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Customer Experience needs to ask: “What’s the real impact of this change on our customers, now and long-term?”

The headline says “United Drops Early Boarding For Families”.

I’m happy to be corrected but, as Vivian, Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman said: “Big mistake.  BIG.  HUGE!  I have to go…”.

Who wins as a result of this change?  United say it’s to reduce the number of boarding phases.  In theory that should cut down on turnaround times and therefore costs.  I’m guessing there are operational and commercial benefits involved because it’s not clear to me who else will benefit.

Leaving aside the debate about whether those with premium or standard tickets should board first, frequent business travellers and those without kids may initially welcome the news.  After all, airlines get a bad rap from passengers who are not able to stake their claim to what space is rightly theirs in the overhead bins because it’s been stolen by an excess of toys, nappies, food, spare-clothes and car-seats.

The solution is, quite simply, to board together.  So if we were to carry out some high-level customer journey mapping (ie give it a bit of thought) what does that experience look like from a passenger’s perspective?  Hmm.

Even with well-behaved kids and a relatively smooth journey, by the time parents get to the gate they will have endured the packing, the journey to the airport (“Are we there yet?”), the car-park, the bags falling off trolleys, keeping the kids occupied at the check-in line, finding where to go next, making sure they’re fed and watered, waiting again to go through security, one of the kids needs the toilet and then finding somewhere to pitch up in Departures while keeping one eye on the kids and one eye on which gate to trek to.

And that’s before we consider what it’s then like as a single parent with kids who are totally out of routine and exhausted or for those who have varying forms of Special Needs.

At least actually getting settled into the seats was relatively straight-forward  Until now.  Will families really choose an airline that says to them they now need to scoop up all their things and kids and run the gauntlet with everyone else, hoping that the seat allocations are error-free and their toddler doesn’t get clouted on the head by a bag squeezing past.  Flying with kids is a challenge at the best of times so adding another layer of anxiety and uncertainty isn’t the most effective customer loyalty scheme I’ve seen.  On top of that, most parents I know are very aware that kids are not everyone’s favourite in confined spaces and will genuinely be concerned that by holding everything up as they walk slowly to the aircraft it only makes the situation worse.

For those without kids, it doesn’t get much better either.  To have young kids walking from the gate to aircraft while everyone is in more of a rush is bound to slow things up.  At best it’s frustrating, at worst dangerous.  In the process of sitting down, it naturally takes longer for a parent to sort out things for their children so not only is it likely that they will end up with less overhead space than they are entitled to but everyone will get tangled up and end up even more frustrated.

Going back to United and what’s in it for them.  They might raise revenue from those families and travellers who can and want to pay for pre-boarding or to have everyone sat together.  I understand why core and ancillary revenue is so vital but when those things are perceived to be freely available at the next check-in counter along the line, I’m still not sure it will offset the damage from lost customers long-term.  It’s certainly not strengthening the brand positioning to be “the airline customers want to fly”.

Meanwhile, their competitors must be quietly humming away the theme tune to Pretty Woman…

Jerry Angrave
Customer Experience Consulting
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]
+44 (0) 7917 718 072

Customer Experience says: If I leave, don’t slam the door. Leave it open so I can come back.

Funny things, relationships.

For most organisations, that “relationship” has the same attributes, strengths and challenges as our own personal liaisons.   There is of course a mutual benefit, but put a customer’s hat on and while the basic requirements of trust, respect, empathy and support are still there, the relationship becomes more of a convenient association.

Customer Experience Management (CEM) accepts that from time-to-time, for whatever reason and for however long, we switch to try out what a competitor has to offer.  Any loyalty is to our wallets and our own agenda first.  Yet organisations easily mistake inertia for loyalty.

So if for some reason the relationship gets broken, the organisation is not going to help itself by reacting like a moody teenager who thinks they’ve been jilted for an alien slime-ball, shouting “Well, I never valued you anyway!”.  To mix metaphors, throwing dolls out of the pram will put the skids under the relationship quicker than a dog on wet lino.

But that’s what it can feel like as a customer.  A case in point, as experienced by your erstwhile correspondent very recently.  Mobile phone contract due for renewal in two months.  After 6 years with one supplier, the decision is to change.  Proof, if it was needed, that even those who give high customer satisfaction scores can switch.

