IAG (International Airlines Group) is the parent company of Aer Lingus, it is one of the world’s largest airline groups. Headquartered at Dublin Airport, Aer Lingus is the national airline of Ireland. The company’s primary mission is to connect Ireland with the world using a fleet of 48 modern Airbus aircraft, serving over 100 international routes to 75 destinations, in 22 countries across Europe and the US. Aer Lingus carries over 10.6 million passengers per annum on mainline and Regional franchise services.
Running a busy airline is never easy, given all of the factors that can throw a meticulously-timed schedule off course – from bad weather and extreme natural events, to operational issues. If this wasn’t challenging enough, a difficult economic climate, carbon footprint concerns and the rising price of fuel have taken their toll on passenger numbers and company profits, intensifying the need for operators to run their fleets at superior levels of efficiency. Aer Lingus prides itself on being able to control operational costs while maintaining exceptionally high levels of customer service; to achieve this, it requires the latest technology.
Aer Lingus’ primary distribution channel is its website, www.aerlingus.com. However, when bookings are made online it can be difficult to develop close customer relationships and deliver differentiated customer service. In the event of a known delay or cancellation to a service, the airline can’t rely on customers reading and acting on emails, especially if contact needs to be made at unsociable hours or when passengers are already on holiday or away on business. Solely relying on call centre agents to let people know individually would be expensive and time-consuming.
To overcome the challenge of ensuring customers have received important travel alerts, Aer Lingus has taken advantage of Engage Hub’s innovative mobile engagement solution, which allows it to reliably contact customers promptly and at short notice with changes to schedules and other valuable service information.
The text-based solution – an SMS gateway – is connected into the central Aer Lingus online booking engine, to provide opt-in passenger lists with timely SMS alerts on any flight delays, cancellations or service updates.
The decision to use Engage Hub stemmed from a need to be able to contact passengers in transit. A text-based service meant that they could reach opt-in passengers for a particular flight instantly, yet at very low cost.
Crucially, the Engage Hub proposition is an end-to end service, providing full visibility of whether a customer has received an incoming message. “The value-added information Engage Hub can provide is critical,” Collins says. “They are able to monitor what happens to each message, so we can have full confidence that they are getting through. If there is ever an issue, Engage Hub is back to us in minutes with a response.”
While other SMS options existed, Aer Lingus found that Engage Hub was not only more cost effective, but that it provided a level of reliability, operational support and added value that rival offerings couldn’t match.
The biggest test to the service came in the spring of 2010, when Aer Lingus, like many European airlines, found much of its fleet grounded by the threat of volcanic ash which had drifted over from Iceland. “Without Engage Hub, we would have struggled to cope, even if we’d had the time and resources to be able to contact people reliably,” Collins says. Instead, the Engage Hub SMS gateway proved instrumental in keeping customers informed. At the time, CEO Christoph Mueller highlighted on the Aer Lingus website that the airline had issued over half a million text messages to passengers during the crisis. This compares with 40,000 messages broadcast to passengers in an average month.
A year ago, Aer Lingus extended its use of the Engage Hub solution to include a booking reference number service, allowing opt-in passengers to receive full itinerary details and boarding passes via their mobile phones in advance of travelling.
“Because the service has been proven to be extremely reliable, we’re thinking up innovative new uses for it. We’ve benchmarked the solution retrospectively which has confirmed that Engage Hub still leads the pack. With Engage Hub, we can reliably and instantly contact hundreds of thousands of passengers in one go, as we had to during the volcanic ash situation, is priceless.”