Ai Editorial: 4 areas that airlines are working on to gear up for digital age

First Published on 9th March, 2018

Ai Editorial: How is digital transformation coming along? Is there any tangible process or outcome from all of this? Airlines are showing progress, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Expectations of a traveller when they shop or travel with an airline revolve around value exchange and trust, and even saving on time especially considering that planning a trip can be a laborious task. This isn’t really new when we talk of what typically a consumer would look from any product category. But meeting such expectations isn’t easy in today’s era where brands are trying to make the of every data trail that a traveller leaves behind or how they are embracing technology.

As underlined by OpenJaw, businesses have to transform themselves in order to thrive in the digital age.

Here we evaluate how airlines are responding:

  1. Transitioning into a digital organization: Air New Zealand has evolved as an enterprise. Their transformation process started in 2015. The team acknowledges the fact that there is a team of digital leaders with diverse backgrounds and skills. The roles include responsibility for accelerating transformation, facilitating decision making through analytics, making the most of cloud services, how to make the most of user experience and product development teams, cutting down on the threat or even negating the impact of cybercrimes, data breaches etc.

In one of our recent interviews, Kevin O’Shaughnessy, CEO and co-founder, Indigo.gt acknowledged that there  is a lot of pressure on airlines to deliver new experiences to passengers. For instance, if an airline intends to target a traveller with an ancillary product then it would need to gear up for the real-time delivery of content as per the phase of the journey of the traveller, the device being used, purchase history plus clicks related to the latest transaction (or even cart abandonment) if any that indicated interest in an ancillary offering etc. So who would be responsible for making the most of personal data? How to ensure the custom integration work is in place in case of a headless architecture since the front-end and the back-end are disconnected (otherwise personalized content won’t be possible) etc. There is a need to define new roles to capitalize on the journey of digital transformation.  

  1. Understanding the utility of cloud, APIs, microservices etc.: Being agile and being open to testing and experimentation without impacting business continuity is a critical aspect for airlines as the likes of full-service carriers have always been process-centric. The utility of microservices comes to the fore when businesses consider synergy in the application development process. The strength lies in breaking applications into smaller, independent services that are not dependent upon a specific coding language. This way airlines or travel e-commerce end up having more flexibility over operations and deployments. When it comes to changing the way purchasing flow works or the check-in process, these tend to be relatively big IT projects. But when it comes to aspects like microservices, O’Shaughnessy contemplates the possibility of appointing a project manner, responsible for “getting something done quickly and get out of the door in an agile way”. In a positive development, proactive airlines are embracing an open-first culture within their development teams. This underlines the fact latest capabilities are deliberated first with a perspective that any member/ team could potentially use them.
  1. Attaining customer-centricity with responsibility: If on one hand airlines have been building on a core data asset with a perspective that if a company can’t access their own customer data, airlines can’t even get close to attaining customer-centricity, then on the other they also need to respect privacy, too. In fact, it is being pointed out that developments such as General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR (coming into force in Europe on 25th May this year) are also resulting in a meaningful digital transformation. There is no scope for companies that mishandle/ misuse data. Also, rather than considering security and customer experience separately, this development paves way for a more holistic view of the customer experience. As we highlighted in one of our recent articles, there is a need to be aware of registered consent when accessing customer data (so data coming from any touchpoint and system, the related computation or processing of data is to be done in sync with consent, assess how the data is being used, what data is being used and for how long that data can be used), address data audits in a speedy, exhaustive manner (say who has been accessing data) and ensure there is consent across all touchpoints (including integration with consent registration databases). The core data asset, say a customer data platform, needs to collect, manage, and store personal data responsibly.
  1. Omni-channel shopping and servicing: There is plenty to look forward to in this arena as to how a core data asset blends with core airline systems/ engines. How can airlines bank on business rules and control content for each customer to get closer to personalization? How to ensure new processes, such as IATA’s One Order, can be incorporated into an airline’s IT set up to come up with a consistent experience across the booking funnel? There are lots of interesting developments in this arena. Airlines are being pushed to expect a lot more their respective PSSs, especially full-service carriers. There is a need to opt for a platform that’s a blend of both offer and order management, standing out for business intelligence, passenger identification module etc. for a seamless journey (being aware of the current flight, current order, servicing needs etc.). Whether this platform becomes a part of a PSS or works alongside it, a master record would serve the travellers best, be it for shopping or servicing.

 

Hear from experts about digital transformation at the upcoming Ancillary Merchandising Conference, to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland this year (9-11 April, 2018).

For more info, click here                    

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Editorial: Converting PNRs into “Orders”, possible to do within the PSS?

First Published on 6th March, 2018

Ai Editorial: The option of going “off-PSS” is being explored as airlines gear up for data-driven retailing plus servicing via all of their touchpoints. How are technology companies responding, probes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Over a period of time certain processes were created for running airlines and as a result, the industry today is run by complex processes.

For example, order and payment processes don’t tend to feature in the same systems. Carriers have two distinct ways for identifying the same transaction: the PNR (the order, used for operations and fulfilment) and the electronic ticket, a confirmation of the payment mechanism. As Triometric also explained in one of their blog postings, different legacy systems – an operation’s (reservations) system and a financial (payments) system – are still being separately maintained. Today much of the data in PNRs and ETs is replicated, as there are two distinct processes, airlines end up performing a reconciliation process in the back office. And what if an ancillary offering is bought direct whereas the air ticket was purchased through an intermediary! Hopefully these processes are going to be simplified in the future.

