Airlines Look to the Cloud for Responsive Customer Service

Lufthansa airplane

Lufthansa Group uses a cloud-based system to empower its flight managers by delivering data aggregated from across multiple systems to employee mobile devices. Photo courtesy of Lufthansa

It’s no secret that customer experience is a key competitive differentiator within the airline industry. However, delivering on customer demands for more personalized travel experiences and maintaining high levels of customer service are increasingly challenging as the global tourism industry steadily increases and record numbers of travelers take to the skies for the holidays — an estimated 4.27 million forecasted for the U.S. by AAA in 2018.

Cloud computing can be a game-changer to help airlines reinvent the customer experience and keep up with these rapid growth levels.

During the first wave of cloud computing, the focus across industries – including for airlines — was all about adopting cloud infrastructure to help drive information technology (IT) efficiency and keep costs low. The cloud helped airlines scale their infrastructure more quickly to keep up during peak times and rapidly roll out new apps and services for both passengers and employees. To date, most companies are still in the early stages of their cloud journey, with research showing that only about 10 to 20 percent of systems are on the cloud today.

As we enter the next chapter of cloud, airlines have a major opportunity to use the cloud in new ways to deliver even more personalized and responsive customer service. The next 80 percent of the cloud opportunity is about more than just “infrastructure as a service.” It’s about leveraging the cloud to deliver new experiences and drive new growth.

The rebooking process is one area where the cloud is already helping airlines transform the customer experience. Adopting cloud helps remove the constraints of existing legacy architectures, platforms, organization, development and operations approaches to help respond better and faster to customer needs.

When one of the world’s largest airlines decided to give its customers the ability to take control of the rebooking process via its website, mobile app and self-service kiosks, the company turned to the cloud. Within just a matter of months, the airline was able to launch a new, more dynamic rebooking app across airports, transforming its approach to customer service by providing new levels of self-service for travelers.

Beyond enabling travelers to take more control in the rebooking process, the cloud can also help airline employees to deliver improved customer service. For example, Lufthansa Group uses a cloud-based system to empower its flight managers by delivering data aggregated from across multiple systems to employee mobile devices.

Traditionally, flight managers have had to login to multiple systems numerous times a day to access information about flight assignments. But equipped with a dedicated app, Lufthansa’s flight managers have better access to current booking and boarding status, baggage status, inbound flights, aircraft and crew rotation, and can respond more intelligently and precisely to passenger needs.

The cost of failure is particularly high in an industry that leans so heavily on creating a strong customer experience. Just as flight delays and cancellations are a fact of life in air travel, so is the loss of customer trust and loyalty when airlines mismanage rebookings or poorly communicate itinerary changes. As the industry moves to embrace innovative digital self-service offerings that run on the cloud — and relieve some of the pressure on airline customer service employees — customers must feel confident that interactions with their airline via the cloud will ultimately help get them where they want to go.

However, navigating the next phase of the cloud journey requires a new approach. Airlines are often sitting on decades of investment in existing IT systems, and newer technologies such as apps using artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics need to work alongside those legacy systems and applications. A hybrid multi-cloud approach is crucial to integrating these ecosystems into secure, reliable and consistent customer experiences, even though the applications and data might be coming from multiple public clouds, private clouds and legacy systems.

Airlines that are able to successfully take a hybrid multi-cloud approach will be best positioned to meet the needs of their customers through deeply responsive customer service, across everything from launching new self-service channels and delivering real-time information direct to the hands of employees to broadening their offerings to include personalized travel packages.

John Szatkowski is a global offering leader of travel and transportation at IBM.