Navigating crises with radical customer empathy

Times of crisis can be crucial to driving innovation, as agile companies reinvent to survive. However, crises can also exacerbate issues with the customer experience that have been previously left unaddressed. With the closure of travel and cancellation of flights, travellers have taken to social media to air pent-up frustrations over years of baggage charges, change fees and other airline policies and practices which they find unpalatable.

The cracks in the customer satisfaction and perception have become unavoidable. As airlines look to the future, delivering top-of-class customer experience will need to become their primary target. This can only be achieved through exceeding expectations and introducing transparency of products, pricing and processes. In support of this metamorphosis, airlines will need to prioritise enabling a customer-first approach in their communications and digital experience.

As a digital technology and services provider catering to the industry, and as travel enthusiasts ourselves, we are passionate about improving the airline customer experience. In the middle of April lockdown, we got to work exploring avenues with which we could contribute to the rebound of the industry. To do so, we launched a four-stage discovery process in which we identified and isolated customer pain points and negative perceptions.  Travel providers – especially airlines – will need to face these challenges in order to stay relevant, competitive and successfully navigate a post-pandemic world.

1. Empathise with airline customers and unravel collective perception of the airline industry

Those familiar with the principles of UX research will readily understand the benefits of this stage in rapidly illuminating attitudes and perspectives of a larger purchasing audience. Led by our UX team, the discovery phase was carried out over five cross-functional focus groups. In each session, Branchspace team members recounted anecdotes of their own travel frustrations and postulated future issues they might encounter during the gradual return of flights.

2. Define common customer problems and opportunities for improvement

With the collected interview data, we mapped the shared experiences to the airline customer journey and determined where the specific pain points occur. We noticed overlapping aspects of the pre- and post-pandemic travel experience, where crisis both introduced new problems and aggravated old concerns.

3. Ideate potential solutions

A primary objective of our discovery effort was to reach realistic, versatile, ready-to-adopt solutions for airlines to improve perception, upgrade the customer experience and pacify traveler concerns. In order to do so, we carried out brainstorming sessions involving our consulting, developer, design, marketing and management teams, and drilled deeper into the problems identified in the regular and post-pandemic experiences. The cross-pollination effort was key to achieving versatile solutions within a short timeframe.

4. Identify and rank feasibility

From our research, we were able to collect customer problems into umbrella groups and hierarchise each by probability. To follow up our efforts and generate impact immediately, we have created an internal knowledge base for use by all Branchspace teams in empathising with our airline and technology partners.

Sharing knowledge with the industry is tantamount to ensuring the successful return to the skies. Over the next few weeks, we will be launching our new blog series, Navigating Crises with Radical Customer Empathy.

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