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Wearable tech in the airline industry: Important privacy considerations for marketers

Wearable tech in the airline industry: Important privacy considerations for marketers

An unlikely industry is leading the charge in the use of wearable technology to improve customer experience.

According to The New York Times, airline companies are experimenting with Google Glass and other wearable technology to personalize their customers‰’ experiences. A Virgin Atlantic program is ‰”harnessing data about premium-class travelers‰” using Google Glass headsets and Sony smart watches, according to the report. The company‰’s goal is to provide its passengers an ever more personal service.

Analysts who have spoken to The New York Times about Virgin‰’s experiment were both optimistic and cautious about Virgin‰’s experiment:

[A]nalysts say that efforts by carriers to associate their brands with the latest in digital wizardry have the potential to generate a positive buzz among customers and allow them to compile valuable information about passenger behaviors and preferences.

‰”It‰’s very high on the agenda of a lot of airlines, because technology is often a pretty low-cost way to improve service,‰” said Raymond Kollau, an analyst and founder of Airlinetrends.com, a research firm in Haarlem, the Netherlands.

But some experts say carriers should proceed with caution.

‰”Using technology to position itself as a forward-thinking airline can have a positive impact on preference‰” among fliers, said Henry H. Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst in San Francisco for Hudson Crossing, a consulting firm. ‰”But there is a very fine line between cool and creepy.‰”

Just like Virgin, many companies are keen to use wearable tech to provide better customer experience. But as noted in the article, marketers need to tread carefully.

‰”Knowing about your customers and personalizing experiences doesn‰’t have to be creepy,‰” says Lena Lam, Senior Research Manager at Vision Critical. ‰”But it really depends on how that data is used.‰”

Many marketers are painfully aware that using people‰’s data to augment consumer experience could backfire if it‰’s not done right. That‰’s why Lena urges marketers to engage their customers early in the process to avoid missteps. ‰”Do your customers understand the type of information being collected and how it can be beneficial to them? You will find that some target segments are more open to it than others, but the main purpose here is to understand the overall impact: will service staff decked out in wearable technology enhance the customer experience or worsen it?‰”

The impending era of wearable technology offers many opportunities for marketers‰ – especially to those who can use the technology to provide innovative products and services that address real customer problems. But in the post-Snowden world, privacy is already top of mind for consumers. While consumers are aware that their data is being collected, a majority of them actually oppose to companies using that information for commercial purposes. As more wearable gadgets enter the market, brands might turn customers off if these technologies are used without proper consultation and education.

‰”There may come a time where the Internet of things is so prevalent and embedded into our everyday lives that there is really no escaping our data from being collected,‰” Lena adds. ‰”But that day is not today; data security issues are still a huge and scary problem that many consumers are extremely cautious of.‰”

How do you feel about companies starting to use wearable technology to collect more consumer information? Let us know in the comments.

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