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The future customer experience of travel

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10 April 2017

Sarah Moseley

Blogs by author:  Sarah Moseley , Head of Customer Innovation, Retail, Aviation & Travel, BT

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In this digital age, changing consumer expectation levels have created new challenges and opportunities. One industry that’s particularly changing is the aviation industry, where technology-led innovations such as online bookings, self-check-in, and electronic boarding passes, have already transformed the customer experience.

We can all relate to being passengers and the hope for a simple and quick experience when travelling. So it’s not surprising that airlines are looking at ways to streamline efficiency around air travel, to remove as many functional touch-points (like check-in) as possible, and make it faster and easier for travellers to get from A to B. And this isn’t something that’s exclusive to airlines – we see the likes of trains, hotels, and other leisure activities following suit. But as an industry that’s fairly tech-heavy, we wondered what the future customer experience could look like for travellers, so we’ve looked at the touchpoints a customer experiences when travelling by aeroplane, and share the innovation that’s going to change the way the aviation industry runs in 2017 and beyond.

The pre-departure experience.

Your virtual housemate (DORIS) can detect that you have been working long hours and makes a suggestion that you should take a holiday. DORIS directs a virtual stream onto your third-generation TV – it’s a cascade of inspiring images, words, sounds and prices calculated to get your travel juices flowing. You decide to book a flight.

A drone arrives at your home location to collect a bag of essential items only, and once the drone is loaded it takes off, heading to the airport’s distribution centre. Once the bag arrives, Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tagging gives it a unique identifier, with end-to-end tracking visibility to ensure your baggage is delivered seamlessly to your end destination.

You didn’t need to pack clothes or normal everyday items thanks to the ‘Virtual Travel bag’. This is because the need for packing, transportation, or in-hold storage is removed as the airline has a detailed personal profile of you, your exact sizing, preferred brands and styles, and as a result all the appropriate clothing items are awaiting you in the wardrobe of your hotel.

The personal profile enables ultimate convenience for customers, and also gives the airline detailed intelligence into your preferences: they know what you like to drink and eat, your seat preferences, and your usual duty free choices all of which enables them not only ‘to serve’ but also to inspire, excel and cross/up-sell targeted services.

Your virtual housemate DORIS has already booked your hotel, knowing that you always like to stay in a four star hotel no more than a mile from the beach. She has also booked you into a hotel where you are likely to meet like-minded people who share your tastes in food, drink, and socialising.

At the airport.

Upon arrival at the terminal you are recognised by the geo-fencing, which triggers your phone to automatically connect to the Wi-Fi. Your phone opens the navigation app and directs your straight to the ‘walk-through check-in’ – no need to waste time looking at signs. You don’t need to look at your phone either, because the guidance through the terminal is enhanced by Augmented Reality and appears on your digital eyewear, enabled by an intelligent software platform that makes the digital eyewear experience complete. You breeze through the ‘walk through check-in’ thanks to the identity information stored on your smartphone, your DNA footprint, and the facial recognition in the ‘walk through check-in’ area. They combine to form a robust level of identity management and securely enable you to progress with no intervention.

Whilst waiting in the lounge you can see the aircraft being manoeuvred into position by the airline’s TaxiBot, which is a semi-robotic, pilot-controlled towing tractor. The TaxiBot provides a major reduction costs as a result of saving aircraft fuel, as well as lowers air pollution and noise level. The vehicle tows the aircraft close to the take-off point, which saves on engine fuel, but at take-off control is switched over to the pilot.

Using your favourite aviation app, you are able to see which of your social media friends and connections are on the same flight or in the airport at the time. You can use the functionality on the app to arrange to meet friends or colleagues.

At the gate you feel hungry so you re-visit the airlines’ app to examine the menu. You choose what you would like to eat and drink on the aircraft and also have time to choose your duty free items which you can decide to collect when you return from your holiday or have it delivered to your home address.

Onboard the flight.

During the flight you decide to book a table at one of the restaurants in the area around your hotel. You call the airline’s personal assistant number, and have a natural language conversation with a robot that listens to your requirements and suggests some restaurant options, before booking a window table so you can enjoy the beach view. You are unaware that you have just spoken to a robot, as its voice is human like.

Wi-Fi as standard on the aircraft means that you can enjoy the time on the flight and personalise the journey, whether that’s by catching up on work, playing games on your mobile, or watching films on your tablet. Wi-Fi enables your flight to be an experience, rather than a tedious use of time where the only excitement comes from the food and drinks trolley.

However, the benefit isn’t just for the customer, as Wi-Fi on board has opened up new revenue generation opportunities, such as charging premiums for special content or through allowing partners to advertise their services.

As the flight draws close to its destination, instead of being abruptly woken up by the cabin lights coming on, the health monitoring devices within the seat/flat-beds recognise that you are asleep and slowly awaken you with a series of light vibrations, and a gradual brightening of the lighting in your space, mimicking the sun rise and natural wake up patterns.

While the cabin crew prepare for landing, you decide you want a coffee, but instead of having to call for a steward you can use the airline app by simply speaking into it. The task management software interprets what you said and puts it onto the steward’s priority list, which goes to all of the steward’s smart devices. Much like a taxi management solution, a steward will only accept requests which have come in through their app, which allows them to deliver the coffee much faster.

Arrival at the destination.

Upon arrival you are collected by a driverless car, which has your name and details on the translucent window signage on the side of the vehicle, and has your hotel co-ordinates pre-entered to aid precise drop off. No paper work is needed, as the journey was booked by DORIS (who knows you like to travel in a mid-range car to get the best value for money) and you can see the confirmation on your smartphone, and track the journey as you go.

A couple of minutes outside the terminal and you are required to get out and walk through immigration, speedily thanks to the ‘contactless’ process enabled by the same combination of the identity data stored on your smartphone, DNA footprint, and the facial recognition that was used to get in to the airport.

Hotel.

As the driverless vehicle nears the hotel, the geo-fencing capability alerts the hotel of your imminent arrival and upon entering reception, the receptionist knows exactly who you are and has your room card ready. Check-in is once again contactless, fast, and efficient.

You go up to your hotel suite and find your bag of essentials waiting as promised, along with your ‘virtual travel bag’ full of new clothes and shoes in your favourite brands. On top you see an outfit perfect for your dinner (pre-selected by DORIS, who knows that you always like to dress casually after a long journey) – all you have to do is change and go and enjoy your stay.

Is this a step too far or a welcome advancement?

It’s an exciting time of change for airlines, but this change also opens up new opportunities to innovate, attract passengers and open up revenue streams. Find out more about how we’re supporting digital transformation across the aviation sector.

We also have some of the world’s leading experts developing technologies which will impact a range of industries at our global R&D centre. For two days in June we’re inviting our customers in to see these developments for themselves, and we’d like you to join us. See what’s going on at Innovation Week 2017.