The Travel Alert Opportunity

Every frequent flyer has one. A cursed airport—one that other flyers breeze through with ease but delays your every flight through its three-lettered airspace. 

Mine is CLT—Charlotte Douglas International Airport. I’m not sure what I did to offend CLT’s travel gods, but it seems that I can never fly through there without a delay of some sort. Sometimes, it’s a mechanical issue. Other times, the flight crew fails to materialize. And just last week, some poor soul on my inbound connecting flight had what competitive eaters call “a reversal of fortune.” Cue the Hazmat Team and a 90-minute delay.

Many travel delays are beyond the control of both the airline and the airport, and my guess is that most travelers get this fact. Weather is unpredictable. Mechanical issues are critical to safety. Clean planes are far better than the alternative. What the airlines and airports do control, however, is their communication about the delay—and those who do it best don’t just keep their frustrated customers from boiling over, they also help establish their brands as genuinely committed to customer satisfaction. 

Take my latest flight delay as an example. I had thought I had only 40 minutes to make my connecting flight in CLT at a gate all the way across the airport. But my airline sent me a text message notifying me of a 90-minute delay. That single message saved me a futile—and unnecessary—sprint across the airport. Moreover, it kept my expectations about my connecting flight in check. While other flyers pestered the gate agent with questions, I sat content in the knowledge that I was fully informed of the situation. 

There’s nothing extraordinary about my situation except that more travelers didn’t receive a direct delay notification. The vast majority of consumers are open to such travel alerts precisely because they save time and frustration. In fact, in our latest research, “The 2012 Channel Preference Survey,” we found that:

  • 43% of U.S. consumers prefer to receive travel alerts via email 
  • 25% prefer travel alerts via text message (SMS), and 
  • 18% prefer a phone call for travel alerts. 

The issue isn’t whether the traveling public wants to be informed, it’s whether your travel brand is offering the timely, direct travel alerts via the channels that consumers prefer.

The question you may be asking is whether such alerts are the province of customer service or marketing. My answer is both. Customer service or operations may own the process by which delays are communicated, but marketing owns the fallout. Anything that helps diffuse traveler frustration can only benefit your brand. The key is to optimize travel alerts in six ways:

  1. Make opt-in easy and obvious. Too many travel brands are burying the value of travel alerts during the check-in process. Audit your alert opt-in process to make sure that consumers clearly understand the benefit they will receive from such direct communications. 
  2. Make sure your travel alerts are sent to the channel(s) dictated by the consumer. While I prefer text messages, others prefer email or phone. And many travelers may even prefer multiple channels to ensure they receive your update. Convenience is key—and consumers dictate which channel(s) are most convenient on an individual basis.
  3. Lead with the most important information. I recently received a voicemail about a delayed flight that took nearly a minute to get to the most important piece of information—my new departure time. An alert should be quick and to the point.
  4. Be thorough. If there’s a specific reason for the delay, communicate it. If you don’t, you can be sure that someone will tell someone who overheard it from a gate agent, and that creates an opportunity for gate-side misinformation that will frustrate your customers.
  5. Make sure the information is accurate. This may seem obvious, but I’ve actually received text alerts that my flight was delayed two hours only to receive another alert 10 minutes later that the flight was boarding. Make sure your process and data sources deliver accurate information to your customers or you will obviously create more problems than you solve.
  6. Do not market—help. Travel alerts are not the time to cross-sell and upsell. They are a time to help consumers with logical needs that materialize in the face of a delay. Consider whether you can offer customers dining, lodging and alternative itinerary recommendations that not only help them deal with a change of plans but also lessen the burden for your “on the ground” staff.

Nobody likes unexpected changes—especially when their vacations or business meetings are on the line. The good news, however, is that today’s messaging technologies allow travel brands to automate alerts in ways that can dramatically reduce traveler frustrations and allow staff to concentrate on more pressing matters than answering the same question a hundred times. Call it customer service. Call it marketing. Whatever you call it, travel alerts have the potential to reflect positively on your brand to both customers and employees.

And, yes, they also have the potential to keep me coming back to CLT in hopes that my delay curse will, one day, be lifted. 

Tags: airlines, travel
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1 comment about "The Travel Alert Opportunity ".
  1. Gregory Zimmer from Coho Creative , April 3, 2012 at 5:57 p.m.
    Great article Jeffrey! There are so many simple and inexpensive ways an airline brand could improve their consumer experience. Things as you reference, that they can control and influence, vs. those they can't. Meanwhile, as in your case, I use www.tripit.com (I have no affiliation or relationship with TripIt), they've just saved my bacon several times from rushing down the concourse frantically or showing up at the wrong gate. Safe & successful travels!