There is no contest the digital era completely changed our lives. We discussed last week its effect on retail and how retailers are now adopting digital into their strategies. Today, we’re focusing on how technology and new entrants in the industry have redefined how we travel.

The internet allowed for companies to operate without the high fixed costs of a developed brick and mortar network, increased collaboration across a territory and an easier access to their customers.

The emergence of low-cost airlines – partly driven by this evolution – gave access to travelling to a much larger population than ever before. As a consequence, the likes of EasyJet and RyanAir in Europe or Southwest Airlines and JetBlue (respectively 10th and 52nd in the 2015 US CEE Ranking) in the United States put a major pressure on the traditional carriers to justify the price premium they request for their services.

This is a great opportunity to explore two ways customer experience design innovation is redefining the way we travel, be it by rail or by plane.

American Airlines now in control of their customers’ wider journey

One of the major Achilles’ tendon of the airlines industry is its dependency to third parties. The way to and from the airport, together with the journey and services within the airport are outside of the airline’s control. Therefore, there always is a risk for the experience of the traveller to go south although the airline having done everything perfectly. The performance and success of airlines lies in part in the hands of these partners. American Airlines decided to address this lack of control by launching a partnership with Uber, the ride sharing app.

When customers receive their booking confirmation for their AA flight, a clickable link “Remind me to Uber” will be included in the email. This feature is currently available across 11 airports in 10 American cities. The partnership becomes even more interesting for AAdvantage members (their frequent flyers programme) with a certain status, as they are benefiting from a $25 off voucher for their next Uber ride (regardless of whether they are Uber customer or not). Customers owning an American Airline’s credit card will receive bonus miles for all Uber rides taken until July 31st 2016.

By encouraging its customers to use Uber to travel to and from the airport, AA can work towards offering a better journey to its customers, by making Uber directly accountable for this part of the customer journey.

Plan your train journey with a video call

Flying is not part of most people’s daily commute, unlike rail travel. One of the most exciting customer experience design inventions is brought to us by Cubic Transportation Systems, the company which co-developed Transport for London’s contactless payment system in its Underground network.

The NextAgentTM is a virtual ticketing agent system. In a nutshell, this machine combines a ticketing office and a help desk with a video call. Customers can communicate in real time with a real life expert through a video link. This all-in-one machine ensures customers are serviced in a prompt and consistent manner across the rail (metro or train) network, from the busy metropolis to the secluded or underserved train station.

In terms of customer experience design, this contributes greatly to the Time & Effort, Expectations and Personalisation pillars across the rail network.

The system was first announced in 2013. Deutsche Bahn (the German railway company) was reportedly trialling it in the same year. Since 2015, the railway company Abellio Greater Anglia (in the UK) has been trialling the system which has received a positive response from customers. As a matter of fact, the system has been so successful that in February 2016 the company decided to add these terminals within the Stansted Airport rail station.

The next few years will tell if this technology will spread across the different rail networks and revolutionise rail travel for good despite its important infrastructure requirements.

Register for our best practice in travel and transport customer experience webinar

Learn more about the challenges and opportunities for travel and transport brands, by registering for our upcoming webinar next Tuesday (8th March) at 12pm.

Our next article will be looking into financial services innovations and how they redesign and improve the customer experience.

Acknowledgements: Gustavo Imhof