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Does the PRM label restrict airports’ thinking?

Does the PRM acronym need an upgrade to ensure any disabled passenger has an empathetic experience?

passenger experience prm disability

 

(This post first appeared as a guest blog for International Airport Review in March 2017).

What’s in a name? A lot, it turns out.

There is, for example, no shortage of airports who create a brand based on the city they want to be associated with rather than where they are.

But stretching the thinking in the same way, this may be exactly what airport operators need to do when helping PRMs – passengers with reduced mobility.

Big improvements have already been made but as welcome as that is, it’s only addressing a small part of the wider issue. It risks ignoring those who need special assistance just as much and sometimes more; those who have issues that are less about the pure mechanics of getting from A to B and more about their understanding of the world with which they interact.

In business cultures that focus more on processing efficiencies than people, having PRM rules imposed means activity is often restricted to a tick-box exercise once the ramps are in place and more wheelchairs are available.

Yet the World Health Organisation says one in four people have difficulty in mentally processing information. 70 million people have autism. And, according to Disability Sport (UK), while around 11 million people in the UK have a disability, less than 8% of them require the use of a wheelchair.

To overcome the challenges faced, people with an intellectual or learning disability will usually travel with someone else; a family member or carer. Consequently, they are perceived to be relatively mobile and because their real disability is often invisible that sharp PRM focus on ‘mobility’ lands elsewhere.

People with an intellectual or learning disability will usually travel with someone else; a family member or carer…

Operators seeking to find more revenue from airlines and passengers know the importance of creating experiences that keep people coming back and telling others to do the same.

Upgrade the acronym

If an airport is serious about having better passenger experiences, then upgrading the acronym from PRM to PDN (People with Different Needs) or PID (People who Interact Differently) might just be the nudge that is needed.

During internal meetings, the strategy writers, operations coordinators and project managers will be in a better position to take a wider view of who their customers are. It will help them acknowledge that while this segment is given a three-letter acronym, that only describes their limitations in an airport; they remain a whole person with a real life.

Let’s be clear, there’s been some great work done to help PRMs. For people who find it difficult to navigate an airport’s infrastructure there is no doubt things are getting easier.

Collaborations between airlines and airports have reduced stress and anxiety. For those who need them, to see calming dogs, dementia friends and special-assistance wristbands is a huge help. To be on the receiving end of genuine staff empathy and patience when one of the family’s party is having an ‘episode’ or has no sense of how queues work is incredibly comforting.

We need to go further

Last August the CAA published a study on the progress that UK airports are making. It reported good levels of passenger satisfaction among those with a disability or reduced mobility. While some airports were applauded, the CAA pointed out there is still more to be done.

Too frequently we hear still about the poor treatment of passengers. Sometimes it’s unintentional. Often it’s because ‘that’s what the rules say’. Always though, there will be a personal impact for the traveller and therefore, ultimately, a commercial impact for the airport.

Only the airport themselves will know why it happens. Possibly, because PRM is treated as one of a raft of projects, rather than it be part of the culture. Employees are told how to make it happen rather than let it come from within and those signing off the business case are obsessing about the metrics, not the experience.

There are two issues at stake here

One is that making life easier for passengers, especially those with any kind of disability, is simply the right thing to do. And it’s consistent with many airport’s brand promises – genuine or not – to ‘put passengers at the heart of what they do’.

The second is a commercial issue. Whether they have a physical challenge or a learning disability, these passengers have wallets and their numbers are increasing.

Airports are under immense pressure to perform and today there are few stories written or marketing brochures printed that don’t refer in some way to the impact on passenger experience.  We also know that as in most markets, our expectations as consumers are outpacing the rate at which better experiences are delivered.  They have a voice and a choice and are not afraid to exercise either.

In Forrester’s survey of the S&P 500 with Watermark Consulting, they found that the stock market value of companies who had a customer experience culture grew during the 8 years between 2007 and 2014 by 107%. In contrast, those who didn’t grew by just 28% in that same time.