One area that is being looked at is refining of the order management process, through the concept of a single customer order record. According to the IATA, this would capture all data elements obtained and required for order fulfillment of air travel. The plan is to do away with multiple reservation records as well as e-ticket/EMD concepts to be replaced by a single reference travel document. So the plan is to work out one simplified and standardized order management process.

So how do the emerging One Order Management and Offer Management systems/ platforms work with the existing technology?

“As technology specialists craft new offerings, it is being witnessed that these emerging systems are going to work along with the PSS. “This integration is a big point of discussion in the industry today. Today most of the new solutions around Order and Offer Management are working alongside the traditional PSS (so that the operational aspects of managing the airline such as managing check-ins, notifications to the government, security etc. remain undisturbed). The new solution does the bundling, packaging, personalization etc.,” said a source. “But most of the “newer” generation PSSs, the likes of Radixx, Navitaire, IBS…are indicating that One Order Management and Offer Management can be done along with the PSS. And this is going to be interesting, how this shapes up over the next few years.” The source further added, “In general, technology companies that are working out One Order Management and Offer Management within the PSS are the ones that have been “largely” associated with the LCC set up.”  

Those technology companies that don’t own the PSS have been working on a platform that’s a blend of both offer and order management, standing out for business intelligence, passenger identification module etc. for a seamless journey (being aware of the current flight, current order, servicing needs etc.). It would also mean that the platform, running in parallel to an airline’s PSS, would feature complete PSS booking connectivity and document process capability, converting PNR into “orders”. So PSS would pass on information to the NDC platform, where master record would be stored. The blend counts on historical details provided by the order management system and this vital, real-time business intelligence is leveraged in personalisation of offers.

But what about converting PNR into “orders” within the PSS, is it possible? “In case of a PNR-based system that has been around for three decades or more, it is going be very hard to do the same within the system. In case relatively new architectures are involved, then the same can be streamlined much faster,” mentioned a source.

New offerings are being planned. The recent launch of TravelSky Technology’s QUICK Passenger Retailing System (PRS), a hybrid system that encompasses features from a traditional Passenger Service Solution (PSS) and blends them with e-commerce tools is a tactic to capitalize on the emerging opportunity of retailing. This system has been created from the beginning, and at a time when NDC and OneOrder are gaining prominence, according to Lars Gaebler, Director - Marketing and Sales QUICK PRS, TravelSky Technology. The new launch, one that has been in making for two years, has been worked out for medium- and small-sized carriers. The QUICK PRS is ready to move away from traditional passenger name records, electronic tickets etc. and similarly, it features XML API based on NDC. “Our system considers orders rather than e-tickets,” says Gaebler.

 

How are the likes of Amadeus, Sabre, Travelport, TravelSky, Farelogix, Datalex, JR Technologies, OpenJaw Technologies, IBS Software etc. gearing up for new processes and accordingly shaping up their offerings? Hear from experts at the upcoming Ancillary Merchandising Conference, to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland this year (9-11 April, 2018).

More details on that here:  www.AncillaryMerchandising.com                        

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Editorial: Emotional data in travel shopping - is it knocking on the doors of realism?

First Published on 23rd February, 2018

Ai Editorial: Facial coding or voice analytics can definitely help in understanding how travellers feel or what their intent is. But the key question here is - with advancements in science, technology, data, devices etc., how to bring in a tinge of realism for all of this to work, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Understanding heart rate variability while browsing hotels on a website or ascertaining the emotional engagement of a traveller during an interaction with an in-flight attendant is fascinating to say the least.

How all of this, which is a part of bio-analytics technology, can shape up a conversion or a travel experience is one area that can’t be ignored.

IoT devices typically send more data than the average technical product, this means such data has to be processed and analyzed in real-time. Think of smart sensors that allow users to track data such as heart rate, skin temperature, and activity levels on connected devices, and what all can be derived about users of these devices in the future. Adobe recently highlighted the utility of evaluating “mood” based on voice analytics as well as a reaction based on facial recognition. So how about analyzing the reaction of a human being even as they interact with a digital asset? Adobe recently referred to a “rising heartbeat” and a “change in body temperature” in response to an ad or a piece of content. There is already reference to algorithms analyzing how people feel about an ad by tracking their facial expressions. The prowess of emotional data can really lift an experience to another level.

The ability to analyze and visualize an emotional response and counting on it as a metric in the digital world is too tempting. This way travel brands can go beyond usual metrics such as clicks or time spent on watching a video to understand the intent of travellers. Of course, keywords or clicks can ascertain to an extent what the user is looking for, but the mechanism needs to be refined especially considering how today’s devices are streaming data.

 

Knowing a traveller better

The way emotional data can contribute in a positive experience or a conversion is fascinating. The source of data could be wearables, facial recognition technology etc. going deeper into every profile’s heart rate, electrodermal activity (variation in the skin conductance), facial reactions etc.

Say a traveller is keen on finalizing a destination or a hotel room for a holiday. This travellers watches loads of photos, videos etc. and there are few places that fall in the consideration set. What if there was way to know which content resulted in joy or surprise or even a smile? Can the capturing of facial expression and behavorial data (the way mouse is used, pattern of clicks etc.) be co-related to the response to the content what one came across?

