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Archive for the ‘airlines’ Category

1. Bad Customer Service

As a follow-up to my US air travel rants of yore, this piece by Joseph Jaffe (also a follow-up to his own rants on the same subject – his being specific to Delta Airlines):

A bunch of my colleagues experienced the delta skelter.

About 10% of the Microsoft people travelling from Atlanta to Brussels on july 21st couldn’t find their luggage in Brussels. Some of the luggage are still missing today. Among the retrieved ones, the suitcases of my lovely colleagues Valérie and Virginie… in  very bad shape (see picture). Valérie called Delta today to discuss a compensation but they asked her to call again within a week.  They obviously don’t have the time to handle her complain.

Bad goes around.

Wow. Check out the picture of the bag here. Imagine if you took your car into a mechanic’s shop for service, it came back with a huge dent in the hood and grease stains all over the seats, and the customer service manager told you “uh, yeah, sorry ’bout that… Why don’t you come back later this week when I have time to talk to you.”

Imagine any company outside of the airline industry doing this. “Sorry about your suits sir, the dry-cleaning machine must have malfunctioned. Come back later this week and we’ll see what we can do for you.” I don’t think so.

2. Bait & Switch Tactics

Seth Godin also focuses on the airline industry today with this:

I feel badly for the airline industry. They are caught in a never-ending price war due to online websites and their own commodification. Pick the cheapest flight to get from here to there…

The natural short-term solution is bait and switch. Advertise the lowest price you can imagine and then require add on fees so you can actually make a profit.

Air Canada, which my readers generally concur is the single worst major airline in North America, has a fascinating policy. No oversized duffel bags, regardless of weight, unless they contain hockey gear. No shin guards, you pay $80 a bag.

Of course, you can have whatever rules you want, even if they’re only designed to help defensemen. The problems with bait and switch are:

1. You have to be very careful to apply them equally, because people hate being treated worse than everyone else.

2. You have to be prepared for anger, resentment and brand disintegration.

 See what his answer to pain vs. pleasure is for companies like Air Canada here. (Hint: Disney has a pretty good system in place.)

3. Community Managers

Chris Brogan has a great piece on the essential skills of a community manager, which ties in nicely with the Tribalization of Business post from Monday. Some of these skills include being experienced communicators, being ambassadors and advocates all in one, being bodyguards and protectors, etc. Great post, but the real gold here is found within the comments. Here are two of my favorite:

“The great community manager is able to match the importance of the bottom line with the requirement of providing customers with a feeling of being #1. He or she is an advocate for the customer while being able to discern what is realistic ahead of time.” – Sol Young

“Not a skill, but an essential for a good community manager is to be empowered by their organization. They need to have very public, spontaneous conversations; sometimes shiny happy ones, sometimes trickier ones. Not an easy string for many companies to cut, but the only way for real conversation and communities to evolve.” – Pamela O’Hara

Join the conversation here.

Chris Abraham follows suit with this post about the importance of Community Leaders:

I woke up to an amazing article written by Jonathan Trenn, The fallacy of community, and I responded in a comment to a pretty passionate article and a passionate comment string, and here’s what I wrote — and I have expanded the argument below, so it is an expansion:

Gosh, I don’t know what to say here… there are so many different types of communities, many of which can surely be manufactured. What every successful community requires is community leadership. Community leadership can be organic and emergent or they can be hired in the form of online community managers or facilitators. A strong leadership — people who have skin in the game — is more important than a good web application; also, these community leaders are often the main draw to the community and can be the difference between keeping or losing your members when a competitor comes to town.

Read the full article here. It’s good. (Why the focus on communities all of a sudden? Whatever the reason, I like that it is on so many people’s minds.)

4. Starbucks, design, and the future

John Moore gives a sneak peek at the design of future of Starbucks stores. (kind of cool, but will it work?)

5. The writing on the wall finally gets the attention of Ford execs.

CNN reports that Ford Motor Co., faced with its largest quarterly loss ever, is finally planning to “shift product line, bringing European-made vehicles to North America.” Duh.

The company said it will make big changes to the vehicles it sells domestically – bringing six small cars made in Europe to the North American market.

Ford said that three large truck and sport utility vehicle plants in Wayne, Mich., Louisville, Ky., and Cuautitlan, Mexico would be switched over for the manufacture of small cars. Re-tooling will begin in December, the company said.

In addition to converting the three plants in North America, Ford said it will ramp up production of small utility vehicles at its Kansas City, Mo., assembly plant, including the Ford Escape, Escape Hybrid, Mercury Mariner and Mariner Hybrid.

Check out Ford’s “new” Euro offerings here. Better late than never, I guess.

6. Back to work already!

Okay, lunch break over. I have to get back to work now. Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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Ah. Air travel. One of my favorite topics (usually filed under “broken system report”).

So… according to a recent study of air travel satisfaction, the US air travel infrastructure seems to be heading in the wrong direction. While technology, marketing and customer experience design are making giant forward leaps, the airline industry in the US seems to be taking giant steps backwards… or maybe not since a giant step backwards would actually mean comfortable seats, friendly staff, real onboard food/drink service, on-time arrivals, and no one getting bumped. Ever.

