Heathrow Airport’s journey towards passenger personalisation

Head of ebusiness highlights the data, digital and technology investments helping to personalise customer experience

Heathrow Airport’s mission statement is to “give passengers the best airport service in the world”. But how do you as a marketer help achieve such a vision when you lack the data sets, digital capabilities and access beyond the onsite visit to influence the customer’s journey?

The answer, according to Heathrow Airport head of ebusiness and CRM, Simon Chatfield, has been a “seismic” shift to build a unified customer view and utilise digital and platform smarts to increasingly personalise the experience not just in and around the airport, but across the whole trip lifecycle.

Chatfield said one of the biggest problems initially was data.

“You’d expect that because you make a reservation and it flows into our systems… you provide us with your identification when you front up at the airport… then you come up to security gates to have your boarding pass scanned, that we’re well equipped with data,” he told attendees at the recent Adobe Summit. “Imagine how powerful all that information could be in sending you a really compelling offer.

“However, that information is either proprietary to airlines, or it is government issued information purely for processing and security reasons. I can’t use it.”

To combat this, Heathrow Airport has been investing in data capture and recognition that can inform a single, cross-channel customer view through a combination of Adobe’s Marketing Cloud and Acxiom.

“That has allowed us to virtually extend the passenger experience,” Chatfield explained. “We’ve taken all the strands of where I know you’re coming in from – maybe you came on the train, booked a car, or you’ve been on our website – and we’re building this into a visual picture.”

Chatfield said the objective is then to make all current touchpoints better, such as the website, as well as utilise new touchpoints for engagement. One is Heathrow’s guest Wi-Fi, which 50,000 people register for every day.

“We’re building other triggers, including heat recognition, using Adobe to build these then integrate them with new channels,” he said.

“We’re putting this in place to build a beautiful journey. It’s not just the golden hour in the departure lounge, it’s about extending that journey so it starts long before you even get to us. It’s when you’re on the website, when you’re coming into the carpark, in the terminal and even after the journey, and even afterwards, we’re communicating with you, finding out satisfaction scores when you leave the terminal.”

What targeting looks like for Heathrow

On Chatfield’s roadmap for Heathrow are tailored content onsite, more targeted offers through the Heathrow loyalty program, and lifecycle communications via email, parking recognitions and push notifications through mobile.

Powering this is a coordinated visitor ID based on persistent recognition, which allows Heathrow to track and engage consumers across all channels. The organisation invested in Adobe Campaign platform to generate an integrated customer profile, segmentation, offers engine and cross-channel execution. Supporting this is Adobe Analytics for actionable insights and attribution, plus Adobe Target to personalise content across digital channels.

At any given time, Heathrow has 40 campaigns in the marketplace. Some are scheduled, like newsletters, while others are based on transactional triggers, such as when a booking is made. Behavioural triggers like whether an individual has or hasn’t been spending in a particular way are also used.

Chatfield said all are modular, allowing the team to quickly swap out products or offers featured in EDM campaigns tailored to specific identified segments. The team is also able to exclude known users.

“That was beginning of our journey towards personalisation,” he said. “Email is a very important channel for us.”

What Heathrow is looking to shift towards is real-time targeted eCRM and contextualisation, he said. At present, an email is sent off the back of an individual logging into guest Wi-Fi, segmented by terminal, if you’re a member of a frequent flyer program, an individual’s gender or even if they’re a high or low spender. It also includes an NPS survey.

“We will shortly be linking Campaign with our operational control centre, which means we can get into service CRM data,” Chatfield continued.

Contextualisation, meanwhile, is about better targeting communications around relevant times. “We’re good at sending you segmented stuff when we send it, but wouldn’t it be more relevant to change content at the time of opening,” Chatfield said. “If you don’t open the email until you get home, it may be a wasted opportunity. We could recognise that and change content accordingly.”

Retargeting has been another focus, and proven especially effective around parking. Chatfield claimed Heathrow had seen up to 28 per cent conversion just based on recognising whether a passenger has been on its website.

Targeted push notifications are a further channel opened up and again based on customer triggers.

“We’ve registered your profile and know what day you’re travelling, but we’re also geofencing the entire estate, so when you come onto the estate, we can ping offers and information messages,” Chatfield said.

Website personalisation based on what Heathrow knows about passengers also ensures different priorities are displayed depending on tastes, interests, location or transaction history.

On top of its core technology stack, Heathrow invested in Clicktale’s users experience recording tool, which identifies where people are clicking and dropping out of the website, and provides recommendations for testing that can be executed by the team via Adobe Target.

“We’ve seen a 3 per cent lift in clicks on call to action and 2 per cent life in conversion thanks to this,” Chatfield said. “We’re not a massive business but improvements are dramatic. For example, there was 22 per cent drop in error messages on parking when we got it right.”

Finding more triggers for communication

The work doesn’t stop there. The latest trigger is automated number plate recognition, which the team can use to generate different push notifications and emails.

“We’re also introducing a new ticketing process on trains, so when your QR code is scanned, that’s a trigger,” Chatfield said. “We’re rolling out beacons as well and also started trialling service-led push notifications.”

Another medium-term priority is better utilisation and integration of social channels in its ongoing experience approach, Chatfield said. “We’re not using Adobe Social much yet, apart from scheduled blasts,” he said. “There’s an interesting challenge ahead for unified engagement.”

All of this is ultimately about shifting Heathrow from a standard airport processing people to being a place where business partners want to engage, Chatfield said. To get the investment over the line, Chatfield said his team pulled together a roadmap of what it wanted to achieve then made a video of what it would look like to a customer that it showed executives.

“We’re not just the landlord, we’re true business partners, and we’re in the driving seat,” he said. “Excitement can be great service, but filling basic needs such as Wi-Fi and shopping can also be a great service and these tools are helping us to do that.”

Lessons learnt

Through the process to date, Chatfield has learnt a number of important lessons. The first is that you can’t be afraid to test. “Experimentation can provide amazing results,” he said. “With everything we do, we have a 10 per cent control group.”

Chatfield was quick to point out Heathrow didn’t go live with everything on day one.

Planning for the entire experience was the second must. “A good customer journey should never end,” Chatfield said. “Personalisation is a progression – it evolves as you better know your customers.”

Heathrow Airport also has to be where its customers are, even if this means a lack of direct brand control, Chatfield said.

“Initially we thought we’d have a great app, but we’re now working with airline partners to say here’s the content, the segment and insight, you push it. It’s not directly coming from us as we’re not all things to all people,” he said.

  • Nadia Cameron travelled to Adobe Summit in Las Vegas as a guest of Adobe.

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