Consider following possibilities:

  • Interaction with a digital asset: One way to know about an interaction is the number of clicks - was there any place in particular that was searched in detail? Was there any destination that immediately resulted in excitement? But how about blending emotions with clicks? How this gets sorted is a work in progress, but imagine the possibilities of knowing a traveller better. So if a user clicks on Edinburgh-related videos and Barcelona-related ones in one session, emotional data could well be the key to knowing how a session went, and what possibly needs to be done to make an impact in the booking funnel.  
  • Retargeting: So how about a retargeted ad based on an emotion captured while browsing hotel options on brand.com or OTA.com? Rather than showing 5 properties browsed for a particular location, which one or two evoked a better emotional response could be showed again. May be the exact creative or video that was the highlight of the browsing. This is where brain research, changes tied to the blood flow, the resulting emotion etc. is being co-related with the text or other content resonating most strongly.
  • Offline interaction: Equating a conversation on the day of travel and feeding this into data platform of an airline. Technology (where the tone analysis translates attributes like happiness, sadness or anger) here would contribute in a big way.

Bringing in realism

Considering Robert Plutchik’s psychoevolutionary theory of emotion (eight primary emotions—anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy), it is by no means an easy task to incorporate the same into the world of retailing, especially all of this in real-time. Still how travellers react emotionally while using a touchpoint or app is worthy of evaluation. All of this becomes more important considering that airlines, hotels, OTAs, meta-search engines etc. are also experimenting with VR technology, chatbots and even emotional and artificial intelligence-powered “digital humans” (Air New Zealand chose one to impress guests by answering questions about New Zealand as a tourist destination).   

The question here is - with advancements in science, technology, data, devices etc., how to bring in a tinge of realism for all of this to work?

Say you choose to deal with a “digital human” and you are excited, you are in command. Even if this representative crosses the hurdle of answering basic questions that it is designed for, how about going deeper by blending bioanalytics in real-time and coming up with best possible answer in terms of making the most of the profile of the traveller (past history, preferences etc.), backed by apt business rules for content, merchandising etc.

The blend of artificial intelligence, cognitive computing and emotional data could well lend a new dimension to ascertaining how a traveller “feels” and accordingly delivering the best possible customer service or an ad or a digital experience.

 

Hear from experts about data strategy and making the most of the same at the upcoming Ancillary Merchandising Conference, to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland this year (9-11 April, 2018).

For more info, click here

                        

For Ai’s 2018 Events, check - www.aieventdates.com

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

Ai Editorial: To count on AI, ML and DL, bank on astute data strategy

First Published on 15th February, 2018

Ai Editorial: For one to reap maximum benefits from artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and deep learning (DL), there has to be a meticulous acquisition of data, making it worthy of use, further propelled by “training” and “re-training” of models to deliver, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

It’s pulsating to assess how the ever-improving statistical, data-driven systems and algorithms to interpret patterns in data sets can shape the future of every interaction, every experience with travellers.

Considering the fact AI and machine learning demand substantial time and proficiency to get going, airlines need to lay a solid foundation for their respective data strategies. But that doesn’t tend to be the case with this industry.

“Airlines (over the years) have largely focused on safety and operations, running their operations. Even as certain carriers have made progress with their data strategy to refine their merchandising, customer service etc., typically in case of mid-size airlines they still “don’t know who their customers are”,” points out Binay Warrier, Head of Business Development, Loyalty & CRM, IBS Software Services.

And among those who initiate data-driven decision-making, “some operate a basic CRM to support their marketing function”. “One issue that has been with airlines is usage of different systems for booking data, at the airport (such as departure control system) etc. So, if interactions happen at the airport or transactions take place, or even data is available based on the in-flight experience, all of this is disjointed, doesn’t give one picture of the traveller. If one were to assess the airline purchase journey, there is shopping around not just fares – but also destination, scheduling, air- and non-ancillaries etc. The booking window varies considering leisure and business travel. Airlines are in a unique position where they hold a relationship in a transaction for the lengthiest amount of time,” said Warrier. As it turns out, there is an opportunity to communicate, right from dreaming to booking to consumption of the product to the post-travel era.

And this can be meaningful only if data is captured, pooled, processed, analyzed, visualized and action is taken in methodical way, and for that a data platform is must.  

The ultimate goal is to bring together multiple identifiers and connect them to work out a unique traveller profile.

Key aspects are as follows:

Preparation: Readiness is an issue, as availability of data doesn’t mean that it would result in insights. “In case of carriers that have been around for a while, it is not easy to embark on a data strategy by leveraging an available platform. The way they (airlines) are handling data today it is not easy to take information out of that, process it, store it in a way for serving a future purpose/ running analytics on that. That’s an important aspect, plus can be a costly affair too. So that’s where data cleansing, deduplication, integration, pool management etc. comes into play.  Also, a gap analysis or missing pieces of action needs to be factored in,” mentioned Warrier. It is also asserted that an organization needs to be ready for issues around data quality, metadata management, access, sharing, ownership, security etc. This also needs to be considered along with data strategy plan, change management, execution, testing and learning, and measurement metrics etc. Critical questions that need to be answered include data ownership, ascertaining the quality of data, refining of data architecture etc.

Capturing data: The sum of all interactions/ requests can only be incorporated in a profile if data is captured. An airline needs to unify data from several sources – CRM, from staff/ call centre interactions, booking flow metrics, purchase data, from social applications etc. “Profile data, transactional data, mobile and social data – these are basic requirements for setting up a profile,” mentioned Warrier.

Today’s data platforms are capable of storing data from any internal or external source, as well as unstructured data. Overall, airlines should be able to integrate, cleanse, standardize and dedupe data to create a single view of the traveller by merging all of the available online and offline data.