Meanwhile, AeroMexico calculated that a one-point change up or down in their Net Promoter Score had a $6m impact on the bottom line.

For airlines and airports better experiences mean more PRMs are feeling confident to fly. In the UK alone, the purple pound – the spending power of people with a disability – is estimated to be worth £212bn. The Papworth Trust carried out its own research that found two-thirds of disabled passengers would travel more often if it was easier to do so.

So, what does ‘easier’ mean?

I recently carried out a study of passengers’ unstructured feedback where they share their thoughts on social media and review sites about what it’s like going through an airport. At the top of the list of things that made them rate an airport highly was the environment; they want it to be quick, easy, friendly, clean and calm.

The absence of the same attributes was among the biggest reasons why they would advise others to use a different airport.

Those characteristics are the same for everyone; a family going on holiday, someone on business or a carer with a passenger who has a learning difficulty. So, if we extend the thinking to understand people with a disability, we’ll not only provide better experiences for them but everyone else too.

Autism spectrum disorders alone affect about 70 million people worldwide. Their symptoms include feeling bewildered at any social interaction, difficulties in communicating how they are feeling or why, and non-typical behaviours. To put them through a standardised process simply makes life harder.

Many of those with, or who care someone who has, a disability will be running on empty emotionally. They may not have had a good night’s sleep for years. They may have been in and out of hospital for countless operations.  They may have lost friends who had undiagnosed problems. They may spend their day helping others go to the toilet. Or they may spend their time apologising and feeling judged.

People with learning difficulties have and need very different experiences. They often feel isolated and will have little independence. A flight for a holiday may be as emotional for them as a wedding or a funeral to the rest of us so creating the right conditions is essential.

What they need is an easy experience with no complications. What they don’t need is for the airport to be the straw that breaks their back with inflexible policies, where common sense is not allowed to prevail and where rude employees or unhelpful environments make it worse.

The World Health Organisation says “Disability arises from the interaction between people with a health condition and their environment”.  Airports, with their partners and stakeholders, control the conditions. It is therefore within their gift to make the experience one that people want to repeat and to become advocates of.

Disability arises from the interaction between people with a health condition and their environment…

Their emotions and sensory stimuli are amplified. Take, as a simple example, hand-dryers in many airport toilet facilities. They howl into life at around 90dB, the same as a chain saw. And they are unpredictable, easily triggered simply by someone walking past.

They’re functional, probably simple to maintain and (the noisier ones) are less expensive, but at what cost?

They tick lots of operational boxes but I’ve experienced first-hand the devastating affect it can have on someone who finds such sudden outbursts like a near-death experience. From being happy to apoplectic in a second, my son (who has Fragile X) won’t hear words like “calm down”. He has an unbreakable cycle to go though. He’ll make even more noise but he will come out the other side. When he does he’ll be very apologetic and will want to know that people are there for him.

From an airport’s commercial perspective, that type of incident leads to less-than-ideal experience for other passengers, demands on employees, delayed flights and a family who won’t use that airport again.

It’s also worth noting that passengers are very aware of how their fellow travellers are being treated. Many of them will know someone with a disability and will be full of empathy. They too will make a choice next time and tell others.

Being truly empathetic to them can take us way beyond the traditional reach of the PRM definition. It creates a clear window into the life of someone with a learning disability and the role an airport plays in it. Here are just a few genuine comments to illustrate the point.

When we checked in and asked if we can sit near the front we were told “your child has autism so he can’t sit near the business area.

The airline asks if we need special assistance so why, for heaven’s sake, don’t they tell the airport to expect us?

She needs three of us to go with her. We do everything for her. Some airports and airlines are really helpful and keep us together but now we know the ones to avoid.

He lives in the moment. You can’t say: “You need to go and see Anne over there.  She’s wearing a blue jacket.” To him, the two sentences are about two completely different people. It’ll be confusing and just create more anxiety.

Their best experience is therefore one that simply works and has no hassle in it.  There doesn’t need to be any “Wow!” or “surprising and delighting”. It just needs to be competent at getting the basics right every time.

