Unfulfilled Promises

By JP Saunders

My head spun as I heard the words "Sorry, our priority boarding policy doesn't include families traveling with infants and small children." I then watched the mom and her three-year-old girl in a wheelchair take their place in the back of the line. They ended up behind business travelers with their carry-on luggage and behind college athletes carrying their big gym bags. The voices of the fellow passengers who were in front of the family and felt compelled to speak up fell on the deaf ears of the air steward who was “just following airline policy.” Once on the plane passengers were held back as the mom tried to settle her now screaming child while wrestling hand luggage into the under-sized overhead bins. The airline had downgraded the five-hour national flight to its smallest plane due to lack of seat sales.

The Airline Quality Rating Report was released today. This research focuses on U.S-based airlines and measures how the airlines performed in 2012. Yes, the airline industry is improving when it comes to operational performance such as on-time performance, denied boardings, and mishandled bags. But, customer complaints jumped 20% in 2012 compared to 2011!

Putting aside my own travel nightmares, I tried to understand what is at the root cause of so many airlines lack of customer service. Heavy messaging around Customer Service can be found in the marketing promises of all airlines, as it is the new competitive landscape on which most businesses now do battle to win their customers loyalty today. The exceptional delivery of this promise was also the vision of the first air stewards when they imagined their role. So what happened to get us to where we are today? Why is there now such a chasm between what is promised and what gets delivered from airlines?

It's not just airlines – if you read The Temkin Group latest 2013 Experience Rating (TxR) findings on Industries, you will see that airlines rank equally at fifth from last place. Interestingly, all last-place industries are somewhat complex in nature with a high velocity of competition and are undergoing some major transformation. Regardless of how we got here, in today's world, customer expectations for a good experience aren’t forgiving of a businesses increasing complexity, rising costs, retired cultural resistance to change, redundant legacy policies, or antiquated technologies.

The impact of bad experiences is unforgivably evident, as shown in a recent study performed by O’Keeffe & Company – an independent market research firm – that showed a distinct chasm between the experiences that executives believe they are delivering and the ones that customers are getting.

Many businesses can learn a lot by simply re-imagining what their own air travel experience would it look like if they could define it, then applying that same process back to their own customers journey with them. Oracle is currently running Customer Journey Mapping programs for its customers to help them better understand how to compete on experience. Speak to your Oracle representative for more information.


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