Taking control with print-at-home baggage tags17 December 2013
The use of print-at-home baggage tags can not only reduce queuing time for customers but also free up airline employees to offer more added-value customer service. Elly Earls speaks to Dimitris Bountolos at Iberia, the first carrier to launch the system globally, about the advantages of this set-up and why it’s only the beginning of a new era of customer-centric aviation.
Building on its burgeoning reputation as an operator focused on improving the customer experience, Spanish carrier Iberia has become the first airline to launch print-at-home baggage tags across its domestic and international networks, significantly reducing the length of the check-in process at the airport.
Part of the company's wider Agora project, which aims to create a world-class passenger experience at Iberia's hub in T4 at Madrid Airport, MyBagTag allows Iberia customers to download and print their baggage tags when they check in online, slightly extending the initial web check-in stage, but slashing the length of the bag-drop process at the airport to as little as 15 seconds.
"We wanted to give our customers different choices, allowing them to simplify and accelerate the airport processes," says Dimitris Bountolos, vice-president of customer experience at Iberia, the market leader on routes between Europe and Latin America. "If our customers have the choice to use self-service technologies, it makes the check-in stage much less stressful and means they can use their time at the airport better."
MyBagTag, which, since its implementation in July 2013, has already won the 'Best Check-in Initiative' award from the Future Travel Experience (FTE) forum, certainly enables this, practically eliminating the time customers usually have to spend putting their luggage into the airline's baggage handling system.
The new system comprises three simple steps. Firstly, it allows passengers who check in online to generate a print-out of their baggage tag along with their boarding pass. Secondly, passengers simply fold the bag tag, place it in an envelope (which, when a passenger is using the system for the first time can be picked up at the airport then reused for any subsequent trips) and attach it to their bag. Finally, upon arrival at the airport, passengers bring their already labelled bag to a dedicated bag-drop counter, where it is verified by an Iberia agent and put into the system.
"The time required at the airport is just 15 seconds," emphasises Bountolos. "This is the major benefit of the system - all passengers have to do is drop their bag at a dedicated counter where there is no queue."
Initially - from July 2013 - the MyBagTag system was implemented at all 42 airports in Spain, giving 30% of Iberia passengers the option to print their baggage tags before arriving at the airport. And before the end of the year, Bountolos hopes that 95% of Iberia's customer base will be able to use the system.
First, MyBagTag will be rolled out to connecting flights within Spain and second, to the international route network, including Latin America and other European countries. Moreover, as part of this roll-out, Iberia hopes to implement bilateral agreements with countries in Europe such as France, Spain, Portugal, the UK and Germany, so it will be possible to activate the MyBagTag system either when a journey begins in Spain or, for example, when an Iberia customer starts his trip in Paris Orly Airport, France, and disembarks in Madrid.
Of course, there are still challenges to be faced before this becomes a reality.
"Bilateral deployment requires the complete alignment of the airlines and customs of both airports, in both countries," Bountolos explains. "The procedures also have to be aligned with the current systems."
Iberia is confident that this shouldn't be a problem, however, because the information contained within the airline's new baggage tag strictly fulfils the International Air Transport Association's (IATA's) criteria - all that has been changed is the format.
The system's reliability was also extensively tested before July at five Spanish airports - Alicante, Barcelona, Malaga, Palma de Majorca and Valencia, - as well as Iberia's hub, Madrid, achieving a 100% read rate. "The trial was a huge success," Bountolos remarks. "Moreover, since we have implemented the system, we have had no feedback regarding any difficulties. It's all been really positive."
The MyBagTag system will also enable Iberia's staff to spend more time on value-added tasks, as opposed to largely dealing with simple transactions, Bountolos is keen to stress, adding that the implementation of the new technology will not impact staffing levels.
"Rather, we are transferring the role of our highly qualified employees from pure transactions to a more added-value role - we are unlocking their potential," he explains. "Previously, their tasks were not really aligned with their skills, but now, they can spend more time providing help, dealing with incidents in a proactive way and explaining details of the customer journey. It will be a much more customer-centric approach - we want to act as a concierge to our customers."
Indeed, MyBagTag is just the beginning of a new era in the airline industry that Bountolos believes will culminate in the complete death of the check-in process. "We are accelerating that process with MyBagTag and other initiatives," he says. "In a few years, the check-in process will not exist and our employees will be interacting with our customers in a much more personalised way. This is aligned with many services outside the aviation industry - and we want to capture those same principles."
The airline's Agora project, of which MyBagTag is just one small part, clearly demonstrates Iberia's commitment to making the airline industry more customer focused. Through this overarching programme, which is made up of 220 separate initiatives, the Spanish carrier wants to make the entire customer journey a seamless, stress-free experience from beginning to end.
"MyBagTag is just one single touchpoint," Bountolos explains. "We are trying to track the holistic customer journey through every step - from the booking stage to the very end. The check-in process was identified from the beginning as a high-stress moment for customers, and MyBagTag can help with this, as well as other services we are implementing."
Many of these services aren't quite as obvious as print-at-home bag tags. Indeed, Bountolos notes, many of the Agora initiatives are linked to back office processes, which aren't necessarily visible to the passenger: "Often, non-visible processes can be improved and this will then transfer to the customer a more added-value experience."
For example, at the end of 2012, Iberia implemented new back-office procedures, made up of a complex set-up of hardware, software and PDAs, which can track the location of each item of oversized baggage and relay this information to passengers via Iberia's easy-to-use quick service points. "Ultimately, we'd like to deliver a SMS message with a picture of the item to the passenger," Bountolos adds. And many of the other Agora initiatives will be expanded in a similar vein.
For Bountolos, it all really comes back to one key concept, exemplified by the MyBagTag initiative: improving the customer experience. "We want to reduce tension, uncertainty and the perception that there is a lack of information in the middle of a huge, cold airport," he concludes. "Our approach is a complex one, but it's all about making the customer experience fluent through the entire airport ecosystem."