The algorithm knows

This article was first published in Lufthansa Passage Magazin (Issue #1/March 2015). Republished here with tiny changes, good mood images and Lufthansa’s kind permission.

Answers to the right questions

These days, adjusting its strategy to focus on customer centricity and personalization, Lufthansa is taking an important step. However, if Lufthansa truly wants to become the number one service-oriented premium airline, this step can only be the first. And if Lufthansa wants to be the equal of current top data crunchers and innovation drivers, the company would do well take make this first step a truly big one.

Predictive Flight Search. A tool that can tell that I want to fly, that uses my data – from search history to calendar – to discern when and where I want to fly, and that combs the many offers for the cheapest and most convenient flight available. A few taps on the display and I’m ready for takeoff.

The predictive real-time services bundle Google Now helps Google move even closer to its users’ needs, further enabling the company to fulfill them at the exactly right moment. While the accuracy of Predictive Flight Search may still depend on a wide range of parameters, today’s beta status is tomorrow’s successful disruption – and PFS illustrates a form of innovative and need-oriented thinking that is still alien to many companies.

The ongoing reorganization of Lufthansa’s sales department shows that Lufthansa is not one of those many companies. This project aims to find answers to the right questions: How have customer expectations changed? How do people travel today? And how, when and why do they book their trips?

This comes with two challenges: For one, there may be as many individual answers as there are individual travelers. And in most cases, airlines only get to retrieve a fraction of the relevant information. No booking form can map the decision-making process that starts with “I could use a vacation” and ends with booking seat 29K.

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Meet the customer at the right time

Where we used to invest a lot of time and research into planning our vacations, things have become a lot more spontaneous: I have time, I have 500 €, I feel like a big city with a beach… Know someplace nice? Travel brands have the answers, all the time, on all channels – but rarely at the right time. An airline has the potential to become the omniscient authority on travel destinations that gives me the right recommendations for “Big city + beach + far far away” when I need them. Sharing and posting inspiring content will miss its goal when it’s not done at the right time.

When it comes to business travels, inspiration takes a cheap seat. Here I am, it’s a business context, I want to get from A to B quickly and seamlessly. The actual brand and airline is of secondary importance. This is the very case airlines should dread when it comes to Predictive Flight Search – a software that knows my schedule and can give me the very flight I need. For Google’s data profile covers all aspects of my life.

Be exclusive to be different

The reason, time and context of my travels: the algorithm knows. It sets the bar for companies of tomorrow and today. The innovations and the ease of use that customers get to witness and experience become their expected standard – across all needs and industries. If you want to be on top, you have to do more than just react to ongoing changes. Tenacious shopping carts and personalized mailings will not give you the edge over tomorrow’s competition. The differentiation you seek will exist where companies meet their customers’ unanswered wants and needs with a perfect and exclusive solution, creating a lock-in effect in the process: make my own Spotify or Netflix profile part of your IFE, integrate and automate taxi oder Uber services that keep me moving once I touch the ground. Lufthansa’s Innovation Hub is currently developing exciting approaches to service interfaces and smart data. But “exciting approaches” are ubiquitous. You don’t get to be called progressive just by realizing them. You get to be called progressive if you manage to redesign a complex organism like an airline to enable it to seamlessly integrate these approaches into its services.

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Your chance to beat the rules of the game

Digitalization is the core challenge when it comes to customer relationships. Modern tools and service concepts do not just allow for a focus on digital needs – they demand it. And for big corporations like Lufthansa, they offer you the chance to break the rules of the game. You get to sidestep the powerful position of price check tools and flight aggregators by placing your own offer before the impulse to compare prices – through inspiration for some people, rationalization for others, contextualization and excellent timing for all of them. And through being a corporation and brand that has long mastered the technologically perfect flight from A to B and now gets to become the perfect airline.