The overwhelming case for understanding the customer experience you are actually delivering

A recent very high profile, and now infamous incident on a US airline has demonstrated the significant effect of what happens when you let the design of your customer experience get away from you – either intentionally or unintentionally.

We all know the story of how the airline bumped a passenger from a flight to fill the seat with its own workers to fulfill operational requirements.  Subsequently images of the passenger being unceremoniously removed from the flight with injuries apparent for all to see were broadcast globally within hours of the event – leading to a significant devaluation in the share price of the company.

Recent KPMG research, How much is Customer Experience worth? Mastering the economics of the CX journey, called out that failing to meet customer experiential expectations has twice the negative impact as delighting customers will have a positive impact. In other words, you are better to invest in ensuring your customer experiences are right than to under-invest.

But the reality is the best companies in the world don’t under- or over-invest in customer experience. They know exactly how much they should invest. This means grounding their customer investment decisions in data and insights with customer-relevant measures that have a clear linkage to how value should be generated – for the company and the customer.

The airline finally admitted they got this one wrong, but anyone who saw the video could feel the “oh no!” and the gut-wrenching sense of injustice in this situation. The fall out was immediate as loyal customers cut up their loyalty cards, social media went into over-drive and the CEO needed to make multiple public statements.

A good example of balancing value to customers and the firm comes from another airline. They have looked to create a solution which both minimises the financial impact, while actually improving the customer experience for those involved.  The airline asks passengers in over-booked flights to nominate a minimum value they would accept as compensation to be rescheduled on a later flight.

By asking passengers to nominate their price they are essentially asking customers the value they assign to be on a specific flight and any annoyance for the inconvenience of getting to their destination later. If we analysing this situation using the KPMG Nunwood Six Pillars of Customer Experience, we see the perception of the customer experience may actually increase as a result.

First, it demonstrates a personalised approach for each customer.  Personalisation is about demonstrating a deep knowledge of your customer. It’s proving that you know him/her (talking to them by name) and interacting with them on their terms and what they individually value.   Second, it builds the integrity of the brand (assuming it is followed through), by developing trust. Most people would walk away from this interaction with a feeling of having received a fair deal.

Importantly, this airline has worked through all aspects of the experience they provide to customers, and developed an approach which involves the customers making the decision of what they’re willing to trade-off thus minimising negative emotional experiences.

The US Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report from March 2017 shows this airline has only one quarter the rate of “involuntary boarding rates” – the industry measure of removing people off flights.

Not all of us are in the airline industry, but this situation reminds us of the need to develop an in-depth understanding of the customer experience you want to deliver and then how it actually plays out, in both sunny and rainy day scenarios.

It is certainly better to understand where issues like this could come from in advance – without needing to be reminded by the hounds of social media.


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