So I’m going to hearken back to my very recent post “$325 Equals $210? The Math of Customer Hostile Policies” because apparently these policies are indicators of a broader cancerous culture. I’m flying home right now from Virgina Tech where I spent two days with some wonderful, bright and talented students (thanks for having me come speak by the way). I arrive at my layover destination. I’m traveling on the airline with the customer hostile policies I mentioned in my previous post. My final flight is scheduled to depart at 2:40 PM. I look at my watch and it’s 1:05. I notice there’s an earlier flight to my destination that departs at 1:20 so I walk briskly to that gate (at my age, I no longer sprint through airports out of fear of pulling something).
When I arrive at the gate (at 1:08), I asked the gate agent “Is there any way I can get on this flight? I’m currently on the 2:40.” The jetway door was still open. Her reply didn’t shock me:
“Ummmm no. I’m busy doing my paperwork and I have to get it out by 1:10. And I’d be all rushed to take your credit card info and get you on the flight.” You have to be kidding me. Her tone was one of annoyance that I, a measly customer, would dare interrupt her all-important paperwork or heaven forbid ask her to rush a little and go out of her way to perform the onerous task of swiping a credit card.
“You can’t get me on the flight? The jetway isn’t closed yet.”
Not even looking up from her paperwork I got “Nope. Flight’s closed.” I guess I didn’t even exist anymore because I wasn’t even worth being looked at now.
I shook my head and walked away. As I did, I looked back as I heard her announce “Attention in the terminal, this is final call for flight 2217 with service to Cincinnati (the flight I just tried to get on but it was ‘closed’). All passengers wishing to board this flight need to report to Gate E19. Thank you.” No. I didn’t go back to the gate to try to board because it would have involved a significant emotional event for the agent. I skulked away to my 2:40 flight’s gate where I’m typing this now.
This particular airline has a culture issue. Many of their actions indicate the customer does not come first (despite the nice pre-recorded voice lady on the plane saying we’re so important as customers and she values our business). Saying you value me and showing you value me are two different things. Unfortunately their actions run counter to their words.
Once a customer hostile culture takes root, you’re in trouble as a company. It causes a tailspin where customers get frustrated and eventually defect. Relationships die and you find yourself spending more on customer acquisition and operational efficiency efforts to reduce costs to make up for revenues you’re losing due to defections. That change in priority where ops is put ahead of the customer creates a vicious circle that exacerbates the defection issue.
So what’s the solution? For the airline industry, I have a couple of ideas:
- Give every associate a customer service test. A simple one. Make the questions a binary choice between doing something right for the customer or doing something to generate incremental profits or operational efficiencies. Fire every associate that puts ops ahead of customers. Now you’ll have a lower cost structure and you will have removed the source of many of your defection issues. Draconian? Yes. Arguably necessary? Absolutely.
- Plow 75% of those saved salaries into hiring more customer-oriented associates. Drop the other 25% to the bottom line to remove the operational pressure to put profit over customers. It will also enable you to change your existing customer hostile policies like your little “ticket price equivalency math” I’ve mentioned before. You can also remove that “Oh you want to get an earlier flight we have room on? Thank you that will be $100 please” rule. It’s moronic and predatory.
- Now that you have a customer oriented workforce and rules that actually match what the nice lady says you value, maybe defections will decrease. This will improve profits and reduce the amount of money you have to spend on marketing to combat your customer churn issue. Drop some of that money to the bottom line to and keep investing in customer-friendly associates.
- These true investments in customer service will slowly shift your culture to something the nice lady would approve of. You’d be more profitable and customers would become more loyal (heck, some might even recommend your airline or write nice things about you on their blogs).
Examine your culture. Examine what you do vs. what you say you do. You might be surprised by what you find. Remember – loyalty is the holy grail of profitability. If you have a cancerous culture due to policies and people, change it one person and one policy at a time. Fail to do so and you’ll become an acquisition target or bankruptcy candidate like so many other companies that have lost their way and forget that CUSTOMERS pay for you to exist.
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC