Gamification in the airline industry – going beyond traditional customer loyalty programs

The airline industry and gamification, or the use of game mechanics in non-gaming contexts, have historically had a close relationship. The first ever use of any form of gamification started in 1981 when American Airlines introduced the first frequent flyer program named “AAdvantage”. Since then, the use of gamification has become more common and is steadily moving towards a significant 5.5 billion market share by 2018. Although frequent flier programs and other customer loyalty initiatives traditionally originate from the sales and marketing department, today gamification covers a much wider spectrum of areas; including human resource development, engineering and finance.

Let the games begin
In order to be a successful airline, you not only need to be highly competitive in terms of prices, but also deliver a great experience to customers. As a result, airlines often come up with different strategies to attract and retain customers in the midst of intense competition for market share. This includes the quality of the service the crew members provide, in-flight experience and the facilities provided. Gamification can be used to improve the quality and productivity of these services. In the airline industry, gamification that is properly designed and implemented can improve the customer experience from the check-in counters and cabin crew, to the services offered by other departments like food and beverages, internal facilities and cleaning staff.

Rewarding customer opinions
Customer feedback is the best way to understand the quality of the service provided by crew. The best way to obtain feedback is to collect it within the cabin itself. Giving feedback is normally contingent on whether the customer is very unsatisfied or very satisfied. To encourage more feedback, the first gamification step starts with giving rewards to those who provide it. For example, Sri Lankan Airlines already do this, offering a $10 discount to flyers that complete a customer feedback form. Other ways of doing this could be to add extra bonus points to frequent flyer miles. It’s important to remember though, not to overload customers with complex questions. Valuable feedback can be captured with simple ‘likes’ via social media platforms and optional comments.

Personalised service for more feedback
To take capturing customer feedback to the next level, savvy airlines will use their in-flight entertainment systems. For example, during the flight onboarding program, the in-flight screen in front of a passenger can be personalised for them; displaying relevant information about their destination and their flight. It could even give the passenger a simulated tour of the plane and demonstrate emergency information. If this information is interspersed with screens that solicit the passengers’ feedback, then the level of interaction and personalisation will greatly encourage the customer to provide their opinions.

On the other side of the aisle
Gamification needn’t just be for the passengers though; the service crew can also be gamified to improve performance by using the customer feedback the airline gathers. For example, service crews can be awarded points for captured feedback and also awarded ‘badges’ by their colleagues or managers. As net satisfaction scores go beyond certain benchmarks, staff can be awarded a virtual trophy and are recognised as high performers by their fellow service crews.

Bringing the swarm mentality into the game
Airline crews’ work together to provide a better customer experience, encouraging a swarm mentality even in the midst of competition, creates a sense of team work. While a member of a service crew can’t individually become the ‘best’, they can support the team to perform better than the others. For example, airlines can create competition amongst different service areas to reward the best team; based on customer feedback and inputs from social media platforms. This allows the airline to recognise top performers while also supporting the teams that need more guidance on improving customer satisfaction.

With the number of competitors growing in the airline industry, it’s very important to use innovative ways to improve the quality and the productivity of the service staff while improving the passenger experience onboard. Gamification not only helps to create an eco-system where the service staff tend to improve themselves over the time, it also provides various input to the management on decision making and understanding which areas needs more attention. With all the mentioned fact, a proper gamification design can help a given airline industry to take the competitive advantage over the time.

This article was originally published on Travolution on October 2, 2014, and is re-posted here by permission.

Prageeth Sandakalum

Consultant, Gamification Lead - Customer Experience Management, Virtusa. Prageeth is responsible for end to end delivery of Gamification products, general technical lead operations and internal/external sales for the millennial enterprise initiative of Virtusa (V+). He is also a part of many strategic initiatives in the area of millennial enterprise solutions and assists the organization in the Go To Market strategy for the same. He is a First class honors degree holder in the field of Information Technology from University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. He is also an Advanced Speaker – Bronze, specialized in Technical Presentations & Informative Speaking awarded by Toastmasters International. He was an invited guest speaker at the SharePoint & Social Business Conference 2012, USA and a speaker at Microsoft Sri Lanka Technology Forums and Various Educational Institutes including National Universities. Apart from being a researcher on Gamification and Social Business Techniques, he also loves to watch and play Cricket and Badminton, Travel around the world and do Latin American dancing.

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