As we highlighted in our article earlier this week, JetBlue today is able to aggregate a single view of the customer (on service channels). So all interactions (say featuring a JetBlue account on Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram etc. or an interaction at the airport or with a call centre executive) are captured and aggregated into a single conversational view of a customer. If a conversation takes place between passenger at the airport and the airline staff, then how about analyzing the same without any privacy issues? Today, as IBM asserts, technology is in place to “capture the audio of the conversations and run speech-to-text and tone analysis directly on the device, thus completely avoiding sending any sensitive data to the cloud”. Essentially what is being done is “tone analysis” and this can be equated with attributes like happiness, sadness or anger. Such insights can go a long way in coming up with a relevant recommendation when the passenger interacts or attempts a booking next time.

Working on data: Cleanliness of the available data would decide the efficacy of the whole exercise, with key to same being cutting down on the size of the data set and paving way for algorithms to examine the same. Other areas include refining the integrity of the data as well as doing away with irrelevant/ pointless information, which is part of transformation. “De-duping, cleansing is fundamental to identify the unique customer (find missing and inaccurate parts of the information) are the main starting steps…you may run algorithms or even incentivize the customer to share correct information,” mentioned Warrier. And then curation is equally important. So it could be about blending – demographic information, online behavior (website visit, purchase etc.), in-app behavior (sessions, last opened etc.), email interactions, social media activity and offline interactions.

A core objective is to assess the flow of travellers and that data across their journey. This way an airline can evaluate where internal or technological silos may exist that affect the passenger experience.

Also, data platforms work in conjunction with marketing software, plus pull or push results to 3rd party reporting and visualization tools. Plus these data platforms, blended with AI and ML, result in identification of patterns and the likelihood of certain behavior. After working out profiles and evaluating identities across devices, travel companies can:

  • Deploy algorithmic audience modeling capabilities to capitalize on what an organization knows about their most valuable audience segments and rely on the same to discover new audiences with the same potential value.
  • Use data-driven marketing tools like cross-channel analytics, predictive analytics, and advanced personalization to shape up desired customer experiences.

 

Hear from experts about data strategy and making the most of AI and ML at the upcoming Ancillary Merchandising Conference, to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland this year (9-11 April, 2018).

For more info, click here

                        

For Ai’s 2018 Events, check - www.aieventdates.com

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Video: How can airlines embrace "digital agility"?

First Published on 8th February, 2018

Airlines, like any organization that is vying to make every customer interaction a meaningful one, have to ensure they gear up for digital transformation in an earnest manner.

One of the challenges that a process-centric business like running an airline often face is how to deal with change. This includes streamlining of the organizational structure i. e. how various work roles and responsibilities are delegated, controlled and coordinated as well as making the most of microservices application architecture, APIs etc. So how can airlines refine their processes or digital assets, most specifically the ones that deal with passenger journeys? How to go about accepting payments via a new alternative payment method - for instance, testing WeChat or Alipay payment options with the elite members of an airline.  

“There is a lot of pressure on airlines to deliver new experiences to passengers,” acknowledges Kevin O’Shaughnessy, CEO and co-founder, Indigo.gt. So there is a constant need to evaluate mobile interfaces, web interfaces, and even service touchpoints. In this context, there is reference to “microservices”, an approach under which applications are broken down into smaller, independent services, that are not dependent upon a specific coding language. Eventually there is synergy in the application development process. This airlines or travel e-commerce end up having more flexibility over operations and deployments.

When it comes to changing the way purchasing flow works or the check-in process, these tend to be relatively big IT projects. But when it comes to aspects like microservices, O’Shaughnessy contemplates the possibility of appointing a project manner, responsible for “getting something done quickly and get out of the door in an agile way”. This is an interesting approach to product development for the airline project manager. So consider the option of “microservices for your own project”, in addition to big IT projects and other approaches to IT set up, he added. “In case of a quick (and a fairly smaller) project, one could possibly turn to microservices (so typically a case of a software development for one service, might be an API or plug into something else) and chances the airline IT team already using associated services. So it could be about finding a way to running an experiment quickly,” explained O’Shaughnessy.

 

Hear from experts about optimising digital assets at the upcoming Ancillary Merchandising Conference, to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland this year (9-11 April, 2018).

For more info, click here

For Ai’s 2018 Events, check - www.aieventdates.com

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Editorial: How to support digital assets for them to be “real” assets?

First Published on 5th February, 2018

Ai Editorial: Technology continues to evolve and airlines have to come to grips how the same is facilitating sublime passenger experiences, especially via a digital asset, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta  

 

Airline-owned digital assets need to keep pace with the latest advancements, varying from relying on artificial intelligence to automate personalization to contextual delivery of content to embracing agility for product development.

Some of the emerging developments that airlines need to consider:

Flexibility over operations and deployments: “There is a lot of pressure on airlines to deliver new experiences to passengers,” acknowledges Kevin O’Shaughnessy, CEO and co-founder, Indigo.gt. So there is a constant need to evaluate mobile interfaces, web interfaces, and even service touchpoints. In this context, there is reference to “microservices”, termed as an advancement of the service-oriented architecture design. In this case there is one complicated application that is divided into smaller bits that are simpler to develop and test against. Each microservice has a self-contained set of functional duties and easier to support. Thus airlines or travel e-commerce end up having more flexibility over operations and deployments.

