Monday, June 5, 2017

Let’s Make Flying Great Again!

In my last blog about the airline industry and its recent customer experience challenges, I talked about the possibility of Congress trying to legislate the industry.

The bottom line, from my perspective, is that you CANNOT regulate customer experience. It’s based on emotional connections and touchpoints between the customer and a brand. How can you possibly enforce legislation around that?

There is no denying that the relationship between airlines and passengers needs to change. Something is systematically broken and we need to fix it. We need to take a closer look at the dynamic between the customer and the carrier and make some tweaks.

Back in the day, air travel was something the elite did. People dressed for flights as if it was a special event. Flight attendants took etiquette classes. Now, flying has become a commodity. There has been a convergence between accessibility and affordability. More people are flying but there has been a noticeable shift in the relationship between travelers and airline staff.

Customers on airplanes don’t’ want to be treated like threats and airline employees don’t want to be enforcers (a dynamic that took over post 9/11).

I recently spoke at The World Aviation Training Conference and Tradeshow in Orlando, FL. As an advocate for customer experience AND as a consumer, I was thrilled. Why? Because the focus at these events is usually only about safety, but this year, I was invited to specifically speak about customer experience. And this wasn’t a reactive move either. It’s been booked for well over six months. That, my friends, means that the airline industry is aware that we have a situation that needs to be addressed.

I met people from all over the world who are passionate about creating a great customer experience. The silver lining is that in an industry shrouded by a string of unfortunate incidents, it’s comprised of people who want to get it right  - down to what the coffee cup they are handing a passenger looks like.

Government regulation is not the answer here; changing the dynamic is.

Both sides must have more empathy for the other. Passengers are stressed out, trying to get to a life event or work obligation, or traveling with young children in tow and freaked out about pissing other passengers off. Staff is concerned with following protocols, keeping everyone safe and operations running smoothly. It’s A LOT of pressure at every touchpoint at the airport, and in the air, at any given time. But, if we strive to build connections between the two sides – through kindness, compassion and an understanding for what the other is dealing with- it will inevitably change the air travel experience. There is a human being on the other side of you; the passenger and the employee are both someone’s child, mother, brother, father, son, best friend. If we can all remember that, we can change the dynamic and leave the channels of social media open for all of the important content being provided by the Kardashian klan.

Essentially, we need a new contract between carrier and passenger, and we need it now. The conversation needs to change and so does the paradigm between the traveler and the airline.

Let’s start there. Not with regulation that won’t make a difference and only heighten the tension that already exists. Let’s get back to the way it used to be done, in a sense…when air travel was a special event and both parties involved were on the same page – and on their best behavior. Let’s make flying great again!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Customer Experience Goes To Capitol Hill

(This is part two in a three-part series. See the first blog here)

Open any news source and you are bound to see another story about drama between a traveler and an airline. Ever since United Airlines “planegate”, the floodgates have opened and it seems there is one video-documented mishap after another. I mean, seriously, if there were a drinking game that had you taking a shot every time an airline was negatively highlighted on social media, we’d all be drunk.

In my last blog I talked about how the man being dragged off the United Airlines flight was horrific in itself, but United’s lackluster response and the onslaught of social media, to shine a spotlight (or maybe it’s a strobe light?) on the situation made it even worse.

New day = new video of a passenger experiencing a problem onboard a plane or at the gate. While United Airlines certainly bore the brunt, no airline is really safe. The customer experience related to flying is under a microscope right now and travelers everywhere are keeping a close eye out for the next flub. Who will it be? What will the incident be? It’s like waiting in great anticipation for the next episode of a miniseries.

And just when you thought the drama had hit its height, enter Congress. That’s right! At the beginning of the month, the airline industry got a stern talking to from Congress about the customer experience complaints that have been highlighted recently.

Not only are the airlines being publicly reprimanded, but some members of Congress even offered threats of regulations if they didn’t get their collective customer experience acts together.

Here’s the thing…you CANNOT regulate customer experience. I mean you can certainly institute regulations, but you can’t truly regulate an experience.

You can’t force employees to care, to be nice, to smile or to be authentic. You simply can’t mandate a great customer experience. But…what can be done (and needs to happen) is to change the mindset, the way employees think about the customer and how customers view employees. We must change the culture to be customer centric, then and only then will we begin to gain the trust of the customer and a true relationship can be forged.

So you see, company culture and therefore customer experience isn’t this “thing” that Congress can step in and regulate. It’s a living, breathing and intricately complicated entity that is constantly changing. To put legislation around it is impossible, because while you can regulate actions or behaviors, you can’t put guidelines around emotional connection. It’s like telling someone you are going to legislate their feelings, their soul. CX comes from the connection between people, at every touchpoint throughout the travel experience.

