A few days ago I posted what one person told me they perceived as a slightly negative post regarding Continental. I didn’t see it that way, and I never retract what I’ve written unless it is factually wrong, but for today at least, I’m changing my tone regarding this airline.

Example number 1:

“I might have said some of the same things five years ago on what we are trying to get done. We’re still getting the hang of better email marketing,” said Mark Bergsrud, senior vice president of marketing programs at Continental Airlines Inc., considered an industry leader in mining customer data.

Honesty counts for a lot, and the quote above deserves respect. A lot of people in working marketing claim to know it all, but even something as basic as email marketing has massive room for improvement from every airline I have seen to date. Whether they would admit it is another thing.

Example Number 2:

“The ability to immediately make your Web site relevant to your online customer is a fundamental tenet of marketing in today’s Internet culture. With the geolocation data from Quova we’ve been able to shorten our sales cycle by matching an IP address location with the correct country homepage, which funnels people directly to the information they want and need,” said Ken Penny, managing director of Internet planning and development at Continental Airlines. “Quova’s geolocation data has all of the attributes we were looking for in a geolocation partner. Fast, accurate, reliable and granular, Quova’s solution has already helped us significantly improve the customer experience for our international customer base and we’re only scratching the surface of what’s possible.”

One of the immediate benefits of integrating geolocation data into the Web site was eliminating the need for many customers to self-identify a country. Prior to working with Quova, every visitor to continental.com, regardless of physical location, landed on the Web site’s homepage. This forced many customers to self-identify their country and language, which slowed down the buying process and added steps to the sales cycle. Geolocation streamlined this process. In addition, Continental is localizing the marketing banners and placements on its Web site based on country-level geolocation, and in the near future will begin to target its marketing placements at the metro level. These changes have helped Continental improve the click-through rates of its homepage marketing banners by as much as 200%.

I know it’s a press release and I defininitely take the “by as much as 200%” line with a grain of salt, but it’s good to see that whilst in the 10-k Continental were complaining about internet being low yield, at least they are doing some good stuff using geolocation. I don’t really mind hitting a landing page (so long as it uses cookies to ensure I only do it once), but it does look much smoother if these fields are preselected and you are jumped to your own country specific home page for the airline. From reading above, using this data to serve custom banners clearly seems to be paying dividends for them. Maybe this localisation effort is a small part of the reason why ticket revenue on Continental.com was up 11% in 2008 when passenger numbers across the entire airline were down 3.2%.

Example Number 3:

I came across a blog from an Amanda Vega who runs a marketing consultancy. Her recent post against Southwest is most relevant here,  but her post comparing Continental with US Airways has one good quote:

“Fly Continental whenever you can. They seem to be doing a LOT right – especially in first class. It’s NOT all the same. Be discriminative…especially with luxury items.”

I add her comment because it comes from someone outside of the airline industry and her more recent blog post on Southwest highlights the importance of communicating properly with passengers. Previously I have written on the range of communication options offered by KLM on their “manage my booking” page. The scathing text about Southwest on Amanda’s blog is worth a read in full:

“If my Continental flight is running late, which is rare (sorry – don’t ever believe any of those “on time” records you see of flights because they are bogus) I get an alert. I get notified consistently by phone, text, and email. I would have, for example, known today before I even left the house if my plane were already two hours behind. (Southwest knew my plane was late out of Houston according to the gate agent since prior to me calling the airline to check – because their online updates are always inaccurate, and the flights to Vegas are always late.) Knowing that I could have optimized a good 2 hours of work – PAID billable hours. Not being informed is unacceptable. There is technology out there, and it’s not expensive.” 

No arguments from me on that last line at all. I’m in discussions with one major airline at the moment about improving the way they communicate disrupted flights close to departure – I’m told the process is very manual at the moment and what made it even more urgent recently was that a top tier frequent flier was so annoyed about not being informed of a major delay that he contacted senior management. They pushed it down to middle management with the directive that what was already a high priority project, now be made even more high priority. Apparently the problem was traced back to a change in shifts and the new worker not knowing where the previous worker had stopped using his highlighter on a large ream of paper showing passengers affected by disrupts!