Taking Flight with Data

by Jon Fortgang

Simon Chatfield, Head of eBusiness and CRM at Heathrow, tells Figaro Digital about achieving a single customer view and explains how the airport is exploring new beacon technology

Every year 73 million passengers pass through Heathrow airport and every journey – whether digital or actual – is unique. The largest airport in the UK and the third busiest in the world, Heathrow isn’t just a travel hub. It’s a business in its own right and it too has been on a journey as it seeks to improve its understanding of passengers to provide more relevant, real-time messaging that makes the travel experience as seamless as possible.

Top of the shopping list for the business has been a single customer view: an aggregated account of all a customer’s digital interactions. But like plenty of large organisations providing complex services to huge numbers of users, breaking down the silos in which data is traditionally held is a challenge. Simon Chatfield, Head of eBusiness and CRM at Heathrow, is the man charged with joining up the dots and ensuring that every passenger receives the information they need, whether that’s where to browse luxury handbags or how to find baby changing facilities.

“To scroll back a couple of years,” says Chatfield, “as marketers involved in the passenger experience rather than the operational side of the business, we didn‘t have that single view. Although Heathrow is a very data-rich environment, privacy laws have meant that not all of it is available to us to use. It’s been a real journey to build up a single customer view so we can deliver a more bespoke experience.”

That journey has involved looking at everything from transactional data to car-parking and booking information. Using Adobe Campaign and their partner Acxiom, data about how people interact within the airport is overlaid with third party information about how they behave beyond it. Chatfield and his team are also able to analyse the Heathrow Rewards loyalty programme, look at use of the airport’s website, app and social channels, as well as Heathrow’s free wi-fi, which provides more contextual visitor information.

Working with Adobe has also enabled the airport to explore new marketing techniques such as beacon technology.

“Something we did earlier this year involved a treasure hunt around our new Terminal 2. The idea was firstly to see the uptake. How many people would and could use beacon technology? We took them on a wayfinding route around the terminal in the form of a treasure hunt, en route showing them the various commercial offers we have.”

As Chatfield acknowledges, however, one of the challenges of beacon technology is getting it in people’s hands in the first place (and prompting users to turn their notifications on) and then identifying a clear use case. The needs of the business traveller, after all, may be markedly different from those of holiday-making families. “Having a beacon which brings your boarding pass to the front of your phone would be a bonus. But business travellers probably won’t benefit from the indoor wayfinding that I think will be the boon for connecting travellers or people who are unfamiliar with the airport.”

There’s also the challenge of keeping beacons live and up to date across the Heathrow estate, though Chatfield highlights the benefits the technology could have for monitoring passenger flows and security wait times. He also acknowledges that a certain sensitivity may be required when thinking about how to deploy beacon technology.

“We don’t want to bombard people with in-app messaging because that could turn them off. Also, in our environment, we have to be cognisant that our primary objective is to get people safely and securely through the airport and we must not clutter that with more of the commercial side; clearly we are a commercial business but that’s not going to be the route to market for beacons. The opportunities are exciting and there are so many of them. It’s just taking a while to nail down where to make the investment.”

Feature by Jon Fortgang