Skywards takes frequent flyers online

Emirates Airline has re-launched its Skywards site to attract users to the loyalty programme and boost the number of existing members interacting on the Web from 80,000 to 180,000.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  February 3, 2002

|~||~||~|Emirates Airline has re-launched its Skywards site to attract users to the loyalty programme and boost the number of existing members interacting on the Web from 80,000 to 180,000.

Anyone persuaded to log onto the site by the company's online iBlaster-based marketing campaign will be greeted by a collection of service enhancements, such as increased functionality and improved helpdesk facilities, and a series of new features, including a separate member section and travel itinerary tools.

Andy Patton, manager for product development & marketing at Emirates, explains that the re-launch is inline with the loyalty programme’s road map as, when it launched back in March 2000, the first task was letting frequent flyers know that the initiative actually existed.

"Now that we have launched the programme we have to focus on what the end value of a frequent flyer programme is — the service benefits and the free flights for users. We have to make the site work a lot harder because our members have the air miles to spend," he explains.

In addition to the extra features, customers can also expect a better level of personalisation as the data collected on their preferences increases over time and filters into Emirates' customer relationship management (CRM) initiatives.

"By collecting the relevant customer information at the backend we can create [targeted] offers for our members. These are then easily pushed to each member when they are on the web site in an inspirational and engaging way. This is very much CRM in action," he says.

While fine in practice and useful for communicating special deals, Patton realises that work still has to be done in turning online personalisation into enhanced face-to-face customer service — the sign of successful CRM.

"Actually getting the data and distributing it to key areas where you have a touch point with the customer remains the biggest challenge. With Skywards, because we are still growing and only have 300,000 members at present, we have retained that ability [so far]. At the same time, we are working hard on training [our staff] to ensure that customer recognition takes place," he says.

While added services typically require the user to surrender significant amounts of personal information, the Skywards team has tried to limit this. It has, in fact, found ways of using the data it already has more effectively, and increased its focus on its members travel patterns.

Such data mining capabilities have been achieved through the deployment of businesses analytics applications. In addition to helping create more detailed user profiles they can tell the five strong web development team which aspects of the site are proving most effective, something that helps with modifications and future plans.

The site's increased functionality and the need for greater data mining capabilities have necessitated a robust and effective technology platform, especially as the team could not contemplate any loss in performance. At the same time, the components had to fit with Emirates' commitment to Microsoft's product lines and .NET strategy.

As a result, the team implemented Microsoft's .NET suite of servers, including Commerce Server and SQL Server 2000 on the Windows 2000 Server platform.
Active Server Pages (ASP) comprise the interface layer while COM+ makes up the middleware layer. SQL Server ties the site into Skyward's back-end legacy systems, such as Oracle and its own Cress database. Haider Alogaily, technical support manager for Emirates’ IT shop, Mercator, explains that the team spent a lot of time completing beta testing, so that the site would stand up at launch and be easy for users to navigate. As the site gains in popularity, changes will be made in accordance to the data analysis.

At the same time, Alogaily and his team will investigate ways of better supporting members in the online environment. One initiative currently under consideration is the use of real-time responses.

"We are currently looking to use automatic responses based on [a programme member’s] question, online chat and web collaboration," says Alogaily.

However, such initiatives will not increase the amount of service centre support the Skywards site users require. The reason for this Patton explains, is that in addition to improving customer service, "from a business point of view, [the site] is about taking time, effort and money out of the service centre."||**||

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