Get better at better (airlines)


This is the first of a series of posts where I evaluate companies and industries who strive to serve their best customers better.

First stop, Gate 36C at O’Hare.

Are airlines doing better well? Could they be doing better better?

Very few companies execute better effectively. To truly treat their best customers better over the long term, the service has to meet three criteria:

1) Significant – The better service must be significantly better, not marginally better.

2) Consistent – The better service must be consistent. The best customers always get the better service. (NB: The ability to occasionally break policy in order to delight a customer is a power that every employee should have – it needs to be built into the company culture. Here, I’m not referring to occasional delights but how to treat long-term customers better.)

3) Transparent – The better service should be transparent. Both the best customers and the not as good customers should know what level of service they are getting and why.

All three are critical.

Let’s look at airlines. Almost every airline offers some sort of frequent flyer program with multiple tiers. Let’s evaluate:

Significant – The difference between sitting in first class versus coach is significant. The chairs are designed to comfortably hold human beings and you get free drinks. The food is significantly warmer, if not significantly better. Other perks like priority boarding and Crown Room access are also significant.

Airlines make it obvious whether you can use certain services based on your status. From the big signs at the ticketing lines to the boarding priority announcement, to the little luggage tags denoting ‘diamond-encrusted platinum’ customers, it’s usually pretty obvious who has status and who doesn’t.

It is even most obvious (if ridiculous) when the flight attendants announce that those seated in coach may NOT use the first class cabin lavatory.

This is where the airlines blow it. There are limited first class seats. Understood. So if you are Diamond, but so are 18 other people on that particular flight, you might end up sitting in 38F. This isn’t the end of the world, but here is where airlines screw up.

From the minute you step in the airport, Diamond is treated as Diamond. Faster ticketing lines. Better baggage policies. Crown room access.

But once you’re on the plane, if you don’t get one of the first class seats you effectively lose your status for the rest of the flight. They use the curtain, not the status, to determine how to treat you.

In coach, your Diamond status disappears. It doesn’t have to.

The airline knows your status and they know where you’re sitting. So why don’t they bring all Diamond members free noise-canceling headphones or two free drink coupons? It’s an easy (and cheap) way to say, “We know you didn’t get 1A this time, but we still value you as a premium customer.” It also tells a story to those passengers sitting nearby, “Get status, and you too will be treated better, regardless of where you sit.”

Marketing execs at any major airline will tell you this is too expensive and too complicated. They’re dead wrong.

In future posts, I’ll look at other companies and industries and how they can “get better at better.”

If you have an industry you would like me to profile, mention it in the comments or email me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>