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Sky’s the Limit: 10 Strategies for Airlines to Reach New Heights in Customer Retention

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For airline brands, customer retention is no walk in the park. Unlike everyday products and services, people usually buy leisure trips 1-2 times a year, on average. On top of that, the travel industry has suffered setbacks due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Even though travel is slowly bouncing back, airlines are still dealing with the losses from previous years. They face difficulties like a shortage of workers, high fuel costs, and tough competition to get back on track.

It’s more important than ever for airlines to keep customers happy and coming back. It’s not just about satisfying passengers; it’s about creating unforgettable experiences, going above and beyond with excellent service, and building strong loyalty.

In this article, we’ll explore the smart strategies and insider tips that successful airlines use to build long-lasting relationships with their valued customers.

Strategy #1: Build lasting connections through personalization

Strategy #1: Build lasting connections through personalization

You must have heard the saying, “People buy experiences and not products.” Well, a study by McKinsey shows that an experienced-led growth strategy could increase customer satisfaction and engagement by 20-30%.

Experienced-led growth strategy could increase customer satisfaction and engagement by 20-30%

And for a service-based industry like airlines, your customer’s experience means EVERYTHING. When your services exceed expectations, they become advocates both offline and online.

Personalization is crucial to develop an experience-driven growth strategy for your airline brand. Consider Sarah, a frequent business traveler, visiting her preferred airline’s website to book her next trip. Instead of a generic homepage, she is greeted with a personalized banner saying, “Welcome back, Sarah! Ready for your next business adventure?”

As Sarah navigates the website, she discovers flight options tailored to her previous preferences. Departure times align with her busy schedule, and the airline remembers her choice of a window seat with extra legroom. Booking is seamless. Sarah receives a personalized confirmation email containing her flight details and tailored recommendations for nearby business-friendly hotels, restaurants, and attractions based on her travel history and preferences. The email even includes a special corporate discount at her preferred hotel chain.

Sarah receives targeted notifications throughout her journey, such as gate changes and flight updates, to ensure her work plans stay on track. The airline goes the extra mile by recommending in-flight entertainment options that align with her interests, such as business podcasts and industry-related documentaries. This personalized approach makes Sarah feel valued and understood. She becomes more inclined to choose this airline for future business trips. She enthusiastically recommends it to her colleagues and business associates.

But you shouldn’t stop at personalizing offers for your frequent flyers. To satisfy those flexible travelers, you need to expand rewards redemption options. Leading airlines worldwide offer opportunities to use miles for hotel stays, car rentals, online shopping sprees, and even goodies at airports.

For example, Qatar Airways’ Avios membership offers benefits across their partner brands, spanning airlines, hotels, car rentals, and other services. Such options enable travelers to maximize their rewards and have the most rewarding experience while flying with you.
Limitless options

Need help with personalization? Consider WebEngage’s Website Personalization stack that personalizes on-page elements and shows individual visitors products and deals relevant to their buyer persona. This tool will help deliver tailored experiences to your website visitors based on their preferences, past interactions, and booking history. By dynamically displaying relevant content, offers, and recommendations, on-page personalization can enhance engagement, increase conversion rates, and contribute to improved customer retention.

Strategy #2: Deliver a consistent omnichannel experience

Strategy #2: Deliver a consistent omnichannel experience

As mentioned above, delivering the best customer experience should be your top priority as an airline.To do that, you have to meet them where they are. We’re talking about a solid omnichannel strategy leveraging apps, digital platforms, and seamless interactions throughout the customer journey. To truly rock the omnichannel game, you’ve got to understand your customers and the channels they prefer. By mapping out the customer journey and getting inside their heads, airlines can deliver personalized service and be there when and where customers need them most.

Take Jack, an adventurous traveler who books a spontaneous getaway on his favorite airline’s website. A chat window pops up, offering instant assistance. Before his flight, he receives a personalized email with a digital boarding pass and local recommendations. He scans his digital pass at the airport at a kiosk for quick security clearance. On the flight, he uses the app to create a personalized entertainment playlist and receives exclusive offers. After landing, a push notification thanks him and offers bonus loyalty points. Impressed, Jack becomes a loyal advocate, sharing his positive experience with others.

