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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Airlines Leverage Online Games To Improve Customer Loyalty

Recently I visited the United Airlines site only to find that they have made a significant investment adding online games to their web site. Historically, the airlines have been a bench mark for innovation in the virtual currency/rewards category. They have done a good job attracting consumers and retaining them by offering an option to participate in the "airline game". However, we rarely think of mainstream large corporations as innovators in the casual and virtual game world.

United's new initiative has taken the development and business integration of games to another level adding actual play for fun and virtual currency games to their site. The United online games can be found at http://www.optathlon.com/. I suggest you try the games out to experience the clever way they are using the games to improve customer loyalty.

United has done an excellent job of directly and subliminally creating a game environment that promotes what they want consumers to believe are United "values". They have games that insidiously imply that they are concerned about quick service, cleanliness and attention to detail.

They are not just offering games so people can find the United site to be an interesting place to hang out. They are definitely pitching why they are better then the competition. Comcast recently tried something similar with a simulated virtual world TV ad. The Comcast effort largely failed because of the lack of interaction and call to action.

The United experience is so much better at getting the job done because it is interactive and encourages stickiness with achievement ladders, virtual points and ultimately real goods and services for time spend and skill level achieved. The more time you spend with these games the more likely you are to identify United with attention to service levels, concern about consumer satisfaction and focus on operational efficiency.

I can not say that I have played a console or online game that has a sub plot to convey some form of customer loyalty and a goal that has nothing to do with the game itself. Most games exclusively focus on the game or virtual world they exist in. They get you to play more by encouraging interaction(viral component), ladders, rewards and skill levels. Extraneous goals such as culture, value systems and service level are not really a part of the mix.

The funny thing about the Untied virtual gaming experience is that it is easier to convey their values in this virtual world as opposed to the real flying experience. We all know what that is like. I wonder if repeated exposure to the virtual game world experience will be effective at convincing someone that United is a good company to fly with even if the real experience is something to be desired?

I did not see a big up sell push in the games to directly sell more tickets. However, I suspect if the games prove successful we will see this happening.

Other e-commerce sites might consider taking a look at the way United has implemented their integration of games with e-commerce. Many e-commerce companies are well on their way integrating game mechanics into their properties. Selling and competitive advantage is heavily dependent on consumers perception of customer care, responsiveness and recognition for loyalty. Having game mechanics emphasis these qualities is an interesting way of leveraging online games to increase sales and to encourage consumers to keep coming back for more.

Kevin Flood is the CEO of Gameinlane, Inc. Kevin writes extensively about online games and their impact and integration into e-commerce environments. Kevin is a frequent speaker at online game events and conferences in Asia, Europe and the US. Kevin and his Gameinlane team are currently working with e-commerce companies integrating game mechanics into their properties.

3 comments:

Mario Alman said...

Its an intersting approach, particularly with the stickiness via achievements. Has anyone tried to integrate an achievements mechanism to say Poker? After certain prestigious achievements you may gain bonus skills which give you an edge in the game. Say the ability to see any aces being held by opposing players. It would require careful judgement that these bonuses do not unbalance the game and perhaps a rnaking system could also be brought in that only allows players of more or less equivalent ranks (and hence levels of bonuses) to play each other. Could be a good idea?

Mario Alman said...

Its an intersting approach, particularly with the stickiness via achievements. Has anyone tried to integrate an achievements mechanism to say Poker? After certain prestigious achievements you may gain bonus skills which give you an edge in the game. Say the ability to see any aces being held by opposing players. It would require careful judgement that these bonuses do not unbalance the game and perhaps a rnaking system could also be brought in that only allows players of more or less equivalent ranks (and hence levels of bonuses) to play each other. Could be a good idea?

Kevin Flood said...

Not to my knowledge. However, your thinking is correct. Poker could benefit form a bit of innovation moving it closer to an RPG game increasing the competition in the game.