Outside the aviation sector there are many organisations responding to the specific needs of people with mental health challenges. Cineworld and ToysRUs for example have well-established autism-friendly experiences where sensory stimuli are kept to a minimum and expectations are well-managed.

It’s about people, not processes

At last year’s Passenger Terminal Conference in Cologne, Craig Leiner, Transportation Coordinator at Natick Community Services Department said about planning “When we get it right we make people’s lives better; when we get it wrong we make their lives harder”.

And Lord Blunkett, chair of Easyjet’s Special Assistance Advisory Group, added sagely: “Treating people with decency is a commercial win”.

Those leading and managing airport operations have enough on their plate without adding to the workload. We don’t need to create a whole new industry. Rather, we should build on the momentum we have with PRMs and ensure it embraces those who see and interact with the world in different ways.

There may be better acronyms than PID (People who Interact Differently) but the point is that changing from PRM to something like PID is a small mindset shift that will bring big lasting business advantages.

All types of passengers will benefit and it’ll be a prouder place to work. Not least, airports and their partners will see more passengers, lower costs and stronger revenue.

 

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help Customer Experience people do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. I give CX professionals the skills, tools and confidence to be the ones to drive their Customer Experience efforts forward.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718 072

Passenger experience: managing disruption without disrupting relationships

The delicate, reciprocal balance of any alliance between airline and passenger shifts dramatically when there’s a planned or unplanned change in schedule. One party very quickly becomes totally dependent on the other to get them through the next few hours.  It puts the relationship on a knife-edge with the stakes and expectations equally high.   

Get it right and we know the benefits of salvaging relationships that have teetered on the edge.  Get it wrong and research shows that the majority of people won’t even complain; they will simply take their contribution to load factor metrics elsewhere.  Abigail Comber of British Airways summed it up succinctly recently when she said: “The best products in the world are no good if they’re not delivered brilliantly”.Passenger experience

To have and to hold

The longevity of fulfilling relationships between people or between people and brands will not survive if, so we’re told, one party feels the other is showing it any trace of contempt.

Passengers travel for a reason.  Arrangements have been made with people at the other end. So where there’s a loss of certainty, it’s no surprise that anxiety levels rise. And while passengers accept that some delays are unavoidable, expectations are quite rightly very high that information will be timely and accurate and that action will be swift.

As passengers, we expect the airline to respond and communicate in a timely and relevant way.  We don’t know or, frankly, care whose responsibility it is.  What we don’t expect or want is any suggestion that the airline doesn’t know, care or acknowledge just how important and emotive the situation is to us at that moment.

How the airline responds has a direct consequence on how it makes people feel.  And that is what they will remember next time they come to choose who to fly with.

Seeing it from the other person’s perspective helps know what to say, when and how in a way that not only protects the relationship in times of instability but strengthens the bonds of trust for the future.

 

Expectations are always rising

How a passenger expects to be treated is not set by today’s airline or by other carriers who do things better. When they’re not being a PRN, the same people are doing business with, or are hearing about, a raft of other organisations each day.  They might be online retailers, telecoms providers or local cafes.  Some of them simply get the basics right every time, some do unexpected things we wish more companies would do, while others are horror stories to be wary of.

When there’s a problem developing we’ll hear about it on the radio, followed by an advisory to “Contact your airline for more information”.  Passengers expectations are changing though from “Ok, I’ll do that” to “They’ve got my details, why haven’t they contacted me?” and “What would have happened if I hadn’t just heard that radio broadcast?”.  In fairness, more airlines are taking a more proactive approach not least because automating the initial message reduces the cost of handling volume of inbound calls and frees up finite resource to focus on the passengers who need help the most.

Such are the expectations that the perception of the response takes on a sharper focus.  Consider the airline that sends an SMS inviting a passenger to book travel insurance through them but is silent when a flight has been cancelled.   A passenger can be forgiven for thinking “The airline had no interest in me other than getting me to spend more money”.  People do have a choice and so the consequences for airline and airport are predictable.