If you need assistance with your Omnichannel strategy, consider using WebEngage’s Omnichannel Engagement campaigns. With the help of this campaign, you can send personalized flight offers and discounts to customers via email, followed by a timely SMS reminder and a push notification on their mobile app, ensuring they don’t miss out on a limited-time deal.

Strategy #3: Elevate in-flight entertainment and dining experience

Elevate in-flight entertainment and dining experience
When discussing the importance of customer experience for your airline brand, how can we not emphasize the in-flight experience? Imagine getting ready to board a long-haul flight, all excited about having a range of entertainment options and mouthwatering meals to make your journey awesome. But then, boom! You find out that the airline doesn’t offer any in-flight movies, Wi-Fi, or tasty dining choices. You’re stuck with your phone in airplane mode and a range of super-expensive, tiny-portioned snacks. Talk about a bummer! When airlines fail to provide these basic amenities, it can seriously hurt customer retention rates.

When it comes to in-flight experience, JetBlue sets the bar high. JetBlue passengers can enjoy free live TV, movies, Wi-Fi, and complimentary in-flight messaging. It provides free Wi-Fi to all the passengers. While the airline has food for purchase, they also offer complimentary treats such as Pepsi beverages, Dunkin coffee, Cheez-Its, and PopCorners. Additionally, JetBlue caters to various dietary preferences with vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free options like plantain chips and oat flour cookies.

Strategy #4: Provide VIP treatment with enticing loyalty programs

Provide VIP treatment with enticing loyalty programs

For business travelers, loyalty programs play a significant role in choosing an airline. Customers enroll in these programs to save up miles for future trips. But there’s more you can offer, such as onboard perks. Let customers redeem points for luxuries like champagne or Wi-Fi in the air. At the airport, provide instant redemptions for speed-boarding priority or lounge access. Keep infrequent travelers engaged by partnering with retailers, restaurants, and online platforms. Exclusive deals, bonuses, and unexpected ways to earn and redeem miles will make your loyalty program even more appealing.

One important thing to remember about loyalty programs is that they work only if they offer something the customer values instead of a token benefit the customer doesn’t care about. For example, you can collaborate with non-competitive brands that share your target demographics or offer complementary services. Think discounted hotel rates for miles redemption and luxury brands tapping into new markets. By joining forces, you tap into new markets, grow brand loyalty, and attract new customers to your brand. For example, the Fly Blue program of KLM and Air France is one of the best loyalty programs in the world, and one of its biggest perks is its attractive partnerships with brands such as Citi and Accor.

Strategy #5: Handle mistakes with sensitivity and kindness

Handle mistakes with sensitivity and kindness - Air India

In the unpredictable world of airline travel, crises such as delays, cancellations, natural disasters, and technical malfunctions are inevitable. However, it’s not the crisis itself that determines the fate of an airline’s relationship with its passengers—it’s how you respond that truly matters. When you take responsibility, offer genuine apologies, and make amends, you have the opportunity to not only salvage the situation but also win the loyalty of your customers, preventing them from seeking alternatives on their next flight.

Take, for instance, the notorious “pee gate” incident involving Air India. Unfortunately, the airline’s response fell short, leaving the passenger feeling disregarded and dissatisfied. It’s doubtful that she would consider flying with Air India again after such an experience.

In contrast, Air India displayed exemplary crisis management in a recent incident involving an aircraft in a small town in Russia. Instead of blaming the issue on the circumstances, the airline promptly sent personalized apology letters to all passengers. What’s more, the letters were signed by a CXO, demonstrating the gravity of the situation and the airline’s commitment to addressing it. But they didn’t stop there. Air India went above and beyond by refunding the entire fare paid by the affected passengers and providing them with a small voucher for their next flight with the airline. This comprehensive approach rectified the immediate issue and left a lasting positive impression on the passengers. They will likely consider flying with Air India again, appreciating the airline’s genuine concern and effort to make things right.

