Ryanair: the only essential piece in the connected traveller journey is the customer

The travel industry depends on loyal customers and increasingly needs partners to serve them well. Pamela Whitby reports

Customer first, customer first and customer first. If there was a mantra to emerge from the keynote address at EyeforTravel’s first-ever Connected Traveller Event in London this morning, this was it.

As conference chair Rémy Merckx, VP of Digital Marketing at The Rezidor Hotel Group pointed out, the only common ground between now and 50 years ago is the customer. Then as now, without happy, hopefully loyal customers a travel business won’t survive. “In the end you can build the best technology on earth, but ultimately the product has to address the needs of the customer,” he said.

Even Ryanair, the airline that until not that long ago seemed to thrive on delivering customers with pain points, has recognised that in today’s digital world, the customer must come first. In his short and to-the-point presentation keynoter Dara Brady, Head of Digital Experience, Ryanair only mentioned ‘revenues’ once and ‘the customer’ more times than could be counted

Indeed, what Ryanair has on its side is a substantial customer base – probably down to its early strategy of ‘stack it high and sell it cheap’. This year the Irish airline carried 100 million customers; this is expected to rise to 160 million in the coming years, making it one of the top three airlines in the world.

Beginning its digital transformation 18 months ago Ryanair knows only too well that customers want more than ever before. “Customers want information, communication and control,” he said.

Customers want information, communication and control

Dara Brady, Head of Digital Experience, Ryanair

While that’s a big ask, and fraught with challenges, all brands today are preoccupied with how to win increasingly demanding customers, deliver them with what they want, when they want it, on their device of choice, at the right price and in real time.

This real-time requirement cannot be underestimated said another keynoter Stephanie Uhlig, Managing Director (UK), eDreams ODIGEO Group, citing Twitter as just one example of a channel where customers demand a response within an hour.

Real-time is important for Ryanair too. Speaking of his own personal experience Brady said one of his “pet hates” is hanging around information boards in the airport waiting for details of departure, delays and so on. He acknowledges that this should be available in real-time on the Ryanair app, something they are working on. Ryanair has gone for a responsive website design – to meet the customer where they are - and is launching a native app, currently in beta, later this month.

Getting the timing right is also a focus of Voyages-sncf.com, a rail intermediary; his organisation is focused on what it calls customer time management (CTM), arguably the new CRM.

“Because of our customer account we aim to act as a facilitator to manage our customer’s time and help them prepare properly for the trip,” Julien Nicolas, COO Europe, Voyages-sncf.com said this morning.

Aside from working on a responsive website to deliver this seamless experience, Nicolas said responsive advertising, push notifications, the right content from the right partners are among his organisation’s priorities.

A singular customer view

One of the biggest challenges facing travel brands today is data. And at Ryanair they are trying to create a singular view using technologies like Adoop because, says Brady, “there is no point saying we hope you enjoy your flight when it is 90 minutes delayed”.

There is no point saying we hope you enjoy your flight when it is 90 minutes delayed

There is, however, a point – and an opportunity for ancillaries– in informing customers at the right time. So if, for example, Ryanair knows there is a queue at security, or a delay, then there is an opportunity to upsell the ‘fast track’. What Brady also acknowledges is that you can’t be all things to all men. So it is important for brands meet the customer when they have authority and relevancy to do so.

Nobody is there yet but judging by this morning’s key note, the focus is very much on cross-channel strategy, mobile (no surprise there), the right content, data sharing and partnerships. In other words going beyond just the booking to serve the customer at all points of the journey.

Why? Because increasingly suppliers of travel understand that if they are going to compete with the big gatekeepers of data – Google, Apple, OTAs, even Uber and Airbnb - then they need to up their game. They need to partner with the right people and share insights and data. That still scary for many but Ryanair is already doing so; a new relationship with CarTrawler is a case in point.

So, to sum up the general sentiment of this first session of this two-day event, Graham Cook, Group Head of Digital Operations, Thomas Cook Group had this to say: “The customer is at the heart of everything; everything we do is driven by serving the customer and driving loyalty and trust. That is the only way to achieve profits.”

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