Iberia provides ground staff and cabin crew with iPads to improve customer service

By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

Following recent initiatives by British Airways, KLM, and SWISS, Spanish flag carrier Iberia has just announced it will equip its 600 pursors with iPads in order to help cabin attendants anticipate passengers’ needs and offer a more personalised and higher quality service.

Iberia’s new crew iPad contains the entire passenger manifest, real-time graphic information about the status of embarkation and shows the seat assigned to each customer. The app also identifies members of the Iberia Plus loyalty programme and their membership level, as well as all special needs passengers, unaccompanied minors, those requiring special meals, etcetera. It also informs the pursers of each passenger’s recent flights with Iberia, including any incidents.

Iberia says the application will gradually incorporate additional data, such as descriptions and pictures of the meals available on the flight, and information of interest to passengers, covering hotels, restaurants, consulates, embassies, etcetera. Pursers can use their iPads to change seat assignment, and the device will also store duty manuals for crew members, formerly available only on paper. A video of Iberia’s new iPad-based onboard service is available here.

Iberia Ágora project
The introduction of the iPad for pursers is one of several initiatives that are part of Iberia’s Ágora program, which has been launched by the airline to improve customer service, punctuality, and operational efficiency. In early 2011, Iberia equipped customer service staff at its Madrid-Barajas hub with iPads that provide them with real-time access to operational information so they can make decisions and keep passengers informed in a better way. Tablet PCs are also used in the daily servicing of the ground handling vehicles used by Iberia at Madrid-Barajas.

While the IBPad initiative focused on providing Iberia ground staff with real-time information, the airline has also just launched a new initiative called ‘IBHelp’ as an extension of the IBPad-based customer service. More than 100 Iberia customer service agents will be equipped with iPads and PDAs loaded with applications enabling them to deal with a wide range of customer incidents and requests in real-time and from any location within the airport, making them more proactive and mobile. To implement IBHelp, Iberia has developed an check-in platform called ‘Departure Control System’ to link the mobile devices to all check-in kiosks and Quick Service Points from which documents may be printed. According to Iberia, in addition to making customer service more flexible and agile, the objective of IBHelp is to optimise customer service resources at peak times (video here).

Holograms, Quick Service Points
Other innovations recently introduced under Iberia’s Ágora program include hologram-based check-in agents – whose main objective is to draw the attention of passengers and encourage them to use kiosks ‘check-in’ and avoid the queues (video here) – and so-called ‘Quick Service Points’ – self-service kiosks that passengers can use to report lost luggage or to obtain new boarding cards when they have missed a connecting flight.

BA ‘counter-googling’
Meanwhile, Iberia’s merger partner British Airways – which began equipping its senior cabin crew with iPads last year – has recently rolled out a ‘Know Me’ initiative, which includes the ability for staff to search Google images in order to recognise passengers on arrival and “put a face to the name.” This practice has been dubbed ‘counter-googling’ by trendwatching.com.

The airline says it wants to give its customers a more personalized travel experience by creating dossiers on them, and has gathered the information it has on all its frequent fliers into a database that sends messages to crew members and ground staff. Says Jo Boswell, head of customer analysis at BA, “We’re essentially trying to recreate the feeling of recognition you get in a favourite restaurant when you’re welcomed there, but in our case it will be delivered by thousands of staff to millions of customers. This is just the start — the system has a myriad of possibilities for the future.”

BA says they hope to send out about 4,500 daily “personal recognition messages” during 2012 and has also equipped the concierges at its Heathrow lounges with iPads as part of the ‘Know Me’  initiative.

Privacy concerns
However, after revealing its ‘Know Me’ plans, BA faced a publicity backlash from privacy campaigners. For example, Big Brother Watch, a British privacy watchdog, told the Evening Standard: “Since when has buying a flight ticket meant giving your airline permission to start hunting for information about you on the internet? If British Airways want more information about us they can ask us for it, rather than ignoring people’s privacy and storing data without us having any idea what data they are storing.”

A BA spokesperson responded: “We are entirely compliant with the UK data protection act and would never breach that. Know Me is simply another tool to enable us to offer good customer service, similar to the recognition that high street loyalty scheme members expect. The Google Images search app helps our customer service team to recognise high profile travellers.” Adds Simon Talling-Smith, executive vice president of the Americas for BA, “We just want to be able to recognize them.” […] “Crew members are looking at your photo and nothing more.”

Marketing Week summarizes the issue well by saying: “At face value, BA’s ‘Know Me’ is obviously well intentioned. However, where it comes to commercial use of their personal data, consumers have become cynical – and, moreover, journalists were born that way. It will only take one false move by BA for the story to be spun in a much more sinister way. While BA says customers have so far welcomed the individual approaches they get from staff acting on information from ‘Know Me’, some will inevitably find it intrusive. Some will feel affronted that they are receiving special treatment because they’ve previously complained, while others will take advantage of it. And some will be shocked to learn that BA is storing their images.”


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