I've been doing more travel recently. And I can in all honesty say that there is plenty of room left for improving customer experience in the travel industry — airlines, hotels, car services, even airports. Since there is no guaranteed security, we should stop pretending that if we treat people poorly, all will be well.
It would be an excellent idea to have service personnel at all of these companies, yes even government employees, go ahead and experience a normal day of travel as a regular person, someone without the special privileges of not having to be screened, or not having to wait in line, etc.
What does it look like? That experiment alone would help fix many issues. I bet they would not like their own treatment very much.
There is a disconnect between what companies think they deliver, and what they actually do. Just like in the travel safety department, the disconnect is in perception. Yet, customer experience is more important than ever. More and more people are voting with their wallets.
Looking at customer complaints is not enough
Complaints are symptoms, and they will lead organizations down the reactive path every single time. Plus, only 2% of the population — or even less — bothers to say something, anything. In my experience, most frequent travelers, to stay with the example in this post, learn to hack the system for themselves.
Which leaves the rest of the customer base with the habits of a very select few to live with, and the business with a false picture of what customers experience. I wish ticket agents actually did measure the size of some of those carry ons.
The other day, I was watching a group of what looked like seasoned business travelers literally hedging an older lady and a family with young ones to push their way into an early boarding for fear of not being able to fit their large carry on bags on the flight.
Yep, it was even more ironic they looked fit and well to do. More line backers than travelers. Had I taken a picture, it would have looked like any board of directors in composition. What was the experience for the rest of the travelers?
Many just won't go back after a bad experience, and they will tell their whole circle of friends and family.
Designing the customer experience
It needs to be a proactive activity and drive to wanting to make it a positive one. As Chris Elliott described in his post, there is a rare exception.
Virgin America is unashamedly retro, when if comes to service. Don’t look for solemn-faced ticket agents trying to make their weekly quota of luggage fees. They’ve been replaced by helpful employees with real-looking smiles. The flight attendants seem genuinely happy to be there, a sharp contrast to the tired counterparts at some of the more established carriers.
The image you see in this post [hat tip Beth Harte] highlights two important points for a make or break situation with customer experience:
- companies do have the control over those instances that can make or break customer loyalty
- and they do know what data they need to either collect or connect and when
So, as the chart suggests, the fundamental questions marketers and customer service groups need to work on are:
- how can we make this a positive experience?
- what can we do to make sure consumers come back time and time over?
- where do we need data to help deliver the experience?
In some instances, the company may already have the answers, in others it may need to rethink the way it operates and communicates in order to collect them. However, I'd say that the main difficulty many organizations have is with knowing to ask the right questions — or, in some instances, wanting to do so.
Loyalty programs circa 1990 are quite broken. There is no amount of points you could give a customer who has had a horrible experience to go back to the same brand or organization. At best, you may get them to use the coupon or redeem the points if it's easy to get something for free.
However, think about how they are talking about you in the meantime — online, and worse, off line. What stories are they sharing? Situations do come up. How organizations work on designing the customer experience does matter more and more to the business long term prospects in an increasingly interconnected world.
"After all, the customer is not stupid. She is your mother, your sister or your wife,” to paraphrase Mr. David Ogilvy.