By Shashank Nigam

Spanair delights holiday travelers

Just around when thousands were stranded at London’s Heathrow Airport and missing Christmas gatherings, Spanair had delightful surprise in store for their customers.

On Dec 24, Spanair’s flight from Barcelon to Las Palmas arrived close to midnight. And when the passengers reached the baggage belt upon landing, they were surprised to see that instead of their luggage, out came beautifully wrapped Christmas gifts, each specially packed for each passenger and tagged individually too. Now, wouldn’t you be delighted if this happened to you? Just see the reaction of the passengers in the video below, and you’ll see what I mean.

KLM Suprises digital travelers

By now, you must have heard of the KLM Surprises campaign. Here’s how it worked: KLM started delighting digital customers at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam before they boarded their flight.

After travelers announced their presence  on Foursquare or Twitter, KLM staff contacted online them to learn of their departure gate and time (1st surprise). Then, after doing some online research about the person, they got a very small gift for the passenger (2nd surprise). A NYC city guide with sports bars highlighted, for a soccer fan. A glass of champagne for someone who had his 18th birthday on that day.

And the campaign worked wonders – receiving accolades from experts around the world, getting a ton of press mentions and of course, social sharing love from the travelers themselves . See the video below and you’ll see what I mean

Surprises as airline brand strategy?

Just last week, as I enthusiastically shared the KLM and Spanair adventures with a senior airline executive in Miami, he asked me a question about the applicability of such ideas to overall brand strategy. And I thought that was a very good question, which I should address here.

Think about scalability

To create a memorable brand experience, airlines need to go above and beyond what’s expected. And a surprise delivers the punch. Remember the rapping flight attendant at Southwest Airlines? Or the dancing flight attendants on Cebu Pacific? Those were all surprises that the passengers didn’t expect – but are they scalable? Can they be repeated again and again?Consistently across the network? Scalability is the key to using “surprises” as a brand strategy for airlines.

Start small and make sense of the data…

These days, airlines have a data overload – they know a lot about their customers, though all data may not be at one place. The key is then to start small and try something fresh. And see whether it works. Measure and monitor the response. If passengers liked it, then try it again.

I’ll give you an example. If I’m sitting in the boarding lounge before my next flight, and I tweet that I feel like an orange juice, imagine my delight if I actually get an orange juice upon boarding? Or if I’ve been inconvenienced on an earlier flight, what if I get a business class meal during the next leg of my flight? Airlines already have this data, and someone just needs to make sense of it.

But then of course, there’s the concern that if they do it too often, people come to expect it, and when it’s not delivered, the effect is reversed.

So, what do you think about airlines surprising passengers? Is it a sustainable strategy, or just a gimmick? I’d love to hear your thoughts, over in the comments or on Twitter (@simpliflying)

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  • Pkharkar

    The whole point of surprises is that they should not be common. So, scalability is the wrong dimension to think on. I'd say airlines should decide a number of surprises per month and then randomise them across their passenger base. That way, no one could “expect” the surprise, yet there will be enough stories going around… which is what the airlines would want – to be talked about with genuine delight.

    • Prajakta – While I take your point – the same surprise shouldn't be common, I think it's still important to take into account scalability of any effort. I like the randomisation idea – to have a pool of surprises and distribute them across flights makes good sense. And still keep them unexpected :)

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