By Christie Flanagan on Dec 17, 2012
Over the years, I endured enough delayed flights, air turbulence and misadventures in airport security clearance to watch my expectations for the air travel experience fall to abysmally low levels. The extent of my loyalty to any one carrier had more to do with the proximity of the airport parking garage to their particular gate than to any effort on the airline’s part to actually earn and retain my business. That all changed one day when I found myself at the airport hoping to catch a return flight home a few hours earlier than expected, using an airline I had flown with for the first time just that week.
When you travel regularly for business, being able to catch a return flight home that’s even an hour or two earlier than originally scheduled is a big deal. It can mean the difference between having a normal evening with your family and having to sneak in like a cat burglar after everyone is fast asleep. And so I found myself on this particular day hoping to catch an earlier flight home. I approached the gate agent and was told that I could go on standby for their next flight out. Then I asked how much it was going to cost to change the flight, knowing full well that I wouldn’t get reimbursed by my company for any change fees.
“Oh, there’s no charge to fly on standby,” the gate agent told me.
I made a funny look. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This airline was going to let my fly on standby, at no additional charge, even though I was a new customer with no status or points. It had been years since I’d seen an airline pass up a short term revenue generating opportunity in favor of a long term loyalty generating one. At that moment, this particular airline gained my loyal business.
Since then, this airline has had the opportunity to learn a lot about me. They know where I live, where I fly from, where I usually fly to, and where I like to sit on the plane. In general, I’ve found their customer service to be quite good whether at the airport, via call center and even through social channels. They email me occasionally, and when they do, they demonstrate that they know me by promoting deals for flights from where I live to places that I’d be interested in visiting. And that’s part of why I’m always so puzzled when I visit their website.
Does this company with the great service, customer friendly policies, and clean planes demonstrate that they know me at all when I visit their website? The answer is no. Even when I log in using my loyalty program credentials, it’s pretty obvious that they’re presenting the same old home page and same old offers to every single one of their site visitors. I mean, those promotional offers that they’re featuring so prominently -- they’re for flights that originate thousands of miles from where I live! There’s no way I’d ever book one of those flights and I’m sure I’m not the only one of their customers to feel that way.
My reason for recounting this story is not to pick on the one customer experience flaw I've noticed with this particular airline, in fact, they do so many things right that I’ll continue to fly with them. But I did want to illustrate just how glaringly obvious it is to customers today when a touch point they have with a brand is impersonal, unconnected and out of sync. As someone who’s spent a number of years in the web experience management and online marketing space, it particularly peeves me when that out of sync touch point is a brand’s website, perhaps because I know how important it is to make a customer’s online experience relevant and how many powerful tools are available for making a relevant experience a reality.
The fact is, delivering a one-size-fits-all online customer experience is no longer acceptable or particularly effective in today’s world. Today’s savvy customers expect you to know who they are and to understand their preferences, behavior and relationship with your brand. Not only do they expect you to know about them, but they also expect you to demonstrate this knowledge across all of their touch points with your brand in a consistent and compelling fashion, whether it be on your traditional website, your mobile web presence or through various social channels.
Delivering the kind of personalized online experiences that customers want can have tremendous business benefits. This is not just about generating feelings of goodwill and higher customer satisfaction ratings either. More relevant and personalized online experiences boost the effectiveness of online marketing initiatives and the statistics prove this out. Personalized web experiences can help increase online conversion rates by 70% -- that’s a huge number.1 And more than three quarters of consumers indicate that they’ve made additional online purchases based on personalized product recommendations.2
Now if only this airline would get on board with delivering a more personalized online customer experience. I’d certainly be happier and more likely to spring for one of their promotional offers. And by targeting relevant offers on their home page to appropriate segments of their site visitors, I bet they’d be happier and generating additional revenue too.
If you're interested in hearing more perspectives on the benefits of demonstrating that you know your customers by delivering a more personalized experience, check out this white paper on creating a successful and meaningful customer experience on the web. Also catch the video below on the business value of CX in attracting new customers featuring Oracle's VP of Customer Experience Strategy, Brian Curran.