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The airline industry today is fighting an increasingly uphill battle for customer loyalty.

We’ve seen some extreme examples of poor customer service in recent months with passengers who have been dragged off planes and who have been inappropriately confronted by airline employees.

Additionally, recent public policy has made attitudes toward flying even more dire. Our recent survey with Radius indicates that nearly three-quarters of Americans (74 percent) believe that the Trump administration is making air travel more difficult.

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But airlines actually have a huge opportunity here to improve the travel experience, and somewhat unsurprisingly, it revolves around evolving technology.

In a recent CNBC interview, Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce commented that “surveys show that people would rather have Wi-Fi than eat, people would rather have Wi-Fi than arrive on time, or be put together with their bags at the end of the journey.”

Pearce continues to describe how airlines will migrate towards removing their in-flight entertainment options in favor of offering that highly desired wifi to passengers. And thanks to our own Radius survey, we know that passengers have a strong preference for staying connected in flight through mobile apps. The vast majority of passengers who use airline apps on their phone say that it improves their travel experience. In fact, 95 percent of airline loyalty members that use mobile apps say that it makes their travel experience better.

The kicker is that it’s only a minority of passengers that are using these apps today. But once airlines pivot towards a ‘bring your own device’ model, optimize the mobile app experience, and essentially force their passengers to use their mobile app to stay connected, they could massively expand their loyal customer base. Considering most Americans (81 percent) already use mobile apps to manage various aspects of their lives, conversion rates should not prove too challenging.

Here are a few ways that airlines can start optimizing their mobile apps to increase customer loyalty:

1. Have One App That Can Do Everything

Most airlines already have an app that helps with pre-flight logistics, like booking flights and checking in. Some airlines have a separate third-party app for in-flight entertainment. No airline has an app that does everything, from booking the flight to being able to track lost bags afterwards. Having one, single app that can literally take care of the entire customer journey (this may involve integrating with that third party entertainment app) will make the entire flying experience more seamless and convenient. Especially as in-flight wifi access improves, having one destination for ordering food and drinks, speaking with a flight attendant, and watching a movie will exceed customer expectations.

2. Make Support Easy and Accessible

This statistic is hard to ignore:

86 percent of travelers and 92 percent of loyalty members surveyed said if they experienced a problem mid-flight that was resolved through in-app customer support, they would likely recommend that airline to friends.

By integrating agent-chat functionality into the airline app, flight attendants could be the first line of the defense for appeasing a distressed customer. Passengers could simply start a message thread from their seat, and the message would be received by the flight crew. If the message is not addressed or cannot be resolved by the flight crew, it would automatically be sent to centralized customer support on the ground. This is the most efficient path towards problem resolution, and happier customers as a result.

3. Minimize Friction Points for Purchases

Remember the public outrage when airlines started charging separately for baggage and in-flight beverages? Using the mobile app to store payment options can ease the pain that would otherwise be associated with these add-ons. One-click options for food, drink, and entertainment will facilitate points of sale. Not to mention, having a complete overview of purchase history (including airline tickets) can help airlines formulate smarter customer service options, and even suggest previously purchased items.

As an added, and somewhat subtle bonus, these suggestions all contribute to personalizing the flying experience as well. It’s not just the passengers that have the entire flying experience at their fingertips, but airlines would too have the key to unlocking and understanding individual experiences as well. One more fun statistic: according to Think with Google, 90 percent “of organizations that invest in personalized consumer experiences say that it significantly contributes to increasing business profitability.”

You can read through the full Radius survey results here and learn more about Helpshift’s complete suite of in-app customer support tools.

Published July 12, 2017
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