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Customer experience management-promoting loyalty

This article appears in the issue October 2014, [Vol 23 Issue 9]
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Founded 80 years ago, Aeromexico is the largest airline operating in Mexico. The company built its reputation on service, but when low-cost airlines entered the market about 10 years ago, Aeromexico began experiencing intense competition.

“Our costs were higher than those of the new airlines,” says Edouard Piquet, senior VP of customer experience at Aeromexico, “and our customer service was not at the level it needed to be in order to create strong customer loyalty.”

Aeromexico took a candid look at its interactions with customers and realized it was not in touch. “We lacked an understanding of the voice of the customer in a sophisticated way,” says Piquet. “We wanted to find a software platform that would allow us to have real-time access to our customers’ responses and make meaningful adjustments in how we operated.” With the help of an outside consulting firm, Aeromexico identified the Allegiance Engage survey and analysis platform from Allegiance as the best solution for its needs.

Because Aeromexico was competing on service more than on price, the company began by doing surveys of customer response to delayed flights. “We wanted to indicate our concern by firmly establishing four events that would take place in that situation,” explains Piquet. “First, a particular individual would come forward and would identify himself or herself. The person would apologize for the delay, state the reason for the delay and announce when the flight would in fact depart.” The intent was to be straightforward and acknowledge the issue.

Customer surveys

Every customer whose flight is delayed is asked to complete a survey, which includes ratings and the opportunity to comment. “One aspect of our surveys that is very important,” Piquet says, “is that we do not ask the customer to provide any information that we already have. We have a feed file of 200 fields populated by our system, and so we do not ask them the route they are on, or the cost of their ticket. We ask questions such as was the communication clear, was the flight attendant courteous and would you recommend us to other travelers.” The response rate is quite high, averaging 16 percent.

Aeromexico also surveys a subset of its travelers whose flights were on time, and all the frequent flyers. “We do not survey all of the on-time passengers because most of the flights are in fact on time,” Piquet says, “and it’s more important for us to be in touch with individuals on delayed flights, so that we can improve drastically the experience at a difficult moment, which is inevitable in aviation.” In addition, to avoid survey fatigue and keep response rates high, Aeromexico does not survey any passenger more than once a month.

Initial surveys were done in person at the airport and simply asked the Net Promoter Score (NPS, a customer loyalty metric) question of how likely customers were to recommend the airline, and why (see the sidebar about NPSon following the article or on page 9, KMWorld, October 2014, Vol. 23, Issue 9). Subsequently, the surveys were administered by e-mail or interactive voice response (IVR) at call centers. The results are analyzed in near-real time and reviewed promptly. The Allegiance Spotlight data-mining tool allows identification of factors that affect the NPS. Integrated text analytics is used to identify specific issues of concern.

Aeromexico is acutely aware that if the information is not used to provide feedback to the individuals concerned, its value is not being maximized. Therefore, considerable effort is devoted to routing that feedback. “Surveys do not have value unless something is done with the information,” Piquet emphasizes. “We have information by pilot, flight attendant and airport, and the individuals in each interaction receive feedback.” For customers who have responded by phone, an interactive voice response survey provides the NPS by call center agent, and that information is provided to the agent in a coaching environment.

Apologies from management

One unique policy that Aeromexico instituted was for a management-level employee to call customers whose flights have been delayed, to apologize and to listen to their concern. The company estimates that 3,000 customers have been retained thanks to that proactive approach. As of the end of 2013, overall loyalty (NPS) scores had risen by more than 3 points in the onboard service survey, while scores involving passengers on delayed flights rose by 12 points. Based on extensive validation studies of NPS economics, the increase in NPS equates to $12 million in revenue.

Aeromexico’s primary customer experience initiative in 2014 was to link the e-mail surveys and IVR ratings to gain a more complete picture of customer issues. “In 2015, we plan to link social media responses to the platform,” says Piquet. Right now, Aeromexico is using a third party to measure corporate reputation. “We have seen an overall trend for more positive evaluations, and we are able to manage crises closely,” he explains. “Social media is a young discipline but is growing fast. The volume of comments tripled for the first six months of the year as compared to the same time period last year. More people are sharing their opinion.” Next year, Aeromexico would like to integrate those results into Allegiance as well as tying in customer relationship management (CRM) system data.

Piquet values the deep understanding of customer experience issues and of issues in the airline industry that Allegiance demonstrates. “They have a vision about trends, such as how social media will impact us,” he says. “In addition, they understand the critical importance of on-time performance in the airline industry, which helps us ask the right questions and get the answers to the right people.”

Allegiance began with a focus on NPS and surveys, expanded to a broader enterprise feedback management perspective, and finally to customer experience as it evolved as a discipline. “Allegiance does not just report survey data but its software does analytics that show how different factors are related, and what a company should change to improve its customers’ experience,” says Chris Cottle, executive VP of Allegiance.

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