When it comes to changing the way purchasing flow or the check-in process works, these tend to be relatively big IT projects. But when it comes to aspects like microservices, O’Shaughnessy contemplates the possibility of appointing a project manner, responsible for “getting something done quickly and get out of the door in an agile way”. This is an interesting approach to product development for the airline project manager. So consider the option of “microservices for your own project”, in addition to big IT projects and other approaches to IT set up, he added. “In case of a quick (and a fairly smaller) project, one could possibly turn to microservices (so typically a case of a software development for one service, might be an API or plug into something else) and chances are that the airline IT team would already be using associated services. So it could be about finding a way to running an experiment quickly,” explained O’Shaughnessy. Of course, the big picture doesn’t change, but this methodology brings in agility to embracing new concepts – for instance, testing WeChat or Alipay payment options with the elite members of an airline. The role of application programming interface (APIs) in formulating flexible ecommerce architecture can’t be understated.

Talking of mobile or web interfaces, increasingly there is focus on decoupling the front-end user interface of the ecommerce storefront from the main commerce offering. Such methodology ensures quicker crafting of experiences that upkeep with various platforms and devices or chip in with new travel products.  

As for moving infrastructure into the cloud, it is time to leverage today’s technology at a much lower cost, and avail the benefit of scaling it up. Airlines consider factors such as such as security (the role of technologies such as encryption and tokenisation comes into the picture) as well as connecting legacy applications to the cloud at enterprise scale.

 

Experience optimization: Capabilities of the content management system available today is one area that needs to be factored in, first with the proliferation of different devices that didn’t use HTML and also with the Internet of Things. But the delivery of content as per the device being used is just one aspect. E-commerce players also need to able to create and edit content in context, and pave way for personalized experiences. The customer experience ends up being decoupled as well. This would limit the ability to personalize the overall experience. 

As highlighted in a previous article, there is a balancing act that needs to be managed, when there is consideration of headless or coupled. Of course, with a headless content management system, one can create and store content that is device agnostic. On the contrary, as Sitecore points out, “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” capabilities that let users create and edit content in context aren’t there with headless. Since personalisation calls for gathering and study of user interaction data from the front-end in order to optimise personalised experiences from the back-end, it requires loads of custom integration work in a headless architecture since the front-end and the back-end are disconnected. Content management, be it for going for an architecture that supports delivery of content for emerging technologies and all devices, or adopting personalisation rules that tailor a site content based on visitors’ profiles is one key area that is demanding action in a swift manner. So when it comes to a headless content management system, Sitecore asserts that such architecture should be used by “digitally mature” entities that are capable of managing “customer experiences in context of how users interact with your brand”. Further adds, it should work for those “whose digital properties are personalized, who regularly test and optimize those experiences, and whose organizations are set up to be customer-centric.” Then only one should expect to manage the balance between contextualized digital experiences and standout app user interfaces.

Counting on machine learning: The application of machine learning in managing e-commerce fraud is coming to the core. The issue of fraud or account takeover can also hamper the user experience. As much as consumers experiment and embrace new forms of payment options, each new technological development introduces new avenues for fraud, meaning detection and prevention efforts need to be just as agile. Many fraud prevention methods introduce dilemmas between maximising revenue and minimising fraud – e.g. with more rules, implementation of 2FA or multifactor authentication fraud rates can be lowered, yet more genuine customers will be blocked; on the other hand, with less rules and lax authentication to maximize revenue, merchants will be more vulnerable to fraud attacks.

Companies can defend themselves adequately by using a tool like machine learning, and at the same time there needs to be reliance on rules and the human component (intervention and feedback) as well. The power of machine learning is still in the supervised state as of today. Typically, the supervised machine learning technique focuses on a cycle of training, predicting, and acting stages. Of course, airlines need to look around data quality and data volume in terms of how clean that is to capitalize on machine learning. Once a virtuous data pipeline is in place, it can be built upon with machine learning models, with rules, and create tools to help the team analyze problem areas such as account takeover.

 

Hear from experts about optimising digital assets at the upcoming Ancillary Merchandising Conference, to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland this year (9-11 April, 2018).

For more info, click here

 

For Ai’s 2018 Events, check - www.aieventdates.com

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Video: How is web personalization shaping up?

First Published on 15th January, 2018

Computing power, algorithms, airline-specific IT offerings, front-end technology and customer profiling will lend a new dimension to personalization. The interplay of all these will come into play to deliver a relevant, contextual, personalised experience.

For instance, preparing for segmentation and profiling in order to identify a customer, counting on a bunch of contextual signals resulting from the user’s mobile device along predictive AI technology behind recommendations for travel means that a traveller would be exposed to messages or deals that they are likely to respond to. This will help in stepping up the probability of a conversion. Also, as Kenneth Purcell, CEO, iSeatz points out, front-end technology is making rapid advancement in the industry.  “This is significant in terms showing the different search results, how the entire page is rendered and paving way for segmentation all the way to user experience.  So looking at the APIs, all of this needs to support sorting of the inventory, that is being outsourced, is done in a way that it is relevant for the user and the front-end is a layer on top of it. This would include using 3rd party tools or working them in-house to set up front-end in a more personalised way,” says Purcell.   

E-commerce specialists point out that the efficacy of content management systems is also coming to the fore when it comes to managing, personalizing, publishing, viewing and comparing different page versions.

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Ai Editorial: More clicks = more confusion = no confidence in a travel booking!

First Published on 8th January, 2017

Ai Editorial: Returning to a booking path only to face more friction or being exposed to irrelevant ads/ emails post booking cart abandonment are areas that travel e-commerce players need to look into, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Checking OTA sites, brand.com, review sites and repeating the process to verify the authenticity of whatever is being offered is quite common among travellers.

