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!