Invest in localised apps and mobile sites

Charles Whiteman

Airline passengers are far more likely to carry a smartphone than most consumers. They also use these devices at every key point during their trips: from booking and retrieving boarding passes, to receiving real-time notifications and consuming in-flight entertainment experiences, and more.

So why do many airlines admit they fail to provide great mobile experiences to these super-valuable customers? Only about 40 per cent of airlines think their mobile services are performing at least 'as expected,' one report says.

The savviest airlines are adapting quickly, however. These organisations understand that mobile is here to stay. Providing mobile-web experiences that rival the feature-rich quality of their desktop websites is quickly becoming a priority.

But the real value of mobile experiences lies in extending the functionality of apps and mobile sites in ways that add value for on-the-go customers. Real-time notifications of flight changes is a good example of this. Pushing targeted advertising to passengers also shows promise, a comScore study suggests.

Partnerships between airlines and airports are also reaping interesting results. One such collaboration resulted in a system that reminded passengers to have their mobile boarding passes ready as they approached security checkpoints. Passengers in Japan are automatically checked-in as they pass through security.

Being mobile-friendly certainly requires investment, but these moves are already paying off. Nearly 12 per cent of an airline’s ancillary sales will hail from mobile phones by 2017. This will grow even more in the future.

With so much on the line, now’s the time for airlines to launch the best mobile strategy possible. My company helps airlines translate and optimise their mobile websites and apps for emerging markets. We’ve learned a lot along the way. Here are some tips:

Speak the Language: A critical first step is to translate your company’s English-language online content into other languages-specifically, languages that are spoken in your business’ most-valuable secondary markets. When appropriate, this translated content should always be in sync with the content serving your primary market. Feature and content parity is very important to many international consumers.

The positive results are often dramatic and sustained. When our client JetBlue launched its Spanish-language mobile site, it recovered its initial costs in less than a week. The company is still 'seeing a significant increase in revenue' from the endeavour, a company spokesperson recently said. JetBlue earns the revenue to pay for the total annual operating cost of its Spanish mobile site in less than a day.

Force-Rank Your Top Global Markets: Leverage your company’s considerable market data and analytics to determine which online markets are generating the most business for your company. Leave no stone unturned; examine ticket sales, international routes, and web traffic (both desktop and mobile sources).

If your airline has already published localised websites for global or domestic markets, make sure to provide translated mobile experiences for these consumers, too.

Think About Devices and Networks: When serving global consumers, consider the disparate sizes and styles of smartphones and mobile phones that you must serve. These technical nuances may vary from country to country. By understanding the technical limitations of the devices most-often found in these markets-or other limitations, such as regional cellular data bandwidth caps-you can properly and efficiently serve content to these new customers.

Get Nerdy with Your Data: Make sure to track customer behaviour on your translated mobile sites to ensure your experiences are hitting the mark with passengers. By keeping a close eye on this data, you can find gaps in the customer experience that may require refinement. Some examples:

• Make sure to provide local customer-service phone numbers that connect with native speakers (rather than providing a phone number to a customer service rep that speaks English only)

• Make sure to send flight update text messages in the local language, and not English only

• Accommodating international billing addresses and locally-preferred payment methods, to eliminate transaction abandonment

Benchmark and Iterate: And make sure to watch other key performance metrics for these localized mobile sites. Knowledgeable localisation vendors help examine benchmarks, and determine KPIs for conversion rates from market to market. These experienced partners can provide great insights on how to improve your mobile sites’ performance.

• Charles Whiteman is senior vice-president of client services at MotionPoint Corporation, a global enterprise localisation platform. He may be reached at [email protected]

By Charles Whiteman