The instructions on how to back out of a contract are hard to find (a coincidence?) but eventually it’s just a matter of giving 30 days’ notice.  Fine.  Email sent and confirmation of the PAC number comes back with final date.  Then the current supplier calls but because the smooth “Please don’t go, we really value you” patter doesn’t change things, the conversation turns sour.

It’s pointed out that the ‘how to leave’ section of the website was virtually undetectable.  “What did you expect?” comes the incredulous reply.  Ok, so now we know where we stand.  Any thought that I would happily consider them next time were fading fast.  And that was just the beginning.

They didn’t offer a reminder that the bank payment details need changing.  On the day the contract expired, they didn’t send an SMS giving me an hour’s notice that the connection will disappear. They didn’t say that the handset would be locked, preventing any other supplier’s SIM card working.  They therefore also kept hidden the fact that to unlock the handset needed someone in-store to send an email to someone at head office who would email the unlocking instructions – they couldn’t do it themselves – with an SLA of 48 hours.  “So, my phone is dead and you knew that would happen all along?”,  “Er, yeah”. (Arghh!).

And until then, it was all going so well.  But because they showed a complete lack of respect, empathy and support it will be of no surprise that whatever “relationship” we had is now over.  I know how important it is to stop customers leaving, I get that, but those unnecessarily high barriers, both emotional and physical, were just too much.

We’re an item no more – after that experience we never will be.  And that’s a shame.  It didn’t have to end that way.

Jerry Angrave
Customer Experience Consulting
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]
+44 (0) 7917 718072

Customer Experience: listen to the silence of the customer

If ever there was a statistic to make us sit up and take notice, for me this is that stat:  “96% of customers who are unhappy don’t complain“.  96%! Frightening.  And it gets worse.  “Of those, 90% will just walk away and not come back”.

When businesses set out to build a branded, differentiated customer experience they will often search for the silver bullet; that single, elusive crowning glory that will set them apart from everyone else for ever.  True, such aspirations are good at galvanizing an organisation behind a common goal but the reality is that the starting point needs to be a broad and strong foundation of many smaller experiences that just get the basics right.

Understandably, most of the information for what to get right comes from the root cause analysis of complaints and operational data.  Investment and resources are directed accordingly and all being well, the number of complaints starts falling.

But just fixing the underlying causes of complaints doesn’t have as big an impact on customer numbers and their value as it might.  That’s because, generally, the things that are complained about get prioritised.  If fixing complaints are the foundation blocks for a Customer Experience programme, then addressing this potentially destructive layer of niggles and frustrations is the bedrock on which those foundations should sit.

So, we have a rich seam of things that don’t go as customers would want, which are significant enough to make them try elsewhere next time but not so significant as to warrant putting fingers to keyboards and to complain.  It might be about phone calls to a service centre that doesn’t answer the phone.  It might be a shop assistant who doesn’t smile.  Surprise at the final cost.  Things that are easily fixed but that have a big emotional impact on customers.  That in turn drives their behaviour next time. The silent customers then, voting with their feet and loyal only to their wallet. Gone.

And yet those problems are unintentionally left to fester because people are complaining about other things.  What we need to know is what our customers from today say to each other when they sit down for dinner tonight.  When they tell the tale of what is was really like to be a customer, is that story the one we want and expect them to tell?

Customer insight about what it's really like to be on the receiving end of our service

Wanted: to know what our customers tell each other that they don’t tell us

Tracking down that level of qualitative information isn’t without challenge but it is well worth the effort.  Research that asks customers what they want will give the proposition teams ideas for bells and whistles.  But knowing what niggles customers will show where finite resources need to focus on in the short-term to improve experiences, loyalty and therefore revenue streams.

To complain takes effort and many feel companies don’t deserve to be helped if they can’t get such basics right.  In today’s world where the customer is in control, and whose bar of expectations is rising all the time, customers are rightly less tolerant to anyone who shows them a lack of respect by not “bothering” to reach a minimum standard.

They might be the small, sometimes “fluffy” things and not the single shiny silver bullet – that will come in time – but left unchecked these corrosive issues may as well be bullets being shot in the brand’s own feet.

Jerry Angrave

Customer Experience Consultant

+44 (0) 7917 718 072
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]