When most marketers talk about the customer journey, they are talking metaphorically, but at the UK’s Heathrow airport, the task is to use data and technology to make very real journeys better through improved understanding of varying customer needs.
Through email, social, display and its mobile app, Heathrow can help customers get to the airport, guide them around the relevant terminals and keep them up to date with flight information, as well as bring a retailer or restaurant offer to their attention.
These two sides of guiding customers and bringing them targeted promotions have prompted the airport to combine its mapping and flight data with its loyalty scheme in a single app, launching at the end of November. Simon Chatfield, head of ebusiness and CRM at Heathrow, believes the result will be a more seamless, single service for passengers and meeters-and-greeters, accompanied by improved targeting of retail and eating offers based on transaction data gleaned from the airport’s loyalty scheme.
Data Is Aviation’s Fuel
In the run-up to offering customers a single view of Heathrow through a single app, the airport has been working hard with data provided by Acxiom to build not just a far more detailed, single customer view which can be acted on more smartly than before. Enriching data has been important because, Chatfield reveals, the airport may not know as much about its customers as they often suspect.
“There’s a misconception that we know everything about everyone in our terminals because we’re the airport but actually, it’s the airlines that will normally hold this detailed information,” he says.
“We will typically have access to the airline manifests for security and planning reasons but not for marketing. So we only know your identity if you’ve booked parking or the Heathrow Express or logged on to wifi. We can normally identify and engage with about a third of the 74m people who use the airport every year. Though there’s room for improvement, that’s pretty good considering many will be just transiting through for connecting flights.”
Same Person, Different Needs
One of the challenges to which Heathrow has been keen to rise is anticipating the needs of its customers. These can vary greatly, depending on what kind of trip they are undertaking.
“We can never pigeonhole our customers because their needs can vary from one trip to another,” Chatfield says.
“If you are always with us on a Monday morning buying a coffee and then buying a pint of milk on your way out on a Friday we can reasonably assume that you’re a commuter. However, that same person might be going away for a couple’s break if they're checking in on a Friday or taking the family on holiday. We can take hints from factors--such as how long you’ve booked parking for--and then target you with the best offers and most apt information.”
These are typically presented within the airport’s app as well as through display ads when a person logs on to the wifi. Email is used before, during and after a trip with social mainly being relied on to guide customers to services they can enjoy at the airport before they make a trip.
Two Inputs, Sixteen Categories
The airport’s view of its customers is formed from two types of information; how a customer reaches the airport and, secondly, data from wifi log-ins combined with use of its loyalty scheme in terminal shops and restaurants. Working with Acxiom, the airport has enriched its data sets with family, location and earnings income to give each data set eight sub-categories, sixteen in total. These profiles inform the airport what information might be useful and what accompanying offers might be most appropriate.
“The same person might be given an offer for Louis Vuitton bags when travelling on business or an offer on books if they’re taking a summer holiday,” Chatfield says.
“We might not even prioritise a shopping offer but instead flag up where a kids play area is if we think they're taking a family holiday. It’s not just about passing on offers, it’s about serving customers and helping them through the airport because happy customers are less flustered and happier, so more likely to want to shop and eat. We’re rare in that our concessions pay us a proportion of income and so it’s in our interests to ensure customers are happy and ready to shop and eat.”
To reach out to more customers and ensure they are guided to planes in a happier frame of mind, perhaps with a retail offer too, Heathrow is in talks with several airlines to use APIs for its terminal mapping and live departure and arrivals information. The degree of data that will be shared between the operators and airport is still under discussion but it opens the possibility for Heathrow to find out more about the two in three terminal users it does not currently engage with on a laptop or mobile while they are in its terminals.
Chatfield believes it is too early to give definitive figures on the success of the current programme to learn more about customers and improve targeting. However, he does reveal that with individual campaigns for restaurants and shops, the airport has been very impressed with uplifts in footfall and conversions that can be put down to improved understanding of customers leading to far more relevant engagement.
Photo © Heathrow Airports Limited