• December 1, 2005
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Straighten Up and Fly Right

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At a recent customer strategy course hosted by Strativity Group's Lior Arussy, business executives and managers learned that their understanding of what their companies sell was wrong. A recent personal example illustrates Arussy's point. 

After checking my travel itinerary, confirming the date, time, flight number, airline, and terminal, I exited the cab and entered Terminal 9 at New York's JFK airport. Inside, above the gray-tiled expanse, rested large windows and a high ceiling, giving the terminal a large, modern, and successful feel. To my right a middle-age female CSR barked, "Where are you going?" 

"San Diego," I replied, feeling confident she would appreciate my preparation. After all, I knew where I was going, that I was in the right place, I had nothing to check in, and had plenty of time (45 minutes) before takeoff. 

Looking at her watch, she blurted, "You're not going to make it." 

"I have plenty of time before my plane takes off," I assured her. 

She snapped, "Let me be the judge of that. You have to go to Terminal 8." 

It was her acidic personality that made me unwilling to trust her, so I quizzed her: "Is that where Gate 7 is?" 

"Yes," she snorted. 

Feeling attacked, I quickly panned the periphery, hoping for a kinder, more trustable face that could help me. No luck. Suddenly, the terminal seemed imposing, cold, drab, even ominous. Without much choice, and regretting that I had to trust my attacker, I hastily approached the elevator behind me. I just wanted to get out of there. (As it turned out, my travel agent had made an itinerary error. I caught my intended flight, and I didn't have to run.)

This bad customer experience, I discovered, was only the beginning of a much larger problem for the airline in question. It had been years since I had flown this particular carrier, as my previous experiences with it had been less than spectacular and other, smaller airlines have made air travel and the experience leading up to it much more enjoyable. However, I booked my flight with this large airline because, well, I needed a reasonably priced flight in a pinch, and I was trying to save my company some money. My choice of this airline could have become a tremendous opportunity for it to win my loyalty back, but the preflight experience--and only adequate in-flight service--failed to do so. 

One might argue that the airline transported me from point A to point B and back on time and without incident. It satisfied its end of the deal. So what's the problem? This: While the carrier met it's basic obligation to me, its short-sighted view of what it actually sells will hurt sales. 

First, some information about me--the customer. I consider myself an experienced air traveler. I've gotten quite good at purchasing e-tickets and printing them out at airport kiosks to avoid long check-in lines, I pack light (only two carry-on items), and I know how to breeze through security checkpoints. But I'm still uneasy about flying. 
The airline that knows how to set me more at ease from booking the flight to touching down will win my loyalty. 

JetBlue and Delta Song get it. Sure, they provide low-cost airfare, but they also provide excellent customer experiences. They offer several ways to alleviate passenger stress, such as soothing preflight music, friendly, helpful employees, and satellite television and different kinds of in-flight music to personalize each passenger's experience. Successful companies don't just sell products, they sell positive, personal customer experiences. 

Like the attendees of Arussy's class, executives at this large airline would benefit from learning what their company actually sells--not merely airline tickets, but stress reduction.

David Myron

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