 

Your brand in their hands

The very nature of an airline’s business model hands over the delivery of many aspects of the brand and passenger experience to a third party.  In many cases it’s seamless but that’s not always the way.  Sullen gate staff and disengaged baggage handlers have the ability to throw away millions of dollars worth of brand building in an instant.passenger experience

Whatever the posters on the wall say about putting customers first, unless everyone in the chain understands why that’s important, how it will be delivered and how success will be measured, the nicely-worded platitudes are meaningless. The myopic focus on costs will prevail without a view of the consequences of that cost obsession.

Outsourcing the sensitive management of communications that are natural around disruption can be a sound commercial move but also requires high levels of understanding between airline and agency.  I spoke about the issue to John Milburn, general manager at Bosch Service Solutions who handle customer contacts for a number of leading global airline brands.

John told me: “Our client’s knows how critical it is to get the right information to the right people in the right way.  They take our agents to their in-house brand training facility to immerse them in their  brand and crucially allow them to experience what their passengers should expect ether flying economy or first-class, and – importantly – why. It means that when there is a problem our people can be highly empathetic, managing a relationship rather than executing a transaction”.

 

Frequency risks breeding complacency

According to Flightstats, in the 30 days to mid-August 26,300 flights were cancelled globally with 692,000 being delayed.  With an average 100 people on board, that’s the best part of 700 million people having their plans disrupted – in one month.

So with my passenger hat on, compensation rules aside, it’s not unreasonable for me to think that if something changes, the airline will be well drilled in letting me know important information.

Airlines can compete on costs, metrics and processing efficiencies but as Ryanair is discovering with its “Always Getting Better” initiative, there are greater commercial rewards to be found by paying more attention to the things customers are most interested in – and that includes communications at the most important times.  I wrote a blog just recently about how high up the agenda a customer focus is for the airline that not so long ago appeared proud of the contempt it shows passengers (read here).

It’s a trend that disruption management specialists 15below have also seen.  They report a rapid growth in the demand for its collaborative workshops that help airlines understand what it’s like to be the passenger, what they should do and how.

At a recent event in Dubai, 15below highlight some very telling facts, including that of the top 10 on-time performing Middle East and African airlines, 21% of their passengers are – over 8 million a year – are disrupted.

Yet the workshops reveal that while the intent in one part of an airline is good, significant barriers still remain.  Doing things on the customer agenda remains a contentious subject in many a boardroom in any sector, not just airlines.  If a business case cannot show an immediate ROI it won’t make the short-list.  The marketing and customer experience teams might be making the right moves and articulating the cost of lost customers.  But if the culture means their insight is not adopted by every other part of the business, the focus will remain on doing the wrong things really well.

IT understandably has a loud voice at the table and often wants to manage innovation and change in-house.  Falling into the clutches of its normal programme management governance and competing for resource around the business equally retains control over the time-quality-cost triumvirate and helps negotiate the portfolio of legacy and merged systems, but anecdotal evidence suggest it often slows things down too.  And that simply lets others get ahead.

 

The to-do list

15below has some sound advice (and a JetBlue case study here) to help airlines do things better.

First, planning with stakeholders and partners so whether ground staff or outsourced contact centre, they all have the same information and the right information at the same time.  For a passenger the only thing worse than no information is inconsistent information between gate, Google, contact centre and departure board.

Strike a better balance between automation and human communications.  Technology offers some fantastic opportunities for handling issues of scale. But airlines must also recognise when passengers need reassurance that comes from speaking with a person and not interacting with an algorithm.

Solving the problem before a passenger knows it exists is also a way to retaining passenger faith.  Making it easy to understand what’s happened, making it easy to talk to someone about their own specifics and having a ready-made solution in place takes a little effort but is immensely appreciated.

Proactive communications with those who are expecting the passenger such as hotels or family takes the experience to another level. Automated voice messages are more popular in the US than in the UK.  But calling at 2am or assuming that a passengers first language is English despite what they’ve already made clear is not right either, yet it happens.

 

The “So what?”