But when the intent is clear, let’s say dates, property chosen, social context, type of travel… even then making a potential booker work for more is unimaginable. There are certain inconsistencies in the travel booking path that both OTAs as well as hotels need to take care off. A summary of experiences resulting from two finished bookings done in last few days:

·          Inconsistent chatbot: It isn’t uncommon to receive an email for completing an unfinished booking. Returning to where you left off and completing a booking in a couple of clicks or even clearing any doubt via a chatbot is fine, but what if the chatbot fails? In case of booking.com, one click facilitated by an email takes to Booking.com Facebook chatbot. But the chatbot failed on two occasions for two different bookings. Even if the user provides the same information (for example, package for 3 nights from March 23rd, 2016 for two adults and one child 11 years, Novotel Goa Resort and Spa) for the same property that wasn’t booked, then also the chatbot returns “Oops, this invitation is invalid” message. On another occasion, it did provide with the visual of the property and key information (such as price, ratings, reviews and picture of the room). Booking can be finished in a couple of minutes. But there are times when the chatbot also showed inconsistency, returned results for a property in another country. On repeated attempts it did work but that might not be the case with every traveller.

On another note, a chatbot might be prepared for only a certain type of interaction. But that doesn’t serve the purpose; a touchpoint needs to be ready. Few limitations:

-       Don’t be surprised if the chatbot isn’t able to recognize a booking that a user has completed (whose name chatbot is aware of and the app is also installed on the same device). 

-       All talk around targeting the “second wallet” needs introspection. Even if the user checks the possibility of an in-trip excursion post a booking, the chatbot is clueless.

-       If a search engine can understand certain keywords, why does the chatbot fail miserably on this count? This doesnt sound a customer-centric proposition especially when chabots are being prepared to deliver a personalised service. 

At a time, when travel marketers are contemplating how to be in control of every click or interaction, even that is taking place on 3rd party platforms, this state of affairs is indicates the level for scope for improvement.

·          Irrelevant messaging: A booking completed via an OTA, and still coming across sponsored links for returning to the booking path is a possibility.  When travel e-commerce players, especially OTAs, are sending emails after every abandoned session, why aren’t they ready to make the most of the interaction made for a specific booking or even based on bookings in the past?

For instance, the likes of Booking.com need to go beyond an offering like discount that can be availed by their regular buyers (“genius” bookers). A traveller, who has travelled more than 5 times in one year and booked with family members (looking at specific category of hotels/ resorts, certain type of rooms etc.), can be recommended with options rather filling same options again and again. So, for instance, once an indication about a destination is given along with the dates, then why not to come up with curated options? Every piece of communication or offer should be about making the user do less and bridging the gap between planning and booking. But, as of now, the options are too broad and leaving room for confusion or too much search on the part of the traveller.

·          Ambiguity about value: Comparison shopping is inevitable. Hotels, even the established chains, don’t give much confidence to shoppers at times.

For the same property (Novotel Goa Resorts and Spa), both on the hotel site and OTA.com, there is a category of room that apparently has a staircase (indicating separate living room and bedroom) but there is no video or virtual imagery on the hotel site that can confirm the same. Even a call to the call centre at the time of booking isn’t sufficient. Only the property can confirm the details about the room.

Similarly, in case of booking.com, if you book for 2 adults plus 1 child with breakfast included, there is no clarity whether the hotel/ chain would end up charging for the child’s breakfast or not.

The industry needs to counter certain issues that are related to content and technology that can prolong the booking procedure. Dropping off again, even when the intent is to book or complete a transaction isn’t a good sign. Also, when travellers are inclined to use a certain channel for a booking, why not make the most of this opportunity by showing content and consequently booking options that complement the other aspects of the trip. Retargeting without sharp, precise messaging or friction-filled booking needs to be taken care of.

 

For Ai’s 2018 Events, check - www.aieventdates.com

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Ai Editorial: Doing away with “search” on a travel ecommerce site - is it the next holy grail?

First Published on 21st December, 2017

Ai Editorial: The “engine room” of search and booking may be tough to change from the outside-in. But this shouldn’t stop the industry from experimenting, looking at areas like recognizing a visitor, moments of inspiration, assessing the style of travel, deals, social context etc., writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

The gap between what and where to book to finally completing a transaction for a trip is rather a prolonged one, fragmented over sessions, devices etc. The tussle to overcome this challenge is an interesting one, and as we approach the end of 2017 certain interesting possibilities are cropping up.

One of them is related to doing away with the “search” functionality on OTA.com, a meta-search site or airline.com.

Targeting travellers early in the booking funnel and monetizing every user who ends up using an airline’s digital assets is increasingly gaining significance, but the fact remains that evaluating options remains a core issue. Why one really needs to share starting point and the end point of a journey to book an airline ticket? This aspect where one has to identify a destination and then further search for fares or offers around it is being questioned.   

The “search” problem

During the recently held, Ai’s MegaEvent in Palm Springs, California, this issue of making a customer search first and then book was discussed. Imagine, for first time traveller, who is trying to stay in Windsor, UK – how challenging is it for him to evaluate – how far a hotel is going to be and how to arrive from Gatwick, Luton, Heathrow or Stansted? So tabs featuring dates and location (from and to), the functionalities shouldn’t be about making users to do more – for instance, first think of what to do, then search, then choose from a selection of options etc. Planning a trip (be it for finalising a destination or a trip or selecting a flight or a room etc.) should be less tedious. 

