Lufthansa revamps operations as it seeks to lure leisure flyers


Lufthansa first-classLufthansa, long known as a business traveler's airline, has lately been re-engineering itself inside and out to broaden its appeal to leisure and family travelers.

That shift in target market, for example, has meant handing out 33 tons of gummy bears each year to its youngest passengers and soundproofing the forward cabins of its A380s to ensure that first-class passengers have a serene flight.

It has also meant moving its customer interfaces for booking and customer services beyond call centers and airport counters to kiosks, mobile phones and social media. Today, Lufthansa estimates that roughly a quarter of its customer service is delivered over Facebook and Twitter.

And it has redesigned its processes for "irregularity management" — Lufthansa-speak for events such as volcanic eruptions and superstorms — to offer passengers alternatives instead of just information on flight delays.

All of this is the result of a major change of mindset for the airline.

"Lufthansa is a traditional company focused on engineering and processes," said Erik Mosch, director of product management, airport and passenger services. "All of our CEOs have had engineering backgrounds."

Now it is putting a greater focus on passenger experience in flight and on the ground, across multiple channels.

The reason? "Lufthansa wants to grow," said Mosch, one of two speakers who explained Lufthansa's passenger experience strategies during a presentation in New York last month.

Realizing growth, he said, means broadening the carrier's scope beyond business travel. Lufthansa discovered that, in Germany at least, consumers viewed it as a business traveler's airline.

"Regular people were not sure if Lufthansa wanted its business," Mosch said.

The airline wanted to appeal to leisure travelers, he said, and "to be recognized as a family-friendly airline."

Thus all those gummy bears, along with plans to introduce kids'-eye-level video screens and baggage tags created expressly for youngsters.

At the same time, Lufthansa is designing its processes to capitalize on new channels of communication. Besides having 24-hour call centers, its social media staff is monitoring social media 24/7. Its main focus with social media is to provide on-time information, especially when weather or similar "irregularities" cause cancellations, but it's also using social media as a way to understand how it can improve its products and services.

There's a steady shift away from the counter toward kiosk, mobile and online for check-in. By 2015, Lufthansa expects that more than 60% will be online and mobile. Another 20% will be through airport kiosks. Lufthansa will still have airport counters, but its staff there will be troubleshooting the complex problems that can't be solved online or at a kiosk.

It was Lufthansa's board of directors that decided the airline should reinvent the process of managing irregularities, Mosch said.

For example, when a winter storm is coming, the airline has to adjust its flight plan accordingly, reducing flights according to the storm's severity. Once dispatchers determine a realistic reduction schedule, they must now turn it over to the passenger-care center, which makes sure notice of the changes is delivered to affected passengers through all Lufthansa's points of service.

And that means not just delivering the information but proposing an alternative. Lufthansa will email them with a deep link that enables them to rebook. If they rebook online it's on a first-come, first-served basis. But if they rebook with a Lufthansa representative, that rebooking can be based on the value of the customer.

Lufthansa is working toward more innovation on the ground as well, with self-service baggage drop.

"We knew people don't want to queue, so they like the bag-drop idea," Mosch said. But early devices didn't catch on with travelers, so Lufthansa withdrew them. The challenge was to create a machine that would be easy for the once-a-year traveler.

It now has designed kiosks that deliver luggage tags that passengers can put on their baggage without getting them stuck on their clothing. And it is working on using RFID tags to eliminate baggage tags, although that goal is contingent on airports' ability to handle the technology. It's available in some parts of the world but not all. So Lufthansa's self-service bag drop kiosk is designed for RFID tags, as well.

Lufthansa is making similar efforts when it comes to the design of its in-flight product, said Dorothea von Boxberg, director of passenger experience design, business and premium service.

For example, its research revealed that first-class travelers place a high value on silence and comfort. So Lufthansa insulated the outer section of the first-class cabin and installed sound-insulated flooring and soundproof curtains.

In business class, it introduced seats that provide a full-flat sleeping surface and a seating arrangement that doubles the space between travelers at shoulder level.

Next year, Lufthansa will introduce premium economy seats for its long-haul flights. As a result, a Lufthansa A380 will be configured eight abreast instead of 10 and in smaller aircraft, seven abreast instead of eight.

Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly. 


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