Published on 19-May-2010
Validated on 05 Dec 2012
"We saw the opportunity to transform aspects of our self-service into more of a real-time dialogue with customers." - Patrice Ouellette, Director Customer Solutions & Innovations, Air Canada
Travel & Transportation
Having made self-service innovation an important part of its strategy, Air Canada has created a number of firsts in the industry, including the placement of “off-site” kiosks outside the airport. Beneath it is an equally innovative technology strategy that consolidates all self-service channels to enable a seamless customer experience. It was on this foundation that Air Canada launched — the delivery of its proactive travel services via iPhone and BlackBerry mobile devices.
While pull-oriented approaches such as web and kiosk-based services had a place in its self-service mix, Air Canada saw the ubiquity of mobile communications as changing the very nature of customer interaction
Developed and released a mobile smart phone application that lets customers stay informed regarding flight details and travel arrangements in real time. Passengers can now obtain a copy of this application for free, using it to view plane schedules for more than 170 destinations, purchase tickets, manage booked flights, retrieve electronic boarding passes and even choose seats. Travelers can even leverage the software to book rental cars and other travel services from Air Canada's partners
- Approximate 80% reduction in per-check-in cost compared to traditional counter checkin process - Increased customer loyalty by virtue of more compelling and “stickier” self-service options like real-time notification - Greater than 50% reduction in time required to launch new services or channels through the reuse of existing service assets - Reduced paper costs - Improved quality of customer service - Increased customer service productivity
Proactive delivery of travel-related information and services to customers over “always-on” mobile devices
Having made self-service innovation an important part of its strategy, Air Canada has created a number of firsts in the industry, including the placement of “off-site” kiosks outside the airport.
Beneath it is an equally innovative technology strategy that consolidates all self-service channels to enable a seamless customer experience. It was on this foundation that Air Canada launched — the delivery of its proactive travel services via iPhone and BlackBerry mobile devices. Relying on rules-based intelligence, the solution delivers notification messages that are always up to date. In addition to fitting in with customers’ increasingly mobile lifestyle, the solution enables Air Canada to process transactions such as check-ins 80 percent more cost effectively than those done at the customer service counter.
● Approximate 80 percent reduction in per-check-in cost compared to traditional counter check-in process
● Increased customer loyalty by virtue of more compelling and “stickier”self-service options like real-time notification
● Greater than 50 percent reduction in time required to launch new services or channels through the reuse of existing service assets
● Reduced paper costs
● Improved quality of customer service
● Increased customer service productivity
● IBM WebSphere® Application Server
● IBM DB2®
● IBM Consumer Device Services
● IBM Kiosk Manager
●IBM N series full-service travel kiosks
●IBM Global Business Services® – Application Innovation Services
Smarter transportation: Air Canada pushes the envelope on self-service
- Instrumented - When flight status or itineraries change, the solution detects it in real time and automatically notifies the customer.
- Interconnected - Air Canada customers have the choice of web, kiosk or mobile device self-service, each of which use the same underlying SOA infrastructure.
- Intelligent - Rules-based intelligence at the core of the solution ensures that notification messages are up to date and sent via the appropriate medium (text or email) based on the nature of the message.
While moving people to their destinations is Air Canada’s mission, the company itself has been on a journey of its own. Over much of the past decade, the airline has been a true pioneer in the realm of travel self-service. After becoming one of the first airlines to deploy kiosk-based check-in within airports, it steadily expanded its offerings to allow passengers to make same-day changes such as changing seats and making onboard purchases. A look at Air Canada’s self-service initiatives over the past few years reveals a clear pattern in the evolution of its service offerings. That’s because the airline is following its own equally clear vision of how to improve the customer’s travel experience. One of the key themes of this vision is the importance of delivering choice and convenience to the customer both within the confines of an airport and in every segment of the customer’s journey.
This was manifested first in its kiosk strategy, where Air Canada has led the industry in deploying off-site kiosks at different points in the travel ecosystem, beginning with hotels and eventually considering other possibilities such as car rental companies, convention centers and airport-bound train stations—just about any place that travelers gather. This innovative strategy can be traced directly to a crucial decision the airline made to create a single, SOA-based infrastructure that would underpin all of its self-service channels. Breaking with the industry’s prevailing practice of maintaining separate platforms for each channel,Air Canada’s choice demonstrates the true meaning of “strategic architecture,” since it was intended to bring—and has successfullydelivered—a new level of efficiency, agility and speed to market to its self-service initiatives.
The journey to real time
In the latest leg of its self-service journey — the delivery of real-time travel information over mobile devices — Air Canada has remained true to its commitment to bring convenience and control to whatever part of the travel experience customers demand. By incorporating mobile into its self-service portfolio, the airline saw the opportunity to extend the accessibility of services to customers and introduce a whole new class of services that capitalize on the “always-on” nature of mobile communications. The seeds of the mobile project were planted during the collaborative planning sessions regularly conducted with IBM, a key provider since the airline’s earliest self-service initiatives. Animating the discussion was the recognition that a shift was occurring in what customers were coming to expect from the self-service experience.