It is well accepted that there are three elements to the customer experience.  Did it do what I expected it to?, Was it easy? and How did it make me feel?  Research also shows it’s not an equal three-way split in terms of importance.  The memory of the emotional aspect from last time can drive upwards of 70% of decision-making for the next time.

So passengers are far less likely to buy a ticket from an airline that has previously showed them any degree of contempt, whatever the customer charter and brand promise say. The brand is what passengers tell others it is, not what the strapline says.  They have a voice and they have a choice.

Airlines who still see no reason to change or who don’t make the right changes will therefore get left further behind by those at the next gate or the next airport who do get it.

The stakes are high, the expectations are high.  It’s not just a relationship that’s under threat or about to flourish – by definition its also revenue, load factors and forward bookings.  And none of those want to be disrupted.

 


Jerry Angrave is a Certified Customer Experience Professional and consultant.  Managing Director of Empathyce, Jerry has worked for or with organisations in the aviation and travel, retail banking, utilities, legal services and pharmaceutical industries. 

Jerry will be chairing sessions a the AirXperience event in London in September 2015 – feel free to ask Jerry any further questions on this subject.

How not to increase the customer experience scores

It’s “good news, bad news” time for measuring customer experience.   The good news is that some people have found really quick and easy ways to increase customer scores.  The bad news is that those creative solutions can be catastrophic for the business and ultimately the people themselves.fans

We’ll look at the reasons why it happens and the consequences in a moment.  Firstly though, I suspect we’re all agreed that for any organisation to improve it needs to measure the things that matter, not what is convenient.  They will use a combination of quantitative and qualitative feedback from customers and employees to influence the right change and investment decisions.

However, the pressure for better and better metrics can easily lead to gaming of the customer experience scores and measurement system.   The following examples are ones I’ve genuinely come across in recent times.  I share them with you to illustrate what can happen and to hopefully prompt a sense-check that it’s not happening in your business.

 

  • Misleading respondents:  Net Promoter Score and others like it have their place.  Each method has its own critical nuances that require a severe ‘handle with care’ advisory.  So what certainly doesn’t help is where those carrying out the surveys have been told to, or are allowed to, manipulate the scoring system.  In other words, when asking for an NPS (recommendation) number they tell the customer that “A score of 0-6 means the service was appalling, 7 or 8 is bad to mediocre and 9 or 10 is good”.  And hey presto, higher NPS.
  • Cajoling:  I’ve also listened-in to research agencies saying to customers “Are you sure it’s only an eight, do you mean a nine?  There’s hardly any difference anyway”.  Maybe not to the customer there’s not but it’s very significant in the final calculation of the score.  Or, in response to a customer who is trying to make up their mind, “You said it was good so would that be ten maybe, or how about settle for nine?”.  More good scores on their way.
  • Incentivising customers:  the Board of a franchised operation couldn’t understand why its customer scores were fantastic but it’s revenue was falling off a cliff.  It turned out that if a customer wanted to give anything other than a top score in the survey they were offered a 20% discount next time they came in-store in return for upgrading their score to a 9 or 10.  Not only that, but the customers got wise to it and demanded discounts (in return for a top score) every other time in future too as they “know how the system works”.
  • Responses not anonymised: too often, the quest for customer feedback gets hijacked by an opportunity to collect customer details and data.  I’ve seen branch managers stand over customers while they fill in response forms.  Receipts from a cafe or restaurant invite you to leave feedback using a unique reference number that customers understandably think could link their response to the card details and therefore them.  Employee surveys that purport to be anonymous but then ask for sex, age, length of service, role – all things that make it easy to pinpoint a respondent especially in a small team.  So it’s not surprising that that unless there is been a cataclysmic failure, reponses will be unconfrontational, generically pleasant and of absolutely no use at all.
  • Slamming the loop shut:  Not just closing it.  It’s the extension of responses not being anonymous.  Where they are happy to share their details and to be contacted, following up good or bad feedback is a brilliant way to engage customers and employees.  But I’ve also seen complaints from customers saying the branch manager or contact centre manager called them and gave them a hard time. Berating a customer for leaving honest feedback is a brilliant way to hand them over to a competitor.
  • Comparing apples with potatoes:  It’s understandable why companies want to benchmark themselves against their peer group of competitors or the best companies in other markets.  It’s easy to look at one number and say whether it’s higher or lower than another.  But making comparisons with other companies’ customer scores without knowing how those results are arrived at will be misleading at best and at worst make a company complacent.  There are useful benchmarking indices such as those from Bruce Temkin whose surveys have the volume and breadth to minimise discrepancies.  But to compare one company’s NPS or Satisfaction scores in the absence of knowing at what point in the customer journey or how their customers were surveyed can draw some very unreliable conclusions.
  • Selective myopia:  Talking of benchmarking, one famous sector leader (by market share) makes a huge fanfare internally of having the highest customer satisfaction scores of its competitors.  Yet it conveniently ignores one other equally famous competitor who has significantly higher customer scores.  The reason is a flawed technicality in that they have identical products, which customers can easily switch to and from but one operates without high street stores (yet it makes other branded stores available to use on its behalf).  First among unequals.
  • Unintended consequences:  a leadership team told me that despite all the complaints about the service, its staff didn’t need any focus because they were highly engaged.  The survey said so.  However, talking to the same employees out on the floor, they said it was an awful place to work.  They knew what was going wrong and causing the complaints but no-one listened to their ideas.  They didn’t know who to turn to so they could help a customer and their own products and services were difficult to explain. Why then, did they have such high engagement scores?  Because the employees thought (wrongly, as it happens) that a high index was needed if they stood any chance of getting a bonus so they ticked that box whenever the survey came round.  The reality was a complete lack of interest or pride in their job (some said they would rather tell friends they were unemployed) and no prizes for guessing what that meant for customers’ experiences.