In the airline industry, where customer satisfaction can make or break a brand, airlines must acknowledge their missteps and proactively mend the relationship with disgruntled customers. By doing so, airlines can transform a crisis into an opportunity to strengthen customer loyalty and prevent passengers from seeking alternatives for their future travels.

Strategy #6: Forge strong connections through shared values

Strategy #6: Forge strong connections through shared values
Building customer retention isn’t just about providing a comfy seat and a bag of peanuts. It’s about showing who you really are and what you stand for. Be an airline that makes your customers say, “I feel a sense of pride as this is a brand for someone like me.” Be the airline they can believe in, and they’ll remain loyal to your brand.

Studies show that young people are extremely concerned about the planet’s well-being. Gen Z cares about sustainability more than any generation before them. Since this segment forms the lion’s share of your passengers, keeping your values front and center and walking the talk as an airline brand is essential today more than ever.

Take the instance of a hypothetical airline, GreenSky Airlines. They’re all about saving the planet, one flight at a time. From reducing carbon emissions to implementing recycling programs, they aim to make the skies greener. They share updates on their social media channels about the solar panels installed at their headquarters and the reforestation projects they’re supporting. An environmentally conscious passenger books a flight with GreenSky, feeling a sense of pride. And when they step on that plane, they see the brand’s commitment to sustainability first-hand. The flight attendants are handing out reusable water bottles and biodegradable cutlery. The food and beverages are local, organically sourced, and fair trade. The passenger can’t help but tell their friends and family about their fantastic experience. Those people start booking their flights with GreenSky, too. It’s a domino effect of loyalty and love for the planet and your brand.

Strategy #7: Leverage social media’s influence to spread brand message

Strategy #7: Leverage social media's influence to spread brand message
Approach social media thoughtfully. Think of where your target audience is. Are they attracted to the visually vibrant world of Instagram, or do they prefer the witty banters on Twitter? Qatar Airways and Emirates have banked on the star power of Deepika Padukone and Penelope Cruz, respectively, for their media campaigns.

But remember, working with celebrity brand ambassadors isn’t always necessary if you can create in-house content that engages and converts. Even if you’re considering collaborations, you don’t need to empty your bank account for an A-list celebrity. There’s a whole world of YouTubers, Instagrammers, and TikTokers with loyal followers. Pick someone whose values align with yours and those of your audience.

Delta has a solid presence on Twitter, and they keep their audience engaged and entertained with relevant tweets.
Delta has a solid presence on Twitter, and they keep their audience engaged and entertained with relevant tweets - customer retention for airlines

Hawaiian Airlines knew they had to go beyond the ordinary when connecting with people. They crafted a campaign inspired by the beautiful philosophy of Aloha, which embraces love, care, and harmony with the world. And it struck a chord with audiences like a sweet Hawaiian melody. But they didn’t do it alone. Hawaiian Airlines teamed up with influencers who created content showcasing the Aloha spirit. These influencers spread the message far and wide, encouraging their followers to do the same. Every piece of content tagged Hawaiian Airlines, giving them a treasure trove of stunning marketing material. The result? An Instagram hashtag that reached over 1 million users and achieved an engagement rate of 4%.

Strategy #8: Take feedback as an opportunity for learning

Strategy #8: Take feedback as an opportunity for learning
Want to know what your passengers really think? Let’s dive into the world of customer feedback. You need specific feedback categories that cover all the bases. Whether a customer wants to rave about your top-notch in-flight entertainment or has a suggestion on improving the check-in process, listen carefully so that you know what’s important for them and how to improve their flying experience with you.

To receive proper feedback, timing and feedback channels matter. You need support reps asking the right questions at the right time. Provide customers with easy ways to submit their input, whether it’s through your website, an email survey, or even a chatbot. For example, right after a passenger takes one of your flights, send them a friendly message asking for their thoughts. Getting feedback right after the flight ensures that they give the most accurate feedback as the experience is fresh in their minds.

Strategy #9: Handle social media praises and brickbats the right way

Strategy #9: Handle social media praises and brickbats the right way
In the age of social media, handling customer communications has become crucial for retaining customers in the airline industry. Customer complaints can spread rapidly through social platforms, potentially damaging the brand’s reputation. As an airline brand, you must extend your best customer experience beyond the flight. You must engage customers throughout their journey, from trip planning to baggage reclaim.

