Of all the business sectors affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps the travel industry has been impacted most. According to the World Economic Forum, the global aviation sector is expected to lose $US84 billion in 2020.
To build resilience during this time, businesses have accelerated digital transformation efforts to strengthen customer experiences.
Take, for example, IndiGo, India’s largest and most popular passenger airline. With its customers already accustomed to online bookings, check-ins and interactions before the pandemic, the company was well positioned to boost its digital capabilities and experiences in 2020.
“COVID-19 brought in all the more reasons to digitise our decisions and take more customer interactions online,” says Nitin Sethi, IndiGo’s vice president of digital. “We’ve been able to bring ourselves closer to our customers by expanding our services across the most commonly used digital platforms.”
IndiGo is focusing on four key priorities to enhance its digital capabilities: Making experiences simpler, understanding customer sentiment, embracing automation, and delivering tailored content.
While each priority is separate, Sethi says they complement each other through human-centric design.
“A human-centric approach strikes the ideal balance between human desirability, business viability and technical feasibility,” he explains. “I always remind myself that technology is only an enabler. People don’t see how your code is working. People notice how seamless your experience is, how clear your messages are, how much you make them feel valued, and whether they’re controlling the decision making.”
Understanding customer sentiment
Throughout the pandemic, IndiGo has observed heightened levels of consumer anxiety around airports and flying. Sethi says expanding the company’s digital capabilities has helped address these changing behaviours and build trust with consumers.
“We consider every booking not just as a transaction but an opportunity to create value at every step of the journey for a long-lasting relationship,” he says. “How we emerge from these turbulent times hinges on the trust we’ve been able to build with customers during this period.”
To help solidify that trust, IndiGo has also introduced mandatory web check-ins and an online health declaration to help ease customer tensions. It also launched the “Lean, Clean, Flying Machine” campaign to put travellers at ease. The campaign has been enormously successful in communicating the airline’s commitment to customer safety. For example, the campaign video has accumulated more than 2.5 million views on YouTube to date.
Automated and empowering experiences
For IndiGo, automating as many experiences as possible has been critical in empowering customers to take control of their travel experiences during the pandemic.
With call centres and physical operations shut down, IndiGo has expanded its customer-support services to include commonly used digital services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, through which chatbots ensure more timely and targeted communication.
For instance, to address an increase in unpredictable flight delays or cancellations, IndiGo has implemented several digital initiatives designed to build goodwill with customers.
If the airline cancels or reschedules a flight, customers can use the “Plan B” digital messaging service to change the time and/or date of their flight or cancel and process a refund, at no additional cost.
The company has also created Credit Shell, through which a credit to the value of a cancelled flight can be used on a future booking – all online.
Sethi says digital services such as WhatsApp have delivered three times the “return on experience” for the business. “Because of the enhanced experience on the customer front, the return for our business is immense,” he says.
One of the key challenges of COVID-19 has been responding to the pace of change. Sethi says the freedom to make decisions quickly has been key to driving innovation and new ways of working at IndiGo.
“Within my team, we’re used to running two or three planned projects with the occasional unplanned project presenting itself,” he says.
“Now, with a lot more unplanned projects popping up, it’s been important for me to trust my teams to make decisions that can benefit our customers. As a result, we’ve been able to get some great initiatives off the ground.”
Sethi explains “on-the-fly hacking and quick solutions were required to ensure processes ran smoothly,” and that decisions are made at a core, hands-on level that allows the team to take on more responsibility.
It’s a behavioural pivot Sethi says is here to stay and will position IndiGo as a progressive brand geared at providing the best experience for customers.
“It’s a pure example of design thinking where you go out and approach the market in an iterative way. You keep doing AB testing, you keep trying new things and you keep making sure that every user persona gets that personalised experience,” he explains. “It’s not about getting it right once; it’s about getting right ultimately. You continue to improve till you make it happen. There is no right or wrong and there is no success or failure.”
So what’s next for IndiGo? Sethi says his personal motto is to carry on with the pace of digitisation and he’s eyeing video, vernacular and voice in the year ahead to further enhance the company’s digital experiences.
“The idea is to build something which matches the best digital experiences in the world,” he says. “IndiGo’s digital-first approach to team and culture, along with our commitment to continue evolving, means we’re already kicking some of those goals.”