“When system works a certain way, we try and make users work the same way. That’s natural way of thinking (sticking to the same pattern of search). But that doesn’t mean something novel or nifty can’t be built around it (a prime example of the latter is what meta-search engines have done around search). There is room for plenty of innovation that can be done if one of the variables is changed around how search is being done...how it happens in the background probably wouldn’t change for next 10 years. But how the user interacts/ uses can be changed, the moments of inspiration, what the moments of transaction…can be altered,” pointed out Kevin O’Shaughnessy, CEO and co-founder, Indigo.gt

 

Delving deeper, O’Shaughnessy recommends: “Think of this as if you’re designing another part of your service landscape. The first thing we do when booking as ask “from where”. It’s not the most engaging and, if your digital and marketing teams are going about this the right way, they’ll have guests visiting again and again, only to be greeted by the same question every time. Recognize a repeat visitor, whether direct, SEO or dumped mid-flow from meta-search and start to engage. This would apply from high frequency travellers, leisure or once-in-a-lifetime trips.” He added, “Passengers may not know their destination airport for example: in that case the traffic will start on search engines, or be referred by a someone else. Their destination may be flexible, but time inflexible: where can they go this weekend for their budget for a city break? Use progressive sign-up account creation for one-off trips: this means that you can build a profile for the guest, adding a little information over time to their account. This is particularly simple on web, almost expected by users on mobile.” 

“In a nutshell, start building loyalty and customer service before the booking even starts, not after. It will help differentiate from the get-go,” he said.   

There have been specialists that are focusing on recommendations (could be based on content, for instance, matches with a traveller loves to do or use their knowledge of a particular city and assess what’s similar in a new destination they would probably visit). It is about taking out uncertainty as soon as possible, and quickly build affiliation with the user by offering them what they could possibly like!

For instance, LikeWhere, an Irish company focuses on a specific niche of travel - personalising destination discovery. Their software analyses cities and breaks them down into neighbourhoods, and then enables airlines to match locations to the lifestyle preferences of their customers. The company validates all their data with a global network of local bloggers.  “We have found to deliver a nuanced recommendation, it is essential to humanise our data, but that certainly isn’t the case across all the verticals of travel. Once we establish certain parameters with a customer we use machine learning to add value, through informing more contextual recommendations. Our product enables airlines to begin their customer lifecycle earlier in the inspiration phase which positions them for the booking/ancillaries – that’s where the monetization is,” explained Matt Walker, Chief Storyteller, LikeWhere.    

Moving towards change

So how to bring in such a radical change? “Take loads of small steps and small experiments in a controlled way. Create a sandbox for quick experimentation, “fail fast, fail cheap”, work on feedback and evolve from there,” recommends O’Shaughnessy.

Do travellers really think of dates, destinations as they dream and plan or even book? To what extent the current way of searching is aligned with the functionalities offered? “Not necessarily (dates and location being always important). One of the traps one can fall into from the design perspective is to assume that everybody travels the same way. Think about the car sharing revolution in southern Europe – from France to Spain to Italy – according to Blablacar, this has created a net increase in mobility, rather than impacting flights and rail bookings. More travel to more destinations. Ask a travel-hungry centennial if they would prefer to travel less or more for the same budget. If one saves money, they can travel more. At the moment of transaction all flights are equal, but how you get to that transaction is as varied as people’s culture and personality,” said O’Shaughnessy.   

“Sometimes it seems that everyone travels differently and most believe they’re doing it right,” said O’Shaughnessy. “We'd like to think there was "one right way" we could use to build the perfect interactive system (or design our service landscape), but in reality, we need to keep touch-points broad, numerous and accessible for a range of different consumer behaviours.” 

“The more service you can leverage pre-booking, the better engagement you’ll have throughout the purchase occasion. As most digital teams may not be in direct control over the “deeper” parts of the PSS’s booking flow, and it may be resistant to innovation or experimentation, pre-booking engagement is an important factor in increasing conversion. The more ways you engage with search itself “weekend search”, “saved trips”, “travel preferences for pros” and more, increases the width of your funnel to allow for a higher quality of user engagement. This can happen earlier on in the booking process,” mentioned O’Shaughnessy.

“The "engine room" of search and booking may be tough to change from the outside-in. That doesn't mean that we can't experiment today with new layers which broaden the funnel and increase loyalty,” concluded O’Shaughnessy.

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Ai Editorial: Off-PSS for retailing, how many airlines are ready for it?

First Published on 6th December, 2017

Ai Editorial: 2017 witnessed a key tussle around whether airlines are going to do away with the packaged PSS deal or not. Options related to deconstructing some of the key components within the PSS are being assessed to refine retailing capabilities, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta  

 

Dynamic pricing, personalised offers, targeting the “second wallet”… all of this and more encompasses retailing in the travel sector today and airlines, too, are open to embracing the same.

So what needs to be done for the same, say adjusting pricing as per the shift in supply and demand, a practice that is an integral part of retailing today?

Of course, with certain travel technology specialists urging airlines to evolve in order to be in control of what and how they sell, the option of going “off-PSS” is being explored. No denying that as long as the majority of all the inventory is controlled the way it is being done now, there will only be change to a certain degree.

So is it time to move main components - merchandising, pricing, scheduling and availability – out of the PSS in order to create an offer that is under the control of the airline? Are more and more airlines looking at adjusting their IT set up, thereby separating operational and commercial aspects of their business? Or have the likes of Amadeus and Sabre managed to catch up and set to retain their contracts signed over the years?

