Privacy and Personalisation – Squaring the Circle for Travel Brands

Kenneth Lindfors • CCO, UK

Competition within the travel industry means that brands are under unparalleled pressure to find new innovative services aimed at enhancing customer experience. From bespoke landing pages to personalised offers and calls to action, personalisation is increasingly an indispensable tool when it comes to travel brands differentiating their offer.

What’s interesting and less talked about is the sheer scale of the challenge to personalise services or experiences in a way that customers will accept and appreciate. It seems that travellers want the benefits that sharing personal data can offer, but are also pretty sceptical when it comes to actually handing it over. A recent YouGov survey of 2000 UK consumers indicated that 43% wanted airlines to remember their personal interests and preferences when they travel. But set this against the 73% who say they would not be willing to exchange more personal data for personalised services. And this was before the recent high-profile data breach at British Airways. Can that circle be squared, and if so, how do we go about doing it?

Getting personal

First of all, talking about ‘travel’ can include reference to many disparate elements of an individual’s journey, from web research to the booking process and selection of multi-modal transport options. Personalisation is more or less valuable across these separate stages. In fact, the fragmentation of discrete ‘steps’ within today’s customer journeys is one of the challenges facing the industry, with a growing crop of meta-search engines trying to cater for the end-to-end (or more plainly, door-to-door) journey. So, while it’s an industry-wide issue, here we focus on what airlines should be thinking about to get personalisation right.

In such a hyper-competitive market, airlines struggle to differentiate themselves, and this isn’t confined only to the budget end. Even the most well-crafted brand story, smartly delivered across multiple channels, cannot compete with the customer’s actual travel experience. With a myriad of different touchpoints, including web, mobile, airside amenities, check-in and the in-flight experience, this puts a real premium on customer-centric, holistic design that can leverage personalisation.

When you’re rushing through check-in and security with kids in tow to join 140 other people on your two hour flight, where are the opportunities to differentiate? Sensitive personalisation of the experience, surfaced in consistent ways across multiple channels, offers that opportunity. We know, however, that the public is wary of sharing ‘too much’ data, and that consequently it’s hard for brands to gauge where the line is. This makes experimenting with customer data extra difficult.

Based on our experience working with travel brands ranging from Finnair to Tallink, here are five guidelines for brands to experiment with:

  1. Make sure consumers understand the connection between personalisation and their data, by being completely transparent about the trade-off - For consumers the value exchange is simple: the more positive an impact personalisation is likely to have on their customer journey, the more willing they are likely to be to share personal data. The Face Recognition Experiment at Helsinki Airport which Futurice conducted along with Finnair and airport operator Finavia, is a good example of how this value exchange can work. Before arriving at the airport for their flights, Finnair customers who volunteered for the trial were asked to take three photos of their faces and then upload them to a central server where the images were converted to untraceable biometric IDs to avoid being stored. From a customer data point of view, this was a big ask. In return, the project aimed to give customers a “hands-free,” more personalised experience of check-in: as the trial participants queued at the dedicated check-in desk, a ceiling camera took their photo and matched it to the one they had uploaded to the system. The passenger’s details flashed up on the screens of the check-in desk allowing staff to greet the passenger by name and start the check-in process proactively. In this instance, sharing data in the form of their photo was worthwhile for customers because it helped enhance their experience of check-in.

  2. Ensure personalisation is sensitive, and contextually aware. - It’s a fact: offers that are contextually jarring grab our attention for all the wrong reasons. For travel brands this means not targeting meeting-room hire offers at someone on a family holiday or bombarding them with discounts for Sea Life World when they are on a business trip. If you can’t be sure that your personalised recommendations will hit the mark, don’t launch them until you are 100% confident that they will.

  3. Invite consumers to share their data and co-create services with you - Giffgaff and DHL are great examples of brands that involve customers directly in their business.

  4. Champion your customers’ rights over data - More widely, at a time when brands’ misuse of consumer data dominates the headlines, set your brand apart by becoming a public champion of customer data and privacy.

  5. Develop Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Capability - A lack of skills and knowledge is holding companies back from making the best use of customer data. The depth and breadth of available data is growing all the time, and new tools to make use of it proliferate. By contrast, skills and, in particular, skilled people with domain knowledge grow more slowly. Add to that resistance from inhouse compliance and legal teams and getting new data powered services off the ground can feel like an impossibility. That’s why it’s really important for businesses looking to excel at personalisation, to put together multi-disciplinary teams of data scientists, designers, creative technologists and business experts at the start of a project.

Most established organisations are very silo-driven, so getting people from different disciplines and departments working together effectively to innovate new services at speed can be very challenging. At Futurice, we developed Lean Service Creation (LSC) to address this problem. When we launched LSC in 2013, our vision was to provide a set of tools in the form of canvasses aimed at helping businesses bring new digital services to market quickly.

Over the next five years, shaped by its use in dozens of companies, universities and public institutions, LSC has evolved into more of a movement for enabling people from diverse backgrounds and different approaches to collaborate and communicate on a specific task. With its focus on “finding a customer problem worth solving” and directing the development of product and services in a customer-centric way, LSC is ideally suited to help businesses develop personalised services which balance customers’ desire for greater personalisation with the need to protect their data. The canvasses support the process all the way from discovering customer needs/problems, to formulating business goals, then designing the product or service that either meets the customers’ need or solves their problem. The focus is on testing and iterating the product or service through to an actual pilot or minimum viable product. What’s more, by providing a clear structure and a set of questions to answer for each phase, LSC provides a shared language and path, making it easy for development teams from diverse backgrounds to communicate and collaborate effectively.

Delivering personalised services within the travel sector which enhance the customer experience while being mindful of data privacy concerns, is a big challenge for brands. Equipped with the right mindset, expertise and tools, travel brands can meet consumers’ needs for delightful personalised experiences without compromising their data. As Finnair and Finavia discovered, brands that square the circle are seen as champions of customer experience and pioneers of new technologies.

Here at Futurice we have the expertise, the people and the tools to help get you started. For a no-obligation coffee and chat, please contact or message me via LinkedIn.

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