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Reimagining Technology and Human Contact in the Next-Generation Passenger Journey – Part 2

In my previous blog, Reimagining Technology and Human Contact in the Next-Generation Passenger Journey, I had recounted Neil’s travel journey and explored the critical role that technology played in it. I had also posed a contrarian view that I believe that technology does not replace human contact but rather that it enriches the quality of human contact during such a journey.

Here, I would like to explore this contrarian view further through the journey experienced by Nathan who is Neil’s antithesis when it comes to preferences with regard to the use of technology. Consider Nathan’s journey as illustrated below.

“Nathan has just learnt that he has to travel from his home location in Boston to San Diego for a business meeting in two weeks. Though many of his colleagues have jumped on the automated, self-service bandwagon aided by the widespread use of Digital Assistants and similar technologies, Nathan still tends to do things the good old-fashioned way. Nathan sends an email to his admin Ted requesting him to make the travel arrangements on his behalf.

Ted uses technology to the extent possible but finds himself rather constrained by corporate policies and tools that the company has in place for travel planning. Ted gets on the company intranet to reserve Nathan’s travel. Based on the preferences that Ted has set on behalf of Nathan, the booking is completed in his preferred airline and hotel chain in San Diego.

24 hours prior to his flight, the airline checks Nathan in to his flight and emails a boarding pass to Nathan’s email address, which Ted promptly prints for Nathan to carry the next day. The airline has accommodated Nathan’s seat preference. Meanwhile, the airline has notified Nathan’s preferred Limo service that he’s due to fly the next day and let them know the flight departure time. Ted receives a call from the Limo service confirming a limo reservation for Nathan the next day with an appropriate pickup time to ensure he will reach the airport in time. They also confirm that Nathan’s preferred type of car has been confirmed. The Limo service always ensures that they have all the necessary information on premium customers like Nathan. While they use technology and predictive analytics to be prepared for these customers’ trips by integrating advance passenger travel information from airlines and hotels at origin and destination with passenger consent, their interaction with the customer is primarily over the phone with the help of an actual human being engaging in the conversation!

On the day of travel, Nathan promptly receives a call from the chauffeur a half-hour ahead of pickup so that Nathan has time to prepare to leave. The chauffeur also advises Nathan that his flight is on-time and lets him know the latest gate details based on the information the airline has sent his company.

As Nathan starts his half-hour Limo ride to the airport, the Limo company confirms to the airline that Nathan is on his way to the airport. An airline agent calls Nathan to interest him in a paid upgrade offer that he can avail for his outbound flight. Nathan reviews the upgrade price and confirms it. The new boarding pass is sent to the Limo company so that the chauffeur can print it on his in-car printer and hand it to Nathan.

At the airport, Nathan quickly completes the security check after establishing his identity with biometrics. After security check, the lone agent at the gate for passenger assistance lets him know about his favorite coffee shop opening up in the concourse and asks if he should order coffee to pick up on his way to the gate. Nathan is only too happy to oblige. Along with coffee, Nathan also picks up the food that Ted had pre-ordered. He finally boards at an agent-less gate using biometrics to validate his identity once more.

While on board, the crew has complete information on preferences of all its premium customers and is well aware that Nathan prefers service with a personal touch. Using the crew app, the crew is prompted to provide him with the latest issues of the Wall Street Journal and Forbes magazine. The crew also receives information directly from the Limo company on their app about the details of the chauffeur picking Nathan up and they share this with Nathan. As the flight lands in San Diego, the Limo company receives a notification that it can provide the chauffeur so he’s ready for pickup. The airline also notifies the hotel in real-time regarding the flight arrival time and estimated hotel check-in time using real-time traffic information.

The Limo company calls Ted to confirm a reservation for Nathan’s Limo for the day for his commute to the meeting as well as to the airport after the meeting. Once the meeting is over, Nathan meets his chauffeur and he’s advised by the chauffeur that the flight is delayed by an hour because of weather in Boston. The chauffeur also advises Nathan that this provides an opportunity for him to explore a brand new book store specializing in first editions that has just opened up. The Limo company knows that Nathan likes to explore unique bookstores when he travels based on historical travel data. Nathan takes him up on the offer but, is told that he has only 40 minutes at the store before he resumes his ride to the airport. Nathan gets to the airport in time for his flight and completes his trip safely and comfortably while being guided by proactive measures taken by the airline and the Limo company all through.”

From the above illustration, it’s clear that technology plays a critical role in enabling and enriching human contact during a passenger journey by proactively enabling human touchpoints to ensure that the experience is personalized and enjoyable.

For an enterprise to deal with the likes of Nathan and Neil, a two-pronged approach is necessary. The foundational aspect of this approach is of course its use of data, AI, and machine learning. While automation and self-service in the form of digital assistants are powered by technology in the case of Neil, the frontline staff is enabled and empowered to leverage the deep data insights in the case of Nathan.

I believe that technology and human contact can go hand-in-hand to create a highly effective and pleasant travel experience overall. The enterprise that can perfect this approach will be likely to lead the way in customer satisfaction and hence customer acquisition and retention!

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