The reality, however, is pretty scary, as anyone who flies the friendly skies on a regular basis already knows. (Don’t even get me started about the steel cart of death.)

From MSN.com:

On-time arrivals dropped for the fifth straight year, with more than one-quarter
of all flights late, according to the survey. The rates of passengers bumped
from overbooked flights and bags lost, stolen or damaged also jumped in
2007.

Stolen bags. Hmmm. Yeah. I hope that Homeland Security and the TSA have a backup plan in case the whole baggage handlers as a first line of defense thing doesn’t work out.

Six airlines — Frontier, Northwest, SkyWest, Southwest, United and US
Airways — showed declines in every area in the survey, although Southwest still
had the best on-time arrival mark at 80.1 percent. The Dallas-based carrier also
had the lowest rate of consumer complaints, 0.26 per 100,000 passengers.

Still, the airline has not been immune from problems. It is fighting a
record $10.2 million fine from the Federal Aviation Administration for
continuing to fly dozens of Boeing 737s that hadn’t been inspected for cracks in
their fuselages.

American, Delta and United airlines recently canceled flights to
perform unscheduled inspections of certain aircraft, and US Airways found
problems on some Boeing 757s after a wing part on one of its planes fell off
during a flight.

Wonderful. In retrospect, maybe having to pay $7 for a ham-like-meat sandwich and being forced to deal with passive aggressive flight attendants with questionable hygiene are the least of my worries.

The Airline Quality Rating study, compiled annually since 1991, is based on
Transportation Department statistics for airlines that carry at least 1 percent
of the passengers who flew domestically last year. The research is sponsored by
the Aviation Institute at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and by Wichita
State University. The other airlines in the survey were AirTran, Alaska,
American Eagle, Atlantic Southeast, Continental, Jet Blue and Mesa.

Among the study’s conclusions:

– More than one-third of Atlantic Southeast Airlines flights were late, the worst on-time performance in 2007.

– The airlines also bumped passengers more often, at a rate of 4.5 per 10,000 passengers. JetBlue and AirTran were far ahead of their competitors in avoiding bumping passengers from flights, at 0.02 and 0.15 per 10,000 passengers, respectively.

– AirTran had the best baggage handling rate, at 4.06 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. American Eagle ranked last in baggage handling with 13.55 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers.

Crazy.


Growing up in France in the 70’s and 80’s, I learned at a pretty early age to discern which European (and non-European) countries had the highest standards of living by experiencing their travel infrastructure – including airlines.

If we are to be a shining beacon to the world, we really can’t afford to allow the quality of our air travel to sink this low. We already don’t have much of a rail system, so it isn’t like we can fall back on Plan B. There are no bullet trains that can get us from Houston to Chicago, from DC to Miami, or from Atlanta to San Francisco.

Some airlines are managing to thrive in this dreadful state of disrepair, as they should. Shame on the airlines that can’t adjust to rising costs and aging aircraft. Yeah, sure, prices may need to go up a bit, but you can offset a 5-10% uplift in ticket prices by giving passengers something in return (and no, I don’t mean sky miles). It’s like everything else. When the conversation drifts to price, then you haven’t done a good job of selling value.

If you want to change the conversation and talk about something other than price, then you’d better have something great to talk about. How about this:

1. First, make sure you have the most impressive safety record in the industry, and TALK ABOUT IT. (If US Air’s wings lose parts during flight, you want to be on the total opposite end of that spectrum.)

2. Hire professional looking/acting staff. You’re in the airline industry, for crying outloud. Bring a little bit of glamour back to your brand experience and make your company’s name synonymous with that hint of luxury. I want to be greeted with smiles at the check-in, at the gate, and onboard the plane. I want to be treated like a valued guest, and not like another ass-in-seat hassle. I don’t want to be berrated by a power-tripping ogre struggling to deal with another 2-3 lousy years left until retirement. Give me smiles and professional looking people. You know, with uniforms that a) fit properly and b) get pressed every once in a while. Give me enthusiasm and manners. If hotels and most companies in the US can do it, surely airlines can as well.

3. In-flight service: Look it up. Hint: Charging $7-$10 for a POS vending machine sandwich is just dumb and beyond gauche. #1: You’re ripping off your own customers, and they will remember it. #2: Food of such insipid quality doesn’t belong on your flights. (Not unless you stow wooden crates and live poultry in the same hold as your passengers.) Treat your passengers well.

4. Scratch overbooking from your MO.

5. Invest in some toiletry kits. That way, when the baggage handlers at one of your twenty+ airports steal a passenger’s Vuitton suitcases, you’ll at least give your angry passenger a) Fresh breath, and b) the notion that while the airport may not care about them, you sure as hell do.

6. Buy aircraft with comfortable seats. (Before buying the damn things, get your senior execs to fly from coast to coast in one of them.)

7. Drop routes that don’t make sense. Better to be small and great than big and crappy.

8. Be insanely nice to your passengers when they exit the plane.

9. Toys or coloring books for kids. Yes, even in the era of Gameboys, iPods and PSPs, the ubiquitos free branded toy goes a long way.

