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Internet Retailing 2011 Interview: Nick Gassman,

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In this week’s preview of our annual conference, Internet Retailing 2011, Nick Gassman, and mobile delivery manager, user experience and design, at, the British Airways website, tells us how the company uses analytics to improve its understanding of its customers.

Internet Retailing: How do customers tend to use the BA website at the moment?

Nick Gassman, There are three key customer functions on; purchase, servicing and account management.

Customers are not only buying flights to over 600 destinations offered by BA and partner airlines, but also packages of flights with hotels and car hire, transfers, insurance and tours and excursions.

Many customers then use our Manage My Booking service to view flight details, make changes and buy additional products. Two of the most popular additional services are extra baggage allowance and pre-allocated seating.

Manage My Booking also enables customers to check in online and either print off your boarding pass or on many routes download it to your mobile phone.

Customers also use to find out information about their trip, including the weather at their destination, what films are being shown on board and whether their flight is departing on time.

BA’s frequent flyer scheme also attracts a high volume of visitors to the website. It’s free to join and once logged in, members can find details of upcoming flights, manage their details, and use their accumulated BA Miles to make reward flight bookings.

IR: How has BA used analytics to learn from and improve the user experience – and what results have you seen?

NG: We use Adobe Insight as well as Google Analytics to understand what customers are doing on We use the information not only to understand main areas of use, but also to help identify problem areas. For example, we found that customers trying to check in had a particularly long dwell time on one page, and when we re-designed the page we boosted the number of people who successfully checked in.

We use the numbers to inform investment and design decisions for new functionality.

We also use a product from Autonomy to do multi-variant tests. This allows us on the live site to vary a number of design variables, and measure which ones are most successful at helping customers to find what they want (and therefore transact with us). One example is trying different pictures of cars against a car-hire cross-sell, to find which one resulted in the most click-throughs.

IR: How do you see the way customers use the site changing in the future?

NG: We see two key trends. Firstly customers will want to see more relevance in the online experience and will expect us to bring information to them rather than let them hunt for it. So getting to know customer’s needs better will be a key skill for us to develop.

Also the devices on which customers are accessing our site are proliferating. We’re seeing strong growth in use of mobiles and tablets by visitors to, ba2go (our mobile optimised site) and our smart phone apps. There’s a real challenge to ensure consistency of basic experience across devices and ensuring we build on the rich interfaces that they can offer.

IR: What would your top piece of advice be for others planning to develop customer-focused systems?

NG: Talk to customers, and make sure you’re talking to the right customers. You can’t understand customers only from looking at numbers. The numbers tell you what people are doing, but not why, and they won’t let you know if you’re missing an opportunity as a result, for example, of poor design. If you make assumptions about what you think customers do and don’t know, then you’ll get it wrong, and different customer groups have different levels of knowledge and understanding of your products, services and processes.

Nick Gassman will be speaking at Internet Retailing 2011. The event is at the Novotel Hammersmith on October 4. His presentation, How the Online Experience Influences Customer Satisfaction and Success, is in track one at 11.50am.

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