The legacy IT assembly has had applications, using TPF. An experienced airline IT executive emphasised that the mainframe can still be persisted for its message processing capability. “Use the data which is there on the mainframe, but do that analysis offline,” he said. “The “legacy” systems are the core backend. Ancillary functionality e.g. to charge for seating, supplying nice user-friendly photos of seats and 3D views inside the aircraft must be done off the PSS. But the query to see if seat 40C or 54F is still available and the actual booking must be done via the core PSS. Technically, moving from EDIFACT onto XML is the way forward. IATA have started that with the AIDM – Airline Information Data Model, but it’s a long way to go.” As for the demand for an omnichannel retailing forcing airlines to re-think their entire PSS strategy, he said “offering car and hotel products can be done on the website as bolt-ons.”   

A senior industry executive, currently associated with a traditional travel B2B conglomerate, acknowledged that  the new offerings are interoperable, scalable and flexible, unlike proprietary applications used in the past. “So there is provision (with open-ended systems) to grow as when the need arises. But older players are moving, too, increasingly using open source applications (it is being highlighted that Amadeus turned off their last TPF-based application this year). Certainly the legacy systems need to be updated, so that airlines gets the maximum value. If the IT provider isn’t doing it, then it certainly calls for action on part of the airlines.”

We assess two scenarios of continuing with one vendor for the entire IT suite and using specialists for certain engines/ systems and going off-PSS in this case:

-       Level of risk and integration work post off-PSS

A couple of issues are being highlighted that can’t be overlooked while drifting away from the existing IT set up in-lieu of working out an offer dynamically via addition of offerings from a 3rd party vendor.

“Anything that has been done for a long period of time can be termed as legacy. So new players can find certain niche elements, and break it-off for improvement. That is how they will grow. But the original airline needs to remember – every system that is in place has a certain role to play, it is there for a reason. It is designed to work in totality with the entire product IT suite,” mentioned the executive. “Several systems talk to each other, and it works like a well-oiled machine. If you start breaking a part of it, on the narrow it looks great. At the same time, do assess what perspective you are losing.” So let’s say, there are options as far as merchandising is concerned, and a seat assignment can be handled, EMD can be issued, record a sale through the right channel etc. and a sale happened. In case, an irregular incident takes place – the plane gets delayed or flights are cancelled. Now the passenger needs to be protected on to the next flight, but is that information going to get translated into the DCS record of the passenger. So if it’s a 3rd party product, is it integrated to handle such cases or only integrated in the res system? Is the backward integration streamlined? If the airline needs to take care of the passenger manually (go into the record, what services paid for etc.) and make the adjustment, then it is an issue. “It (integration) is additional cost, and the work has to be done in case of different vendors becoming part of a suite. Do the new vendors have that level of expertise?” Considering all these factors, certain airlines are understandably averse to embracing change. For an industry that tends to prioritize safety and operations over anything else, change doesn’t come easy.

Amadeus, in an interview with Ai in August this year, acknowledged that even if an airline’s IT strategy features relevant/best of breed components from a range of suppliers they are ready to support it.

Overall, be it for organizational hurdles or reliance on business processes that are still based on the paper-based workflows or setting up the retail layer on top of the legacy systems, such issues can hamper the progress. So even as one talks of adjusting pricing as per the shift in supply and demand, such desired move might not be an instant possibility.  

-       Targeting cost reduction and incremental revenue by going off-PSS

There is no one process for shopping today. A request could come from any of the avenues – airline.com, meta-search, OTA, an offline travel agent…so an airline’s offer needs to be ready. The offer has to be correct, consistent - otherwise the passenger might not choose you.

Processing these shopping requests has to be cost-effective, too. The look-to-book ratio has sky-rocketed over the years, and it is one component that can’t be ignored by airlines. This issue has been addressed by certain players, transforming the economics of pricing and search (supported by live-transaction and pre-computed shopping model paving for shopping accuracy, sub-second speed etc.).  

Also, even as airlines are being “shopped” from an increasingly number of channels and the key is to increase the percentage of that look-to-book by marginal amounts. How to achieve the same? Airlines have to be dynamic – being able to generate offers on the spot every time there is a request.

“There are bunch of attributes that can go into an offer – loyalty data, O&D, predictive purchase analysis etc. The goal is to increase the conversion rate, post a shopping request. This won’t be possible, if airlines aren’t going to craft their own offers. By closely evaluating and studying dynamic pricing, airlines are increasing their take rates, be it for working with OTAs or any other 3rd party channel”, explained a source. So how does it offer flexibility? “So one may take any ATPCO filed fare or market price, and apply discounts or premium to that and create a price. And how about adding premium bundling on top of pricing? That’s the kind of control that is being targeted today, by working on tools that can result in incremental revenue.”

The attempt is to respond in the best possible manner to every inquiry coming into an airline’s system. So the plan should be to blend booking data and offer data.

Engines - merchandising, pricing, scheduling and availability –position airlines to maximize the opportunity as they are rules driven plus they also leverage predictive analytics. So it would be rules-based schedule building and off-PSS availability calculation, for example. In this context, the industry is witnessing certain players recommending PSS-agnostic connectivity with full offer and order management, and the NDC API fuelling all channels.  Are airlines going to do away with their respective packaged PSS deals, deconstructing some of the key components? “Technically, anything can be de-coupled, commercial considerations or even the desire to do it can be a question mark (in case of airlines)!,” said a source.

Every airline’s journey toward retailing is unique, but one question that continues to crop up is the agility of PSS. If the progress of an integrated IT suite isn’t up to the mark, then separation of operational and commercial aspects is imminent.

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