Autonomous Customers, Traveler Privacy and More Questions for CX Professionals in a Changing World

“As we move toward a more automated culture, most travelers will adapt to a Jetsonian, automated lifestyle.  Every industry we know will be disrupted.  For those of us in aviation, this signals the shift from aviation as a service industry to a transactional one that is potentially devoid of the personal touches that made the romance of flight an event.”

As I am boarding my flight to Denver today to speak at the AAAE Conference on “Autonomous Airports,” I can’t help but question, what does autonomous airport really mean.  The customer experience value of an airport itself is not autonomous.  Rather, the emerging autonomous airport experience aims to give birth to, enable and empower autonomous customers.

That brings about even more questions for CX professionals, particular customer experience professionals in the aviation world.

What is an autonomous customer?

The autonomous customer uses his/her time better and has more of it. Today we have a “holding room” at airport gates. Holding room… even the term itself sounds limiting.

What is a customer supposed to do in a holding room?  Be on hold?

Autonomous airports are open spaces with no physical or process boundaries between the individual customer touch points (check-in, bag drop, etc.).  As a result, there also is no barrier between crewmember and customer. Eliminating barriers in autonomous airports shifts the power from the airport procedures and processes to the traveler. This makes travel more enjoyable.

Because of this customer experience-driven design, the autonomous customer can go through the experience at his/her own pace.  The autonomous customer is not “held” anywhere. The airport becomes a menu of tools and services that the autonomous customer is empowered to choose to use or not. Who would not want to do that?

What about Grandma’s journey?

Autonomous airports enable both customers and crewmembers. A roving crew has access to much more information and tools on the go that enable them to take care of the needs of all customers of all ages, particularly those who do not want to or are unable to do so themselves.

Maybe the first time, Grandma will be intimidated (although not all grandmas are alike!) by the autonomous airport environment, but she will quickly get used to and appreciate the self-driving device that can whisk her and her bags from one gate to another in a few minutes.

What about my privacy? Does autonomy mean my airline knows everything about me?

Autonomy is also about accountability.  On both sides. Customers want information and adequate services at the right times.  It is impossible for any brand to deliver that without access to certain customer information or preferences.

Customers also want seamless journeys across the airport. To design that airlines and airports need access to certain customer history. For example, if you want the airline to wait for the customer one extra minute at the gate, the airline needs to know that the customer is physically at the airport. Even more so, the airline should know whether the customer has passed security already.

In the case of JetBlue’s autonomous airport CX design, Bag Buddy, one of my ideas, was designed to pick up customer bags at their homes and transport them directly to their destinations. That seamless movement of objects and people lays on the foundations of data sharing. More specifically, it rests on good data that is appropriate and useful in delivering the experience customers want.

Questions remain, and as CX experts continue to design autonomous airports and meet the needs of the autonomous customer, new questions will arise.  For now, let me demystify the autonomous airport for you. At the heart of the autonomous airport, from the CX perspective, is the information that will allow the airport as a physical asset to expand its boundaries and reach people’s homes. Data allows physical boundaries to merge and creates one big experience of transporting people and their belongings across space. That is a future we all want, Jetsons fans or not.

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