While pull-oriented approaches such as web and kiosk-based services had a place in its self-service mix, Air Canada saw the ubiquity of mobile communications as changing the very nature of customer interaction, explains Patrice Ouellette, director of Customer Solutions and Innovations. “We were intrigued by the concept of the mobile phone as a travel companion that would enable customers to connect to us where and when they wanted,” says Ouellette. “More fundamentally,we saw the opportunity to transform aspects of our self-service into more of a real-time dialogue with customers.” What makes it a dialogue is the more proactive role Air Canada would play in delivering information and services to customers, such as automatic notifications of delays or changes, the delivery of targeted deals and real-time updated travel itineraries, to name a few.
One of the key insights that came out of the joint planning discussions between Air Canada and IBM was the overriding importance of the user experience design. The emphatic message — guided by the team’s deep “human factors” expertise — was that an effective mobile self-service experience must be much more than a thinly disguised version of the web or kiosk interface. Instead, it should be designed from the outset to capitalize on the inherent value of proactive, real-time information delivery to travelers. This was seen as an especially high priority given Air Canada’s commitment to staying out ahead in travel self-service.
Breaking new ground
Air Canada’s answer was to deploy its mobile self-service solution first as an application (“app”) for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch, then as a BlackBerry app— in both cases a first among North American air-lines. From the all-important customer perspective, the Air Canada App is accessed simply through a single icon, which serves as a gateway to a broader array of information and services, including the ability to book flights, download electronic boarding passes, check in, get flight status and book rental cars and other services. Behind the scenes—andin keeping with Air Canada’s strategic architecture vision—the solution uses the same SOA infrastructure as the airline’s other self-service channels, including the same set of common enterprise-wide services(such as flight status check). The efficiency that comes from this level of reuse is a big reason Air Canada was able to cut the time and cost required to bring the mobile solution to market by more than half. The solution, which drew more than 30,000 downloads from 47 countries in its first six days, won the Canadian New Media Award for Best Mobile App of 2009.
In addition to top-line growth, Ouellette envisions Air Canada’s new mobile self-service platform as a powerful magnet that will keep customers coming back. “Our belief is that once people get a travel companion icon like the Air Canada App on their phones, they will grow accustomed to going there for all information related to their journeys,” says Ouellette. “Our ability to combine flight information with our broader knowledge of the customer also enables us to tailor personalized offerings and time-sensitive promotions. These benefits show the distinct advantage that mobile solutions have in embedding themselves into the fabric of customers’ lifestyles, which makes them such a powerful tool for strengthening customer loyalty.”
Then there’s the cost - even though many costs are beyond the control of airlines — such as weather, fuel and security — cost control represents a huge competitive factor in the industry. What makes Air Canada stand out isn’t the fact that it’s offering self-service, but the way it’s done. By creating a common framework to underpin all of its self-service initiatives, the airline can provide a wider range of channels—and choice—to meet its customers’ diverse preferences, and in doing so drive a larger share of its customers to self-service channels. This enables Air Canada to reduce the overall cost of serving its customers and to serve them better. That’s because self-service frees up service resources to focus where the human touch is needed, such as assisting children, the elderly and groups of travelers. Air Canada views the ability to provide this level of service as one more area where it can differentiate itself from its competitors.
Sustaining a commitment to innovation
For all its progress in customer self-service, Patrice Ouellette sees Air Canada at an early stage in its innovation journey. “We see our commitment to constantly elevating the quality of our customers’ overall travel experience as the basis for our current success, and even more so as the foundation of our future,” says Ouellette. “With its experience,technology and knowledge of business model, IBM has been critical to helping us meet this commitment to our customers.”
“Our belief is that once people get a travel companion icon like the Air Canada App on their phones, they will grow accustomed to going there for all information related to their journeys.” — Patrice Ouellette
The Inside Story: Getting There
Making the case for change
To move ahead, Ouellette and his team needed to make the case for extending its already-leading self-service capabilities even further by enabling mobile access. The basic questions had been asked already in conjunction with previous self-service expansions, namely: How do you spend so much on a channel that (right now) accounts for such a small part of the business? The answer was growth. Having witnessed the rapid adoption of its web kiosk channels—and subsequent major improvements in efficiency—Air Canada counted on the same dynamic to play out for its mobile
Making the case to the CIO, Ouellette pointed out how moving passengers from counter check-in to the web and kiosks check-in has improved efficiency as much as 90 percent for those transactions. Ouellette further reasoned that since Air Canada can drive only so many people to the web or kiosk channel, adding mobile access made it that much more likely for passengers to go the self- service route, thus enabling further cost reduction while providing customers with more choice and control.
Preparing for real time
The same thing that made mobile service delivery an attractive option—the opportunity to deliver real-time services—also presented Air Canada with one of its most significant challenges. Ouellette explains: “[Our real-time plan] required us to do a lot of thinking about how our customers would interact with this new channel. Internally, we had to look closely at our systems to ensure that the information feeding this channel was real time and up to date—and push for change where it was needed. To a customer sitting in an airport, having data that’s half an hour old isn’t acceptable.”
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