Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

SA’s low-cost carrier (LCC) airline sector is oversubscribed given the size of the market, a fact that is exacerbated by a tough economic climate. Emphasising aspects such as reliability, routes and even sponsorships are all ways to create unique engagements with consumers so as to be part of the consideration set with an offering that competes on something other than price alone.

It’s a strategy that has worked well globally. A case in point is Ireland’s budget carrier Ryanair, which has focused on improving customer service through technological innovations such as chatbots and voice recognition in its bid to become the “Amazon” of travel, according to a recent post on marketingweek.com.

Elmar Conradie, CEO at FlySafair, explains that in this environment, it’s crucial to stay relevant. Relevance, he says, comes from listening to consumers and offering unique selling points such as the right route network, a convenient schedule, fair pricing and a consistent approach. When it comes to customer feedback, social media has proved useful for polling online communities about their opinions on new routes and for more participative engagement strategies. “Tailoring messages that are relevant to individuals at the right time and place is crucial, as are clear and simple communications,” he says.

FlySafair is winning with this approach, having been ranked the world’s most on-time airline for 2017 by air travel intelligence specialist OAG. Moreover, in November and December 2016 FlySafair was honoured with six Feather Awards by Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) at the ACSA airports in which it operates. Five of the rewards were for best low-cost carrier 

FlySafair makes use of a host of online tools to automate and aid online marketing efforts. Providing more convenience and a better customer experience is an ongoing process – the airline is continuously renewing its website to ensure a seamless experience for customers and ensures that it is active on social media channels for prompt response to complaints and queries. The brand is also mindful to allow customers to contact them on whichever platform they feel most comfortable, and makes agents available via live chat and call centre options.

Though leisure travellers tend to pull back in a recession, in many cases business travel remains a necessity, points out Shaun Pozyn, marketing, loyalty and customer experience head for British Airways (operated by Comair) and kulula.com, which is why this segment has proved to be an important market for the airline.

Kulula.com was launched 16 years ago with the tagline “now anyone can fly”. In a tougher economy, the airline has made some changes to accommodate a more corporate market, evolving the carrier to stay relevant to the needs of its customers. Comair’s new Slow Lounges, for example, have been an exciting new innovation, as has its partnership with Avios.

 

Pozyn adds that the brand has completely relooked its customer experience journey and has combined its marketing and customer experience departments into one team. In addition, customer experience surveys are undertaken daily, which helps identify and rectify gaps in performance.

 

This focus on customer experience appears to be paying off; kulula.com and British Airways (operated by Comair), were recently named best African low-cost airline (kulula.com) and best African regional short-haul airline (British Airways, operated by Comair) at the sixth annual Business Traveller Africa Awards.

Pozyn points out that over the years buying behaviour has changed. “These days consumers look to the Internet first when they consider interacting with a brand, subsequently using social media platforms to see what their peers are saying. Most of the time, people have made a purchasing decision before they have even walked into a physical shop. We need to realise that online is where transactions are taking place.”

As consumers are bombarded with a multitude of brands and products, getting your brand to stand out is the greatest challenge faced by marketers across the board, he concludes.

The big take out: SA’s low-cost airline carriers operate an oversubscribed service in a shrinking market. To stand out, airlines should be listening to their customers’ feedback and competing on services other than price.

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