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Happy to be of service: Fail to innovate and your passengers will take off

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There are few areas of modern life that exemplify the merits of the digital revolution as booking a holiday. Consider how things were only 15 or 20 years ago. You’d research your destination in newspapers, by word of mouth and travel guides. You’d go to a travel agent, who would give you limited options for flights and hotels, plus their commission. Your tickets would arrive by post. Your travel to and from the airport would be booked over the phone.

There are few areas of modern life that exemplify the merits of the digital revolution as booking a holiday. Consider how things were only 15 or 20 years ago. You’d research your destination in newspapers, by word of mouth and travel guides. You’d go to a travel agent, who would give you limited options for flights and hotels, plus their commission. Your tickets would arrive by post. Your travel to and from the airport would be booked over the phone. Your holiday activities would be those in the travel guide. I could go on.

Today that stressful, logistical nightmare can be achieved through one mobile device. If you find yourself wanting a trip to who-knows-where tomorrow morning, you could have it booked in matter of minutes. And if you plan to do so, chances are, your first port of call would be a price comparison site. And it’s easy to see why –  the heavy lifting of purchase decision has already been done. People click the cheapest, easiest flight that best suits their travel needs, and off they go.

But for airlines, while the commerce is more than welcome, the rise of price comparison sites presents an issue. When purchasing through third party intermediaries, a consumer’s relationship with the airline brand is diluted. For holidaymakers today, brand is often an afterthought.     

Now more than ever, when someone books a flight, airlines must do everything possible to instil loyalty, and give them a reason to come back. The battleground for the industry has always been customer experience – lounges, fast tracks, and quality of service. No doubt all are still of paramount importance. But when it comes to digital customer experience, many are suffering long delays.

Consumers have grown used to a standard of digital literacy and experience in their daily lives. The clunky analogue era way of doing things I mentioned earlier still exists to the detriment of everyone involved. Travellers today expect seamless, easy-to-use, real time access to knowledge at the touch of a button. When their fridge is smarter than their airline’s app, questions are inevitably asked.

At easyJet we have the best app in the world. Not just because I say so. We won a resounding victory for Best Airline App at the 2019 World Aviation Festival a few weeks ago. Staying ahead of consumer expectations is one thing. Setting the standard is another. Investing in innovation, so called digital transformation, is central to our continued success and expansion.

We pioneered the digital journey experience – from booking to easy online check-in and mobile boarding passes – and it has paid for itself ten times over. But innovation is an ongoing, iterative thing. This is where we surpass our competitors. For many, once the app is built, that’s it until the technology is redundant in a few years. Given the pace of change, this simply doesn’t cut it.

You need to move ahead of, not in time with, consumer expectations. Reactive innovation usually means you’re copying someone else. We’ve seen our fair share of that over the last few years. And we expect to see it with our latest additions.

For example, visual search, whereby one look for flights simply by taking a screenshot of any enticing location and loading it into the app, speaks to Gen Z, the digitally-native late teens and early twenty-somethings who live through Instagram and Snapchat. It gives them the option to interact with the easyJet brand as they interact elsewhere. 

Having an understanding of, and investing in, how things will be done in the near future, protects our brand and ensure people come back. The value of being seen to innovate cannot be understated. Indeed, how many of you reading this are prepared for the screenless age that approaches?

With the rise of connected vehicles, home speakers, voice assistants and the like, voice search will quickly become the default in the approaching years. Millions already use it daily. So we’ve given consumers the option. Think of it like Siri for booking flights. As holidaymakers adapt to using voice technology in other aspects of their lives, we expect this to be yet another norm easyJet has established. We also expect our competitors will have something similar soon. But you know what they say. Imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery.

Dan Young, Head of Digital Experience at easyJet, will discuss Harnessing the power of photo: Behind the success of easyJet’s ‘Look&Book’ at the Festival of Marketing at Tobacco Dock on 11 October 2019.

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