Flights of fancy and the importance of setting expectations

Jet engine - what's the level of service behind it?

It was a treat to see Ian Golding speak this morning about his area of expertise – improving customer experience.

Like any good speaker, Ian illustrated his presentation with anecdotes and illustrations his audience could connect with.

I was particularly taken with his story of flying first class with Emirates, although it’s a pleasure I have yet to experience. Describing the luxurious seating, the glamorous staff and the fine dining, Ian painted a picture of the perfect customer experience.

He then went on to describe what happened after the flight. The non-appearance of his luggage. The similar invisibility of any Emirates staff at his destination to help. The apparent lack of concern at his plight when he finally tracked someone down several hours later. And the complete lack of follow up or apology by Emirates since his unsatisfactory experience.

Emirates, said Ian, like too many companies, considered the customer experience begins and ends with the delivery of the core service; the flight.

From the customer perspective of course, the service starts from the moment I begin to search for information and doesn’t end until long after I walk out of the door.

A different approach from Lufthansa

Ian’s experience reminded me of a contrasting story about Lufthansa that I originally heard from John Fraser-Robinson (author of The Secrets of Effective Direct Mail, amongst others).

Apparently when a young couple discovered the German airline had lost a bag containing all their baby’s clothes, bottles and food, a senior Lufthansa executive arrived at the airport to apologise personally and explain where their luggage was and when they could expect it.

He then produced a company credit card and escorted the couple to the nearest equivalent of Mothercare where he paid for any essential equipment they needed to tide them over until their luggage’s arrival.

Finally, by way of apology, the exec said he would like to offer the couple’s baby daughter free flights for life.

Yes. For life.

Now John Fraser-Robinson was, I recall, quite a cynical soul and pointed out this was an excellent commercial decision by any standard.

Naturally the parents would be inclined to fly Lufthansa as one member of their party would fly for free.

As their daughter got older she would likely take full advantage of her privileged position, which the company would absorb.

And then, when she had a family of her own, no doubt they would travel together on Lufthansa, with the majority of the family members paying full whack.

Brand loyalty for life.

Plus of course, there are the associated PR benefits. JFR told me this story in the early nineties. 25 years later and I’m still sharing the story.

But what about Ryanair?

Naturally in a conversation about the customer experience of airlines we soon began talking about Ryanair; a company that, until recently at least, reveled in its reputation for being contemptuous of its customers.

How could a company with such a bad attitude to customer service become so successful?

Ian was prepared for this challenge.

Ryanair managed customer expectations supremely well.

Michael O’Leary’s PR persona and the company’s confrontational advertising made no promises beyond cheap prices – the one thing they could deliver.

Offered with the stark choice of “at this price you can take it or leave it” customers chose to take it in their droves.

And their expectations were so low, few came away disappointed.

It worked well for a while. Now of course, many competitors are closing the price gap and Ryanair have been forced into a charm offensive (rather than simply being offensive).

Managing and responding to customer expectations is so fundamental to the customer experience, I’ve always been gobsmacked by the lack of traction the SERVQUAL satisfaction survey seems to have gained.

But I’ll save that for a future blog.


One thought on “Flights of fancy and the importance of setting expectations

  1. Hi Trevor – I am honoured and humbled – it is always nice to hear someone describe hearing me talk as a treat!!Very nice blog site by the way!!

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