How airlines in ASEAN are enhancing customer experience

Established companies such as Singapore Airlines, AirAsia, Vietnam Airlines and Philippine Airlines are reaping the rewards of enhanced customer experience capabilities

ASEAN airlines
Singapore Airlines, AirAsia, Philippine Airlines and Vietnam Airlines

As businesses search for new ways to build stronger relationships and drive increased levels of user satisfaction, customer experience (CX) is taking centre stage in ASEAN.

Irrespective of size, stature or sector, loyalty is fast becoming a leading priority for technology executives that understand the importance of CX to a brand.

In isolation, this perhaps won't be a groundbreaking revelation given the rise of CX at an enterprise level during the past five years. From a collective standpoint though, specific industries are taking the lead.

Aviation, a sector housing more than 5,000 airlines globally amid an expanding worldwide customer base, is one of those industries. Aggressive competition brings added incentives to create more powerful experiences, designed to deliver greater customer loyalty and brand advocacy.

In the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), carriers are building out new technology strategies with customer experience as an anchor point, spearheaded by brands such as Singapore Airlines, AirAsia, Vietnam Airlines and Philippine Airlines, among others.

According to IDC, customer experience can be defined as "a functional activity encompassing business processes, strategies, technologies and services that companies use, irrespective of industry, to provide a better experience for their customer and to differentiate themselves from their competitors".

At both regional and global levels, the concept is gaining ground with spending on CX technologies set to total US$508 billion in 2019, representing an increase of 7.9 percent over 2018.

“Customer experience has become a key differentiator for businesses worldwide,” said Craig Simpson, research manager, IDC. “New innovation accelerator technologies like artificial intelligence and data analytics are at the forefront in driving the differentiation for businesses to succeed in their customer experience strategic initiatives.”

Within this segment, the use case that will see the most spending is customer care and support, followed by order fulfilment and interaction management.

Singapore Airlines

Through blockchain, Singapore Airlines is delivering a “groundbreaking” loyalty programme in response to customer feedback.

As reported by CIO ASEAN, the business is leveraging the capabilities of Microsoft Azure – and technology partner KPMG Village – to build a blockchain offering capable of helping flyers maximise loyalty points in new ways, driven through a customer-first strategy.

Step forward KrisPay, a digital enhancement of the airline’s current KrisFlyer programme. The digital miles-based wallet is designed to enable customers to easily convert KrisFlyer air miles into KrisPay miles to spend on purchases at partner outlets via point-of-sale transactions.

“We heard from our customers that they wanted more redemption options, relevant to their everyday spending, so their miles do not go to waste,” said Rachel Tan, product lead of KrisPay, Loyalty Marketing at Singapore Airlines.

“This inspired our team to develop KrisPay, the world’s first blockchain-based airline loyalty digital miles wallet, which enables our customers to pay with their miles instantly for purchases at partner outlets, right from their mobile phones.”

Driven by a desire to enhance customer engagement levels, differentiation for Singapore Airlines comes through KrisPay.

“We wanted to let KrisFlyer members use their air miles more flexibly and reliably,” added Siak Chuah Tan, technology lead of KrisPay, Information Technology at Singapore Airlines. “With blockchain being immutable, and with its ease of handling miles-based transactions, it lends itself well to such a platform.”

In housing a deep and varied network of programme partners, the airline required a “robust platform” capable of documenting a shared record of which customers spend what and where to help avoid painful reconciliations across participating partners.

Through KPMG Digital Village - launched locally in 2016 to allow corporate customers to tap the creative skills of startups - Singapore Airlines built a “shared, highly secure” ledger of transactions with blockchain on Microsoft Azure.

Specifically, the airline used Azure App Service, Azure Cosmos DB and Azure Functions to augment the underlying blockchain network, letting users interact with the ledger and synchronise with off-chain activities.

Overall, the project took six months for Singapore Airlines to create the KrisPay blockchain environment on Azure, a mobile application for iOS and Android devices and web portals for both customers and partners.

“We’re using blockchain on Azure to redefine airline loyalty programmes,” added Siak Chuah Tan. “This is so we can serve our customers better and deliver more personalised experiences. With KrisPay, members of KrisFlyer, the Singapore Airlines’ frequent flyer programme, can unlock even more value from their KrisFlyer miles.”

AirAsia

In March 2018, AirAsia selected Salesforce to help revamp customer care capabilities in response to heightened levels of digitalisation within the aviation market.

The Malaysia-headquartered airline - which flies over 100 million passengers to around 200 destinations annually - deployed Salesforce Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud and Community Cloud as part of its strategy to create a “faster and more personalised service” for customers.

“Making our guests happy means placing customers and their needs at the centre of everything we do,” said Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia. “Salesforce is the heart of this customer-obsessed approach as it gives us a complete view of our guests across all channels, allowing us to deliver a faster, more personalised service.”

Following the deployment, Fernandes said AirAsia service agents across eight countries now have a “single view of all cases from all support channels”, spanning web, phone, email, live chat and airport communications.

Through Community Cloud, AirAsia is served in eight different languages while also allowing guests to self-serve with a knowledge database, allowing the airline to boost service standards and raise productivity levels.