For example, when a disgruntled passenger vents their frustration on Instagram, posting a photo of a lost suitcase with the caption, “Thanks for ruining my vacation, @XYZairlines!” your airline’s social media team needs to swoop in to save the day. With a mix of understanding and empathy, the social media agent should comment on the post, apologizing and assuring the passenger that they’re on the case. They request the passenger’s contact information via direct message and promise to resolve the issue quickly. Next, your customer support team springs into action. They track down the passenger’s missing bag, provide updates on its whereabouts, and ensure it’s delivered to the passenger’s doorstep within hours. They also surprise the passenger with a travel voucher to thank them for their patience.

Delighted by your swift response and personalized attention, the passenger updates their Instagram post with a happy selfie, thanking your team for their exceptional customer service. The post garners a flurry of positive comments from fellow travelers. In this case, you successfully resolved the passenger’s grievance. You turned a potential PR nightmare into a shining example of your dedication to customer satisfaction.

Strategy #10: Analyze customer retention metrics to improve your strategies

Strategy #10: Analyze retention metrics to improve your strategies
To keep your customers hooked, you need to monitor the numbers. So, let’s talk about customer retention metrics.
First up, we’ve got the attrition rate. By keeping tabs on this rate, you can uncover the reasons behind customer churn and take action to prevent it.

Next, we’ve got the repeat customer rate. The higher the repeat customer rate, the more love your airline is getting. So, rock their world, deliver outstanding experiences, and keep those fans coming back.
Let’s talk about Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). It’s a way to measure the total business a customer brings to your airline throughout their relationship with you. Imagine it as a scorecard that reflects how much they contribute to your business. Loyal customers who choose your airline repeatedly, spend on upgrades, and take advantage of additional services have a higher CLV. They are the ones who significantly impact your bottom line.

You can increase CLV through exclusive perks and rewards tailored to the preferences of high CLV customers. This could include complimentary upgrades, priority boarding, exclusive lounge access, personalized travel experiences, user-friendly booking systems, dedicated customer support, and exceptional in-flight services. While you should maintain open lines of communication with all customers, pay special attention to high CLV customers. Keep them informed about flight updates, exclusive promotions, and personalized offers through channels like email, mobile apps, and social media.

WebEngage’s Journey Designer empowers airlines to create customized customer journeys, mapping out the entire lifecycle from onboarding to post-trip follow-ups. With the power of Journey Designer, you can easily boost customer engagement, satisfaction, and retention by automating relevant and timely communication.

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve learned about the ten most powerful strategies to supercharge customer retention, it’s time to take action. However, not all these strategies can be accomplished manually. This is where the role of marketing and analytics tools becomes indispensable. By leveraging powerful analytics software like those offered by WebEngage, airlines can automate and streamline various retention initiatives, making the process more efficient and impactful.

For instance, imagine you want to personalize your communication with customers based on travel preferences. Manually analyzing vast amounts of data and tailoring messages for each individual would be overwhelming. However, with the help of WebEngage, you can get a unified view of your customer data across channels that help you better understand their needs and fine-tune your messaging to suit them. Supported by WebEngage’s analytics functionalities, your airline brand can automate communication, segment customers based on their preferences, and deliver personalized messages at scale.

WebEngage helps you save time and resources while giving your customer the best possible experience, thus skyrocketing your retention rates. You can read some of our customer success stories to understand how we can help supercharge your brand’s retention rates.

So are you ready to take your airline’s customer retention to new heights? Take a demo today and unlock the potential of effective retention strategies.


B2B Content Writer, 

Marketing and HR Technology

Kasturi Patra is a B2B content writer with a passion for storytelling. She specializes in creating compelling content for marketing, technology, e-commerce, and HR brands. When not writing for clients, she loves bringing characters and worlds to life through her fiction. Besides writing, she enjoys reading, spending time with her pets, traveling, learning French, and drinking excessive amounts of coffee.

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