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Air China sets its sight on top level personalization

05/29/2015| 6:30:36 PM| ChinaTravelNews 中文

Chinese carriers generally lag behind their counterparts in the U. S. when it comes to personalization. But things are evolving, says Air China’s Fajin Hu.

ChinaTravelNews, Ritesh Gupta - You log on to an airline website, search for a fare, and abandon the site. You log in again – so how well the website knows you to support you from where you left?

It’s a critical question considering the fact the airlines are refining their merchandising strategy in order to differentiate their product. There is talk of behavioral data, historic data, CRM data, 3rd party data etc. and how to use it.

As ‎Senior Manager of e-commerce at Air China, Fajin Hu acknowledges that a lot is happening in the arena of personalization.  And the team at this leading Chinese airline is making rapid progress, especially the arena of mobile.

Fajin Hu at 2014 TravelDaily Conference

“We have certain mechanisms in place to offer relevant offerings when you visit our site,” says Hu. And now the airline is gearing up for real-time, contextual offerings that are going to be delivered via mobile apps, for both iOS and Android users.

 “We are soon going to introduce personalized content for check-in, flight status etc. via the latest version of our mobile app. This would mean relevant push notifications – extremely useful for domestic travellers,” shared Hu. The airline is going to minutely scrutinize the level of activity on mobile and also collate analytics with CRM platform to assess behavior pattern – say extra luggage, family travel etc. “This is going to form basis of coming up with meaningful messages and product/ service for travellers.”

Overall, as Hu says, the level of personalization isn’t as sophisticated (as witnessed in the markets like the U. S. or Europe), especially for their PC website and overall web personalization.

“Our digital marketing effort allows us certain level of apt messages. For instance, you are looking for New Delhi-Beijing flight, searching it from India. We can offer some promotion based on your location. We are also planning to work with third party vendors to capitalize on traffic generation on the web – say you are looking for a hotel property in Beijing from Los Angeles, and we could offer a related itinerary,” said Hu, who mentioned that the team is constantly working on initiatives to improve upon cross-device tracking.

Areas of improvement

Air China is well equipped to target several revenue streams – selling a variety of tickets. Other than its air ticketing for domestic and international routes, the airline has options for code share partners, ancillaries (baggage, seats etc.), insurance, air plus hotel etc. Hu admits that Chinese carriers are still lagging behind their counterparts in the U. S for a key metric like the online penetration rate for direct channel.  

One area that the e-commerce team at Air China is planning to improve upon is control. A major challenge for Air China is currently the way its content and user interface on its domestic website is being dealt with by third party. For instance, when it comes to user experience, the new look and feel of its key touchpoint such as website is being managed in-house and via third party vendor. “If we intend to improvise on the user interface or content related to the booking flow, then we have to be dependent on third party or if done internally it does take considerable period. We are working on such issues,” said Hu. The team is working on this in order to take better control of running promotions or booking flow. 

User experience

Hu categorically says the level of relevance when one visits a site is going to be a major focus going forward.

For instance, if I try to search for a one-way journey from Beijing to Tokyo on the website then the site offers me an option to select between Air China and All Nippon Airways flights, displays different fares/ bundles in a straightforward manner, and also highlights immediacy in terms of the number of seats left. But there are certain areas such as the interface (say visual delight through attractive imagery to inspire a journey), intuitiveness (knowing what I had searched previously) and showing content related the journey I am planning to travel is lacking.

But Hu promises major changes are in the offing. A major upgrade for domestic website is in the pipeline.

The team is looking at showcasing a template that is going to be based on audience segmentation. For instance, what a business traveller is going to see would be different from a leisure traveller. “We would have more templates tailored for target audience in the near future, and this would also delve into our CRM platform and website analytics,” he said. The objective is to deliver content to deliver on the promise of personalization via apt testing, handled by a dedicated team.     

Making all touchpoints responsive

Airlines are managing a variety of touch points and dealing with interactions via website, mobile, social and even offline channels. All these avenues when combined together form a significant part in ascertaining the intent of an air passenger.

Airlines need to be spot on with their email marketing. For instance, I abandon a site and leave during certain stage of the booking flow. There are certain questions that need to be answered - after how long the airline should send me a reminder, what should be the content of the email, how is it going to be related to my last interaction with the website, and how eventually it can result in conversion once I click on the weblink in the email.

Technology is improving day by day. Airlines need to be vigilant enough to sharpen all their touchpoints. Take the example of landing pages for PC website and mobile website. Hu says generally the approach tends to be working on promotion based landing pages for mobile, but now things are improving. He says today there are CMS offerings that adapt landing pages depending upon the device that is being used to access content.

Air China’s Fajin Hu is scheduled to speak at the upcoming 2015 TravelDaily Conference in Shanghai (September 16-17, 2015).

TAGS: Air China | personalization
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