You can’t regulate things like compassion and understanding. So, in order for real change to happen, we need to look at customer experience in a whole new way. The customer experience can never and will never exceed your employee experience. What is your employees experience like?  What is the culture they are working in and is it one that will produce a customer experience that you can be proud of, one that you are comfortable having captured on social media?

If you still think customer experience isn’t a big deal, this should make you perk up. It’s such a big deal that it made it to Congress. Pay attention everyone…customer experience has officially arrived! The answer is NOT government regulation; it’s changing the narrative between employees and customers and in many cases, that may mean changing the paradigm between business and their employees. And I’m going to dig deep and lay out that paradigm in the third and last blog in this series…stay tuned!

As always, I love a good convo, so feel free to chime in and tweet me @gmagenta.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

United We Do NOT Stand…Without an Apology

Just like anyone with a pulse and Internet access, I have been closely following the United Airlines saga. No, not the leggings fiasco. Nope, not the scorpion falling out of the overhead compartment. You know, the one where security physically and forcibly dragged a passenger out of his seat and off the plane…yep, that one!

Stop. Just stop.          

Yes it happened and it’s horrific. There are no excuses for it. I’ve been nudged by many who know me, asking why I haven’t written about the most widely talked about customer experience debacle and given my two cents. The answer is simple. I have been waiting for the dust to settle (which is near impossible with social media). I wanted to be able to separate emotion from fact and come from a place of clarity and understanding when I discuss the situation. Social media amplified a seriously bad move and the images are playing in a continuous loop everywhere, which had us all lathered up. When you watch that video, your emotional response is triggered immediately and that man becomes all of us.  I wanted some time and distance to gain some perspective before offering my thoughts and now I am ready to discuss what I see as the real issue.

The real issue was not the incident itself, it is the incredibly poor job United did in the recovery. United Airlines blew it. Plain and simple. Their actions and response following the debacle is as bad, if not worse than the incident itself. They had a chance to own it, show empathy, remorse, apologize and ask for forgiveness to win over the hearts and minds of that poor passenger and the rest of us, and they failed.

Don’t kid yourself and think this is an isolated occurrence either. All of our businesses make mistakes in how we handle certain customer situations every day. From being served the wrong cup of coffee to being forcibly removed from an airplane seat, sh*t happens. We disappoint, irritate and even alienate customers on a regular basis. However, when we take responsibility and show that we are willing to do what it takes to make it right, THAT makes the difference between the public embracing you or vilifying you.

United Airlines did more damage in their “recovery” instead of SHOWING the appropriate emotions and TAKING actions that would gain back customer loyalty. The way I see it is that the recovery, or the lack of an adequate recovery, speaks to an obvious absence of a customer-first culture at United. If United is explaining away the forcible removal of the passenger by assigning blame to the non-United security team, what is their excuse for their poor recovery? They are not focused on the customer first, they are focused on United’s policies, procedures and protocols first, and that has now put them last.

If you get ahead of mistakes in the right way, which is quickly and with a clear and genuine admission of wrongdoing, you have a much better chance at a positive rebound. You need to show empathy and transparency, not release a fluffy statement filled with buzzwords and jargon.

Historically, any public figure or company guilty of a blunder is usually forgiven (cough cough, even Charlie Sheen).

United failed to put themselves in the seat of their customer and instead went into full-fledged defensive mode. And that’s why they lost and continue to lose the support of the public. You know what defense mode does? It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.

As I was thinking about this whole cluster, I saw the Jimmy Kimmel clip and momentarily thought I wouldn’t even write about this because he NAILED it. If you haven’t watched it, you should! As a matter of fact, as a brand, when you find yourself in these disasters, perhaps you should ask the poignant question – WWJD – What Would Jimmy Do?

I also found myself asking what would I do in this scenario…as the passenger? As a fellow passenger? And even as United’s CEO? I can tell you right now, that if I were CEO, I would have scrapped that ridiculous letter, that was likely written for him, and instead driven to that passenger’s house myself to offer a heartfelt and personal apology and find out what could be done. Instead we will all get to see how this case plays out in the courts.

Unfortunately, United Airlines has set a new standard in what NOT to do in a bad situation and likely sealed their fate in the world of CX perception. Just because this didn’t have a happy ending doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton to learn.

What would YOU have done differently? Anything aside from what I’ve put out there? Tweet me at @gmagenta