contributes to secure operations. Also, following industry-specific best practices like the cyber security posture objectives of CAA-CAF is a good way of avoiding cyber incidents.
● Operational security that prevents digital adversaries from disrupting operations with the use of proper DDoS mitigation strategies, ensuring systems security and resiliency against cyber threats.
● Support disintermediation to cut off unwanted actors by using sophisticated bot protection and other unwanted traffic prevention techniques.
Disintermediation is a key factor in the success of airlines’ exceptional customer journey efforts: OTA’s and self-booking portals cut off airlines and divert customers to base fare bare tickets. This shortcut model poses a significant risk for ancillary revenue performance, customer data management, and the potential for a seamless payment experience that airlines could leverage.
How do airlines use data analytics and customer insights to improve their website design and tailor their offerings to meet customer preferences?
Website and customer data analytics are the foundations of building better customer service with a data-driven approach. It can contribute to meeting their preferences in multiple ways, such as personalization or finding the right design solutions through A/B testing.
One can offer customized recommendations, personalized offers, and relevant content by understanding customer preferences, booking history, and browsing patterns. This targeted approach aims to heighten user engagement, enhance conversion rates, and foster customer loyalty.
A/B testing facilitates iterative enhancements by systematically testing and refining different design elements. Incremental changes based on user data and feedback pave the way for continuous website design optimization, leading to improved user experience, engagement, and conversions.
While these methodologies are for the benefit of customers, it increases the digital culture of the airline too. They foster strategy-based operation and reduce the risk of costly design mistakes while empowering teams to make confident decisions backed by empirical evidence.
What is the future of airline retailing? Will we see more direct channels using Artificial Intelligence or Chatbots, or we’ll keep on relying on intermediaries as well?
AI (generative and general) and conversational interfaces (aka chatbots) all have their place in the future of airline retailing. However, we firmly believe that a chat interface is unsuitable for booking a flight ticket – unless someone is extremely flexible about their flight’s price and other parameters. But that’s rarely the case. However, post-booking management is a different question. Changing a seat, buying extra luggage, or similar actions can be so simple that one can manage them through a conversational interface.
We must remember that customer support was expected to be changed once and for all by the decision-tree-based chatbots a couple of years ago. That technology redefined a channel for customer-airline communication while introducing a large amount of customer frustration due to those chatbot engines’ limited capabilities. At the time, people also believed bookings could be made via chatbots. We haven’t seen that working and getting traction anywhere.
Generative AI solves many of the limitations decision-tree-based chatbots had; however, the core problem for flight ticket booking is not whether the bot can better understand us. It’s about reviewing all the flight options and prices, comparing schedules, transfers, CO2 emissions, ancillaries, etc. Where it could do great is understanding customers’ requests for inspirational searches.
We see changes in how intermediaries work too. Taking the example of Google Flights, ULCCs were reluctant to serve or join those platforms because payments were going through that. Recently Google Flights has changed how it works, serving as a search engine, redirecting users directly into the booking flow’s flight selection step. This way, airlines keep their control over the bookings, payments, and also margins.
Thank you, Richie, for the answers, and collaboration!
Featured image: This image was generated with the assistance of AI. Prompt: Airways