Sabre + Skift Present:

Pleasant Detours: Aeromexico

Aeromexico made designing robust customer-centric digital a core part of its brand definition program, reaping the benefits both in sales and operational efficiencies. Its design approach includes keeping step with the customer along the journey, ensuring they don’t stray far, and that when they do go off the beaten path, it is for a pleasant detour to a place they’ve never visited before.

According to Brian Gross, vice president of e-commerce channels and content for Aeromexico, the airline’s customer-centric design is not only responsive to customers, it is interactive, engaging them in conversation through travel inspiration. From pre-travel to journey’s end, the airline has found ways to use digital to increase bookings, reduce booking costs, boost sales and improve customer relationships.

“Overall, of course we are trying to increase sales through our direct digital channels,” Gross said. “This means we want to increase conversion through intuitive interfaces and other means to sales conversion and payment conversion. But it also means improving the customer’s experience overall so he or she wants to come back to our airline and to our channels.

“The efficiency benefits are, we hope, a better customer experience with them in control and also more options for fare classes, seats, ancillaries and managing their booking. Efficiency to the company’s bottom line results from selling more premium seats, ancillaries and upgrades, and, when sales shift from indirect channels, huge savings on GDS fees and commissions.”

Gross went on to explain how Aeromexico plotted and refined its engagement on various digital channels and points along the journey.

“We have come from a low penetration — percent of our sales coming from our direct digital channels — and nearly doubled that in the past year,” he said. “Every percent increase means a corresponding increase in premium seat and ancillary sales. Add to that a concerted focus in constantly improving and honing the seat and ancillary offering. We have optimized premium seat pricing and created more and more categories of seats.”

Even so, Gross has high expectations of further improvements from a consistent development of this digital relationship with customers.

“We have really only scratched the surface — there is a long way to go before we reach the full potential for unbundling and ancillary sales,” he said.

Aeromexico has focused on elegant customer experience to reap maximum benefits from its digital customer-centric systems platform. The airline launched a public beta of its new website in March using an application program interface (API) that contains the business logic for its digital channels.

“We needed the flexibility in the front end to optimize the user experience through simplicity, ease of use, and presenting ancillaries where and how we wanted,” Gross said. “We also are now going to use APIs, both our own and from partners in order to present truly personalized ancillary offers at appropriate points during the purchase process and also post purchase. We are taking the first steps in Big Data analysis in order to do so.”

Development of these digital platforms required up-front investment of personnel and creative resources focused on carefully mapping the journey and proactively resolving hurdles, which makes the investment pay off in the long term. Aeromexico optimized costs by using resources wisely. Getting top-level executives to buy-in to the program and lend support was also critical to success at Aeromexico.

“We are lucky that we have enthusiastic support for this revolutionary program from our CIO, chief revenue officer, CEO and Chairman,” Gross said. “Also, key stakeholders in Aeromexico are a tight group, and it’s easy to pick up the phone to any of them and get their help. I’m being totally honest when I say that we don’t have your typical battling stakeholders here. They are incredibly supportive.”

According to Gross, Aeromexico has noted a marked positive reaction from customers to the changes implemented through digital customer-centric design, and the airline is only getting started.

“We don’t have data for the new website or app yet, but speaking of our existing website — which we have done a lot of ‘tweaking’ to — we have almost doubled [use of this digital channel] in the past year,” he said. “I think that’s a good sign that customers have found an improved digital experience so far. But it’s far from what we aim to achieve. That’s why we are launching the totally new site. And we have launched a totally new app, built from the ground up together with a world-class agency specialized in apps.”

Gross identifies the systems gaps addressed by upcoming refinements of the airline’s digital platform. Mapping the customer journey objectives have helped Aeromexico identify those gaps and develop plans to build bridges.

“Our new mobile app concentrates on post-purchase and the day of travel in particular,” he said. “Push notifications are key, pushing all relevant information to the user’s device after purchase — suggestions for ancillaries and upgrades, when it’s time to check-in, gate and itinerary information, and eventually, any rebooking needed.

“We also have some very cool surprises in store that will delight the customer, such as guiding them to the right counter for baggage drop off or if they don’t have luggage, guiding them straight to security, even embedding a wayfinder that uses Google’s Indoor Maps.”

Having a well-developed roadmap also helped Aeromexico set realistic expectations of the timeline for completion.

“We have our hands full with the launch of a new site, then several major incremental releases to that, a new app, and new check-in kiosks,” Gross said. “After that, we will continue to work on the channels to increase conversion, seat and ancillary sales, and provide an ever better experience. We will also get involved in other parts of the customer journey where we can add value through technology, whether that is at the airport, onboard, etc. Big Data crunching and acting on it is also a big part of the agenda for 2016 and beyond.”