For fourteen days I was without my suitcase. When the airline finally delivered my suitcase, it was exactly fourteen hours before my flight back to Canada. This happened on my Christmas vacation in Jamaica.
It was frustrating to go through this experience as a customer. As a marketer, I observed firsthand how a negative customer experience can undermine the hard work and investment in the company’s marketing program.
Disconnect between Marketing and Customer Experience
The philosophy of the airline’s founders – that just because you pay less for your flight, doesn’t mean you should get less – appeals to many travellers who are looking for the same or better service at lower cost than competing airlines. The advertising slogan – Owners care – means that the employee-owners have a vested interest in the success of the airline, so that passengers will be treated well.
In the first few days of this ordeal, I wandered through a maze of standard verbal and automated responses, I resorted to sending Tweets and e-mails to senior leaders of the airline and I blew a gasket when the airline sent me the wrong suitcase on day 6.
Ironically, it was a contract worker who showed an impressive level of care that made me believe that the ordeal would come to a happy ending.
On Christmas Eve as I was preparing to go out to celebrate, the luggage delivery service’s driver called at 10:00 p.m. to say that he was two hours away. He said that he didn’t want me to miss my celebration event and emphasized that he was committed to delivering my suitcase wherever I was and whenever it was convenient for me.
Personas, Processes, Predictability
Throughout the experience, it was clear to me that there were serious gaps in customer service, employee empowerment, operations and communication. In my view, the shortcomings in all of these areas seriously undermined the airline’s marketing program in three ways –
- There are some segments in the client population whose personas and needs were not understood;
- The operations processes didn’t address the customer’s needs; and
- The employees’ actions were not consistently aligned with the corporate values and culture.
I offer the following recommendations on how to prevent these shortcomings –
1. Clearly define and understand the personas of a diverse passenger clientele
Although Canadian-based airlines may consider Jamaica as a vacation destination, not all passengers are Canadian tourists. A large number of airline passengers in winter are Canada-based Jamaicans returning ‘home’ on vacation. These passengers have very different personas from Canadian tourists ‘going south’ for a winter vacation.
Admittedly, it is challenging to craft marketing messages and to provide a consistent client experience when a diverse clientele is using the same service. Gaining a detailed understanding of various customer personas should be the first priority. Armed with this understanding, it is likely that airlines will be well placed to develop appropriate service levels, effective operational processes and prepare employees to ensure that every client has a satisfying travel experience.
2. Ensure processes to remedy problems are focused in customers’ needs
A passenger feels stranded when his luggage is lost or delayed. What’s worse is when an automated e-mail promises a response within 3 to 5 business days. A stranded passenger doesn’t care about the airline’s logistical constraints and system limitations.
Operational processes are only efficient if they meet the customer’s needs in a timely manner.
Even if it takes an extended period of time to solve a problem, in the interim, the customer needs to be kept informed of the status of the problem and be made to feel confident that every effort is being made by real people – not a computer system or some convoluted process – to solve the problem.
3. Train employees to deliver a predictable and consistent customer experience
Fun, friendly and caring – these are among the airline’s stated corporate values that are said to flow through to the corporate culture and customer experience. I can only agree that all of the airline’s staff in Canada, in-flight and in Jamaica were fun, friendly and caring when everything was working well.
All employees – both on the front lines and behind the scenes – ought to understand how to act in ways that are consistent with the brand promise and how their actions influence customer perceptions and corporate success. In practical terms, this means that employees should be trained to communicate effectively when problems arise. As well, employees should be empowered to manage risk and take remedial action on the spot before bad situations get worse.
See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.
Companies should not lose sight of the big picture, which is that customers are the cause of business. Their needs come first!
Every area of the organization ought to focus on ensuring that the customer experience does not undermine the company’s marketing plans.
Post Script –
- The only items of clothing in my other suitcase that did arrive with me at the beginning of my vacation were my exercise outfit and my swimsuit! So I did get a chance to work out my angst and to relax at the beach during my two-week vacation.
- Do you want to know the name of the airline? I’m not telling.
- The airline has made every effort to settle my claim fairly and the senior leadership have said that they take my feedback very seriously.
I really believe that remedial action will be taken.
That’s why I am pretty sure that I will have a positive experience when next I fly with this airline. I certainly hope that you will too!
See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.
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