How much airline personalization is too much personalization?

By Hélène Dubos | Trends & Innovation

Jun 07
Airline personalization for woman in airport

The correct dose of personalized customer experience : a key benefit for airlines

The ability to personalize your passengers’ experience is a key benefit of airline digital transformation. It allows you to use the data you hold on customers to intelligently suggest deals and offers which are relevant and timely. It also makes it possible to create targeted marketing which is more likely to resonate. And, the Boston Consulting Group suggests it can help you increase revenues by up to 10%.

But, airline passenger personalization has its drawbacks. If your brand comes across as creepy or intrusive, customers may stop trusting you. A study released earlier this year revealed that 75% of consumers find personalization ‘creepy’, and 22% of customers who have had creepy experiences with brands will turn to a competitor.

How can airlines get this balance right?

The personalization paradox

personalization paradox

Today’s customers have become used to receiving personalized marketing and experiences when using apps and e-commerce websites. A recent Accenture survey found that 43% of consumers are more likely to buy from companies that offer personalized services, and 31% really appreciate systems that automatically learn about them and offer personal recommendations.

But here’s the strange thing: 40% of those same respondents told Accenture that they find it creepy when tech seems able to anticipate their needs - and 41% switched companies over poor personalization.

When it comes to personalization in the aviation sector, passengers tend to feel the same. On one hand, they want their favorite airline to remember who they are and what their preferences happen to be. But at the same time, an airline which seems to know too much about them feels over-familiar. To overcome this paradox, it’s first important to understand exactly what makes people find something ‘creepy’.

What is creepiness?

We’ve all received a marketing email that seemed to know about our personal preferences, or an ad that followed us around the internet – or even the strange sensation that our smartphones are listening to us. One psychologist who has researched the notion of creepiness described it as the feeling of being “uneasy because you think there might be something to worry about here, but the signals are not clear enough to warrant your doing some sort of desperate, life-saving kind of thing”.

Essentially, people find something creepy when they have a sense that it could be worrying, yet they don’t know exactly why it’s a problem. This is a common complaint about social media platforms and advertising online - it feels unsettling that a company seems to know so much about us, but we don’t know whether it’s really something to be afraid of or not.
So, how can your airline offer a personalized experience, but avoid that ‘creepy’ factor?

Transparency makes personalization much less creepy

A good place to start when thinking about positive personalization is platforms like Netflix or Spotify. Both brands use algorithms to suggest TV shows, films and music which they believe may be relevant to you, based on your previous listening or watching activity – even if sometimes they get it completely wrong.

Why is it that people don’t find this creepy? Simple: it is transparent.
Users of platforms like Netflix and Amazon, can quite clearly see how the company has come to its personalized recommendation. With messaging like ‘here are products recommended to you based on your past purchases’ or ‘because you watched X, you might also like Y’ it is clear how the company personalized their offering.

On the other hand, if a brand simply seems to know a lot about you, without any indication as to how it learnt about your tastes and preferences, people naturally find it ‘creepy’. It’s unsettling and strange that a computer seems to have accurately guessed where you want to fly on your next holiday. It makes you worry that the computer knows a lot of other personal information about you too.

How can airlines avoid creepy personalization?

As we’ve just seen, companies that are transparent about how they collected customer information and made those personalized recommendations tend to be trusted much more by customers. So, how should airlines who have digitally transformed start offering personalized experiences? Let’s draw up an example to see how.

Say you have a customer who flies from London to Madrid once every six months. An obvious opportunity for personalization would be to send him targeted marketing messages which tells him when prices are cheapest for his upcoming flight.

A ‘creepy’ version of this personalization might be to produce messages that seem to follow him around the internet – ads which say something like “thinking of booking a flight to Madrid? Order low cost tickets today”. This approach would surely be seen as creepy and intrusive – our passenger would wonder how you know what he is thinking and resent the intrusion on his regular browsing. It might even push him to fly with a competitor.

So, what would good personalization look like? The answer is - almost the same! However, simply being transparent about how you know about the customer will mean he goes from seeing your brand as creepy to seeing you as relevant. You could create an automated email with simple messaging along the lines of “Hey, according to our records you regularly fly to Madrid every June. So, we wanted to let you know that the prices for flight in June are especially cheap this week”. That slight tweak in tone, letting him know how you are aware of his regular travel plans, can make all the difference.

Airline passenger personalization is a fine balance

Offering your customers a personalized experience can be hugely beneficial to your brand, boosting profits and increasing customer loyalty. By making sure that you are transparent with your customers – both in terms of how you use their data, as well as how you seem to ‘know’ about them – you can expect to reap the rewards that personalization has to offer.