Prior to rolling out Salesforce, AirAsia ran six call centres in different locations, managing web forms through multiple platforms without the required levels of compatibility.

According to Adam Geneave, chief customer happiness officer at AirAsia, the result was “silo thinking” which placed an onus on customers to use the right communication channel for the right request in the right location.

“From a customer happiness point of view, what that really means is making sure that we're talking to our customers in the channel that makes the most sense for them,” Geneave added.

“If a customer wanted to talk to us in live chat 12 months ago, they would have waited over 45 minutes, sometimes it took us two days to respond to a Twitter message, and we had long wait times in call centres and to respond to emails. Now, we respond to social media messages within a few minutes, and there is no wait time for live chat.”

But maximising customer happiness isn’t just about reducing wait times, cautioned Geneave, rather about providing “personalised experiences”. Such an approach requires an ongoing stream of reliable and informed data, delivered through live Salesforce dashboards identifying real-time customer trends.

“This provides deep learning about our customers,” Geneave said. “With that knowledge we can then work on projects, processes and systems to keep innovating and improving our customers’ experiences.”

Vietnam Airlines

Vietnam Airlines partnered with SAP-owned Qualtrics to create a more robust and tailored customer experience for more than 22 million annual passengers.

Through the deployment of Qualtrics CustomerXM - an experience management platform - the national carrier of Vietnam can “capture and respond” to customer feedback in real-time, while also increasing the volume of customer engagement captured.

“Qualtrics initiatives have enabled Vietnam Airlines to reduce the time needed to collect and respond to customer feedback from months to weeks,” said Ngo Hong Minh, director of Passenger Service Department at Vietnam Airlines. “The speed at which we are now able to operate, along with the ability to garner new insights from our passengers, are key differentiators for us.

“We are able to capture customer insights, which serve as very important input for creating breakthrough customer experiences - characterised by Vietnam’s rich culture and identity - helping cement our position as one of the leading carriers in the region.”

To derive new perspective of its entire customer experience, the airline rolled out a range of data collection tools on Qualtrics CustomerXM, including tools capable of focusing on priority areas in the customer journey, in addition to real-time website feedback.

Other enhancements include QR code feedback capabilities for higher response rates in regions such as China and Singapore where this method of engagement is preferred, alongside an offline app for “mystery shoppers” to use.

Following the deployment, customer responses are presented back to Vietnam Airlines in “role-based dashboards” that can be accessed from any device in real-time.

According to Minh, stakeholders then collaborate to create unique pages and apply filters to pinpoint specific moments - such as reservations, check-in and online bookings - across more than 30 of the carrier’s branch offices and representative offices in over 20 countries and territories.

“Combining experience data captured by Qualtrics CustomerXM with operational data has inspired a number of changes to the customer experience we create at Vietnam Airlines - from the food and drink we serve through to conversations at check-in,” Minh added.

“Since going live on the Qualtrics platform in late 2017 we’re proud to have maintained our Skytrax 4-Star status which now extends to fourth year running and achieved a record profit of VND 2.8 trillion (US$120.6 million) in 2018.”

Philippine Airlines

Innovation for Philippine Airlines came through a combination of increasing both employee and customer satisfaction, through streamlining operations and reducing costs.

Leveraging Microsoft Kaizala - a mobile app and service designed for large group communications and work management - the flag carrier of the Philippines replaced the majority of legacy paper-based systems, in a move which saved a minimum of 10 hours per scheduling change, per employee.

The deployment - which also enhanced security and communication capabilities - impacted more than 8,000 full-time workers, including over 1,000 pilots and 2,700 cabin crew members.

Operating as a Skytrax four-star airliner, Philippine Airlines assessed internal systems and processes in a bid to drive a digitalisation agenda at a company-wide level.

According to Jaime Bautista, president and COO of Philippine Airlines, the logical starting point was the paper-based scheduling and shift-exchanging system for cabin crew members, currently hampered by delays and user confusion.

“Our four-star certification is also a challenge set before all of us in Philippine Airlines,” Bautista said. “We have to sustain all our gains and constantly keep improving.”

Through Kaizala, the airline can now send text, documents, photos and videos to its entire connected workforce, or to specific employees or groups, in addition to building custom actions into the Kaizala app to cater for specific needs.

“Our initial reason for exploring Kaizala was the notification feature,” added Rosie Domingo, assistant manager of Integrated Operations Control at Philippine Airlines. “We have reduced the hours it took to send schedule changes to our employees from hours, or even a full day, to a push notification that takes less than 10 minutes to arrive once we hit ‘save’ here on the ground."

Launched to cabin crew members in March 2018, within months usage spiked to 50 percent, before reaching almost 100 percent adoption in less than a year.

“Once we saw usage climbing, we developed Kaizala as a one-stop app for our cabin crews,” said Domingo. “We added a scheduling suggestion box and a Microsoft 365 action card for broader functionality.

"We are also currently exploring an employee training action card and an ‘appreciation card’ that will highlight positive employee-customer interactions. A large part of the Skytrax rating is our customers’ experience. And when you have got a happier, more rested crew, you have got happier customers. Through Kaizala, we have achieved just that.”

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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