Putting the customer at the center of advanced air mobility

Much of the public attention around manned advanced air mobility (AAM) has focused on the development of electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (eVTOLs) and short take-off and landing vehicles (STOLs)—in particular, the challenge for OEMs of getting new designs certified and production facilities ramped up. As the industry matures, however, the emphasis will shift to operations, including strategies for acquiring and retaining customers. As discussed in an earlier article, companies that prioritize customer experience will be in the best position to capture value and build sustainable businesses. That’s because about 35 percent to 50 percent of value from AAM comes from segments that involve direct customer interactions, including mobility platforms and infrastructure.

In the series of illustrations below, we’ve laid out what the AAM customer journey could look like, from researching travel on a mobility platform, travelling to a vertiport, connecting between modes of transport, moving through the vertiport—including boarding—and resolving issues in real-time.

As AAM operators think through the customer experience, five elements are worth considering.

1. Time saved could be less important than how people spend their time

Operators in the AAM space need to develop a deeper understanding of how customers are using their travel time and how time saved creates value in their lives. For example, AAM may take less time than a car for many trips, but it might require multiple segments and inter-modal changes (eg, taking a car for a short hop to the nearest vertiport). If the time difference is small, business travelers may prefer ground transportation because that time is relatively uninterrupted. Saving 15 minutes on a cross-city trip may not justify a flight if an executive can sit in a ride-share car and work on her laptop. Operators will need to determine the threshold at which time savings become more important to key customer segments.

2. Inter-modal connection and integration could be critical for a seamless customer experience

AAM flights will require coordination across different modes of transportation, including time buffers between each leg of the trip to avoid missed connections. Every time a customer moves from one form of transportation to another, there could be a potential “breaking point” in the customer journey where something could go wrong. Mobility platforms will need to decide whether to build an open ecosystem with connections to a broad range of operators or a closed ecosystem with exclusive relationships. That decision has ramifications for the customer experience, since it affects the number of route choices available, as well as potential recovery options in the event of problems with the trip. Furthermore, software talent to build and maintain these integrations will be critical, not just for mobility platforms but also operators and infrastructure providers.

3. Vertiports may become havens for omni-channel e-commerce

It may be tempting to think of vertiports as mini-airports, but the experience will differ in key ways, primarily because passengers will spend far less time waiting for departures. Rather than a traditional airport setting with walk-in shops and sit-down restaurants, operators may explore hybrid models that rely more heavily on e-commerce. For example, customers may have the opportunity to purchase meals or amenities via a mobility app and have those products waiting in a “click-and-collect” area when they land.

4. Pilots could become front-line customer reps

Most commercial aviation passengers don’t have direct access to the pilot, and flight attendants are responsible for managing front-line customer interactions. For AAM aircraft, which have much smaller four-to-six-person cabins, passengers could interact directly with pilots if they are in in the same cabin (assuming they are not in remotely operated or autonomous vehicles). This could turn pilots into important brand and experience ambassadors, and they may require training in how to handle customer interactions. For example, if a customer needs to resolve an issue mid-flight, pilots will need to be able to direct him or her to the right channel for support, while still safety operating the aircraft.

5. Issue resolution could play an outsized role in the early days of AAM

The rapid cadence of AAM operations, along with the number of hand-offs between different modes of transportation, all but guarantees that issues will arise, and operators need proactive plans to resolve these. Early AAM operations may require a more involved, “white glove” service for passengers to resolve issues quickly, which could drive up costs.

As operators and OEMs start thinking about how they will operate AAM aircraft, customer-experience considerations will emerge; these will evolve as the industry shifts from few flights in its infancy to higher passenger volume and more complexity. To date, most companies have focused on certification and manufacturing issues for understandable reasons. But in the long term, companies that have the closest relationship with customers will be in the best position to capture value, drive retention, and build sustainable businesses.

Benedikt Kloss is an associate partner in McKinsey’s Frankfurt office, Adam Mitchell is an associate partner in the Toronto office, and Robin Riedel is a partner in the San Francisco office.

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