Ai Editorial: Emotional connection in loyalty – making it work

First Published on 19th December, 2018

Ai Editorial: When there is an intersection of attitudinal and behavioral loyalty, it results in an emotional level of connection. And that’s a sign of true loyalty. Ai’s Ritesh Gupta assesses where airlines stand in this arena.


The combination of technology, data, analytics and even new processes such as IATA’s One Order is expected to play a major role in fostering loyalty going forward.

But this journey is still in the preliminary stages for most of the airlines and there is a long way to go before all of it stitches together a formidable personalized delivery of service. Long way because even though airlines are evaluating and going for technology platforms that prioritize security as well as manage multiple, complex data sources, capturing data from every interaction is far from being a reality. A case in point is interactions on the day of travel – at the airport, at the gate, on-board etc. These can be vital sources of how a loyal passenger rates an experience and what can be done to improve the same and the consumption of the product.

Coming to grips with the gap

Studies have highlighted the issues associated with loyalty. Earlier this year, Google stressed that marketers must think about earning both - attitudinal loyalty (how loyal a traveler feels) and behavioral loyalty (how loyal a traveler acts). Attitudinal loyalty revolves around delivering superlative experiences and has strong ties into customer support. But it doesn't always translate into action. Behavioral loyalty, which might not be a true indicator of one’s satisfaction level, is whether or not customers act loyal by opting to book the same brand. To stand out and earn both attitudinal and behavioral loyalty, a brand has to excel and serve appropriately across a gamut of touchpoints. And one could be interacting via a personal device, at the check-in counter, a kiosk at the airport, at the gate, with a flight attendant etc. This looks like a herculean task if one hasn’t even started yet.


Airline and hotel loyalty expert, David Feldman, says, “When there is an intersection of attitudinal and behavioral loyalty, it results in an emotional level of connection. And that’s a sign of true loyalty.” He says it is imperative for brands to focus on the data aspect as well as the value proposition of the loyalty offering. Citing an example of a retail program, he said a customer can join a program, avail a discount coupon frequently and exhibit a habitual shopping pattern. It could denote behavioral loyalty, but may not necessarily result in an emotional connection. “Rather it would be prudent to act on the available data and ensure every push notification or email demonstrates certain value in the offers being sent (or even a piece of communication that is related to consumption of the product),” he said.

Value isn’t just about incremental revenue 

It is laborious to go deeper into serving across different phases of a journey, but airlines have to be ready to serve the traveller.

“Use data not only for offers but rather imagine what is the overall experience like for their loyal travellers. Experience needs to be less frustrating,” highlighted Feldman. Imagine a scenario where a loyal traveller prefers to sit on the aisle, and hasn’t booked such a seat. It is for the airline to understand such preference and offer whenever it can at an opportune time. What’s the point in the seat being available and the traveller noticing the same on his or her own? “Incremental revenue is a natural progression provided an airline is able to understand the journey better and even more importantly makes the journey comfortable and less frustrating,” said Feldman.

Work in progress 

For those who are in pursuit of recognizing each traveller by working out their respective unique profile, there are hurdles but nevertheless there are rewards to be reaped. For instance, as proposed with One Order, it would replace PNR, EMD and E-ticket, and combine the booking and ticketing records into a single customer focused order. Now if one blends this with past data available about each passenger, real-time data, continuously acting on it, and offering a relevant rules-driven automated signal to the staff at the airport, this would only help in servicing the loyal traveller better. 

Of course, there are areas that aren’t going to make all of this a breeze. One area which demands major attention is offline data – say interactions on the day of travel at the airport. The industry is trying to include emotional data into what is already available – transactional and behavioral data. Even as technology is improving to capture the same, airlines, like other organizations, aren’t yet clear with data privacy-related issues.

But airlines can’t sit idle and have to strive to understand travellers better. Otherwise they won’t be able to get closer to earning both attitudinal loyalty and behavioral loyalty.


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