    A downward spiral – the consequences of gaming customer scores

 

Of course, metrics are necessary but their value is only really insightful when understood in the context of the qualitative responses. The consequences of getting that balance wrong are easy to understand but the reasons why are more complex.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be addressed.

The damaging impact of the complacency comes from believing things are better than they are.  If a number is higher than it was last time, that’s all that matters, surely.  Wrong.  The business risk is that investments and resources will continue to be directed to the things that further down the line will become a low priority or simply a wasted cost in doing the wrong things really well.

What’s just as damaging is the impact the gaming has on people.  The examples I’ve mentioned here are from some of the largest organisations in their respective markets, not small companies simply over-enthusiastically trying to do their best.  Scale may be part of the problem, where ruling by metrics is the easiest way to manage a business.  That is one of the biggest causes of customer scores being over-inflated;  the pressure managers put on their team to be rewarded by relentlessly making things better as measured by a headline customer number, however flawed that is.

It’s a cultural thing. Where gaming of the numbers does happen, those who do it or ask for it to happen may feel they have little choice.  If people know there are smoke and mirrors at work to manipulate the numbers or if they are being asked to not bother about what they know is important, what kind of a place must that be to work in? The good talent won’t hang around for long.

For me, beyond being timely and accurate there are three criteria that every customer measurement framework must adhere to.

  1. Relevant:  they must measure what’s most important to customers and the strategic aims of the business
  2. Complete: the measures must give a realistic representation of the whole customer journey, not just specific points weeks after they happened
  3. Influential: CX professionals must be able to use the qualitative and quantitative insights to bring about the right change.

As ever, my mantra on this has always been to get the experience right first then the numbers will follow.  I’d urge you to reflect on your own measurement system and be comfortable that the scores you get are accurate and reliable.

It’s also worth asking why would very good and capable people feel they had to tell a story that sounds better than it is. Leaders and managers, your thoughts please…

 


Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner and since 2012 I’ve been a consultant helping others understand how best to improve their customer experiences.  If you’ve any questions about customer measurement or any other CX issue do please get in touch for a chat.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

Thank you Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Angrave

CCXP and a judge at the UK Customer Experience Awards