Ai Editorial: Personalisation at scale –what’s the journey like?

First Published on 20th October, 2017

Ai Editorial: How an organization that has embarked on a journey to personalise every interaction is going about the same? Ai’s Ritesh Gupta gains an insight from the travel industry, some dos and don’ts for getting closer to personalisation.


Personalisation requires clear vision, resources and investment.

From the outset, the roadmap needs to be clear. So how the graph of personalisation is moving along, the entire organisation needs to be aware of.

Here is the journey of one airline that is still in middle of the same, but is actually delivering personalised experiences on certain touchpoints. So if one on hand, a passenger, who is willing to upgrade seat at the boarding gate might not get recognised, but the same passenger when interacts with the in-flight staff can be identified. “We have digital dashboards for crew (on-board), but still lacking digital tools (for the airport environment,” shared an airline executive. “But do remember personalisation is a never ending story, there is a need to start somewhere, and don’t try to include all the touchpoints from the beginning. Even if an airline starts with personalisation, preferably for individuals, they would be be able to generate additional revenue and loyalty.”


So the journey of this airline, especially on digital touchpoints, for relevant recommendations and messaging, and seamless, unified experience, has been as follows:

Start with segmentation and make steady progress to rules-driven personalisation. This means setting up and further reworking on business rules that are utilised against clusters of visitors, based on information one can garner about users. This stage is generally based on relatively broader categories – for instance, starting with location or gender specific targeting to an advanced phase like one who has travelled to one particular destination possibly would be interested in another location. Next step before an airline moves onto an analytics-driven phase, could be narrowing down of segments. So a digital touchpoint is equipped to show targeted, relevant content but at this stage personalisation is around logic-based rules to decide on images or videos to be shown to the visitor. One might finalise rules based on the IP address, physical location, keywords etc. Another aspect that has been around is variation in what is being shown to customers on a travel e-commerce website based on the behavior of the user (banking on visitor profiles and pattern-card matching to dynamically alter the content). For this also, rules are finalised.

The second major component is progressing toward algorithmic personalisation, where one initiates with a relatively broad set of recommendations to ones that are specifically meant for an individual.    

It is also interesting to assess how some of the start-ups or 3rd party specialists can also play their part in personalisation, possibly without any access to data from the airline. (For instance, usage of machine learning in personalising destination discovery, helping airlines to begin their customer lifecycle earlier in the inspiration phase which positions them for the booking/ancillaries – that’s where the monetization is). Of course, airlines would be much better placed with a diligent data strategy in place which would help them to work better with such 3rd party specialists, and then they can even go for better recommendations on their websites or apps.

Significance of data

All through data needs to collected and acted upon via a central hub for the entire entity to come in unison as the journey allows. Three key points:

·          “For any airline to achieve personalisation at scale – the success lies in being able to unite all of their data,” shared an executive. “At some point, the issue of increased complexity would arise, but that’s where involving data science and decision making algorithms would assist.” As highlighted by Boxever, data-driven organisations ensure their customer data collection fits in with constantly evolving behavior based on their context. So if an airline doesn’t end up connecting the dots and act on the context of a situation, then it would end up missing out on optimizing the experience.

·          Also, move towards “operationalising” actionable data. “It is imperative to interact with passengers across channels from one core hub and having an ability to answer swiftly and aptly in context.”

·          Airlines also need to plan for how to set up rules and decisions for all channels, so even if starting with one channel – so say offer or deal for one channel, how the same can be established for all digital plus say offline channel e. g. boarding gate at the airport.

Other than data (which alone cannot facilitate change), certain areas that require attention from the beginning include:

·          Delivery of content: How would an airline deliver dynamic content, what sort of architecture is needed for the same? Also, what would it take to adopt omni-channel approach to content management? The content ideally needs to be crafted once and the organization should be able to reuse it on multiple digital properties without the need for duplication. Explore the pros and cons of coupled versus decoupled web content management architecture (for instance, in case of coupled architecture while the initial setting up is simple, scaling up is one issue. As for headless CMS can result in freedom while finalizing on a front-end user interface technology say for an app, on the flip side the CX or customer experience ends up being decoupled as well.  This would limit the ability to personalize the overall experience).  

·          “Make sure there is at least something to begin with, to personalize – a certain category of products and content to play with,” shared a source.

·          As highlighted in one of our previous articles featuring Vueling Airlines, do evaluate the cost of implementing personalisation. There is evidence that personalisation is profitable because it drives conversion up, but there is also evidence that it only works when you get it right and only on a highly segmented audience. As a consequence, you have to be careful with the cost, both economic –high investment is needed- and also opportunity cost.

·          Don’t rush to eradicate the problem of silos. Be careful about pushing for a sudden change. People aren’t going to be responsive to “new jobs, new skills, and new people to work with” resulting from drastic steps. Don’t risk the continuity of teams


Hear from experts about unique challenges that airlines face as they attempt customer-centricity at the upcoming 8th Mega Event Worldwide, to be held in Palm Springs, CA, USA (29 November – 1 December, 2017).

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