Today’s service industries are undeniably shaped by the consumer. Social media, online reviews, and shared customer experiences have created an environment where one person’s bad experience can cause serious damage to a company’s reputation. Most service-providing industries have made big investments in listening to what their customers have to say…with one notable exception.

The airline industry is, perhaps, the recipient of more customer complaints and frustration than any other service provider group. Flyers feel nickel and dimed at every point of contact and don’t appreciate being herded like cattle through their journey. There is a disconnect between many airlines’ business strategies and the actual traveler experience. Airlines are at a crossroads where they have to find a way to provide a positive and personalized travel experience that retains customer loyalty while increasing profits.

Airlines have all the data they need to implement creative, effective customer service solutions, but many carriers operate using a large number of ‘siloed’ systems that don’t communicate with one another, leading to valuable missed opportunities to create positive consumer connections. Because the systems don’t share or present integrated information, airline employees are unable to locate, gather and analyze passenger data in order to create personalized and memorable travel experiences.

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Imagine the possibilities. John, a busy sales executive, misses his connecting flight because of a two-hour flight delay. In addition to missing his prospecting meeting, he’s dreading the long, uncomfortable wait in an airport terminal followed by a frustrating effort to get alternative flights booked and coordinate his now-messy travel schedule.

Instead, John receives an immediate email from the airline apologizing for the inconvenience and offering him frequent traveler points as compensation. The system automatically and in real-time rebooks him on the next connecting flight, saving him the headache of waiting in another line and negotiating with the gate agent . When he boards his aircraft, the flight attendant has his favorite beverage waiting for him, along with another apology for his missed flight.

Using automation that leverages existing passenger data, the airline has turned John from an irritated, frustrated traveler to a happy customer who has become an advocate for the airline’s customer service. He and others like him spread their stories, and the airline reaps the benefit in the form of positive social media mentions and customer brand ambassadorships.

While other service-providing industries have invested in steadily improving their customers’ experiences with such automated solutions, airlines as industry a continue to struggle to meet customers’ expectations for service. In the midst of fare price wars, airlines have pursued profits with things like baggage check charges, change fees and airport check-in penalties. Customers today know full well what improvements airlines are capable of making to their customer service, and they’re increasingly frustrated and resentful of forking over money for such incremental charges while seeing little to no return on their investment.

Several recent studies validate the real, measurable value of investments in customer experience. One study, conducted by Sabre Airline Solutions consulting practice, shows that a mid-sized international carrier could improve total customer worth by $227 per customer simply by improving the customer experience. Another study suggests that a large carrier investing $34 million in a customer-experience project would recoup that investment in just 16 months. After five years, the total benefit is an estimated $582 million. In the next three to five years, the first movers among airlines in data-driven personalization will quickly become the differentiated market leaders.

To learn more about using add-ons to build customer loyalty, check out Sabre’s two newest solutions, Customer Data Hub and Customer Experience Manager.

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