10. I hate to sound like Papa Seth, but make te experience memorable (in a positive way). Just like The Standard Hotel makes a point to make every detail of the guest experience cool and story-worthy, an airline can (and should) as well. Redesign your uniforms. Redesign your aircraft interior. Redesign the entire experience of booking, checking-in, waiting at the gate, boarding the aircraft, flying, landing and exiting the terminal memorable. (It doesn’t need to eat into your profits either. A little bit of forethought doesn’t hurt.) In other words, get your heads out of the numbers for a bit and take a more holistic approach to managing your business/airline.

In other words, build some value.

Stop whining, stop complaining about the price of fuel and the pilots’ unions and overcrowding at most of our country’s airports, and do whatever you have to do to become the best damn airline in the US (and then the world).

If the issue is Wall Street, fire your board, appoint people to it who can put together a rejuvenation plan, and send them to speak to your investors with a kickass proposal they will rally behind. Make them understand that business-as-usual and damage-control won’t cut it in the long-term, and that you have a real plan to get back on track. Not just financially, but from a true market leadership standpoint.

Easier said than done? Sure. Of course. But that’s no reason not to try.

Just for sport, let’s have a show of hands: How many airlines are doing this right now?

1? 2? 3, maybe? Yeah. That’s what I thought.

For shame.

This is not a problem that can be fixed by cutting costs (the equivalent of ancient medicine’s practice of bleeding sick patients). This is a problem that must be fixed through cultural change from within the organization: Airlines that stand for something and deliver on the expectations of their most critical passengers will stand out and do extremely well. Those who are merely content to stay afloat, those who fear Wall Stree and fickle investors, those who have no plan to rebuild their airlines as opposed to slowly bleeding them to death or relying on government bailouts will continue down this ill-fated path.

When I bite into a stale $7 POS sandwich on a crowded flight with dirty floors, mean flight attendants and no chance of making my next connection, all I see is lousy leadership, and it sucks.

This really needs to be fixed.

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The view from Microsoft’s new digs in Bellevue, WA (yeah, that’s Seattle across the water).

Sorry about the lack of posts this past week. I was traveling and attending meetings and whatnot.

Just to give you a quick recap, here are some of the cool things I saw and did while in Seattle:

1) I took a tour of Microsoft’s concept House of The Future. (Think: “Open the Pod Bay door, Hal” meets Minority Report, but in a very, VERY good way.)

2) I participated in a pretty kickass simulation in Microsoft’s “Information Worker Of The Future” concept office. (Think: CTU meets Minority Report meets your office, only in a very, VERY, VERY good way.) Wow. To see where software is going and how well it will integrate with every task it touches was IMPRESSIVE. (Yes, I am a geek.)

3) I accidentally had dinner at the best French Restaurant in the US (and I know what I’m talking about). I won’t tell you what it’s called, however. You’ll have to guess or find it yourselves. Let me just say this: It’s almost on the water, the operators are French (not Canadian), it isn’t far from the original Starbucks store,and they have cassoulet on their menu. Nuff said.

4) I had a latte (3 raw sugars, thank you) at the very first Starbucks. (It wasn’t the first time, but I always make it a point to go there when I visit Seattle now.)

5) I stopped by the Athenian restaurant for a very necessary oyster shooter. (Again, a pilgrimage.)

6) I bought some incredible hand-made stuff from Raven’s Nest – great place to go Xmas shopping for the people on your list who either a) like esoteric stuff, b) already have everything, or c) both. (I mean come on: Who hasn’t dreamed of having a genuine hand-carved cedar orca/eagle totem in their office?)

7) I played pool on the 24th floor of Microsoft’s new digs in Bellevue – which, by the way, has such a monumental view of Seattle that I had a tough time dragging myself back into meetings. The above photo is only about 1/20th of the whole panorama and doesn’t even do that little portion justice. Interesting note: Some of my coworkers may now believe that I am some kind of pool shark after watching me accidentally play two perfect games in a row.

8) I drove a PT Cruiser all over town for three days (convertible and vanilla-colored) and didn’t get laughed at once. Interesting note: You can fit 3 people and 4 very large suitcases in that thing. You will use up every available square millimeter, but it can be done.)


9) I flew across the US twice without a single delay, without a single problem, and without a single frown or hint of attitude from any flight attendants. Delta/Song/Alaska Airlines once again – without blowing me away or anything – did an awesome job through and through. Even the TSA teams in their terminals were friendly and courteous. Thumbs up.

10) I ate a bad raw scallop. Or raw oyster… or raw something. I survived, but let’s just say salmonella, e-coli and their buddies put up a pretty decent fight for a couple of hours. Bleh.

Anyhoo. It’s good to be back.

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Day 1: San Jose/Fremont/San Francisco.

Stay tuned for a human broken system report (nothing like a cross-country trip via the friendly skies to get a big dose of wake-up-call about the sorry state of human-to-human interactions – via brands, of course.)

But first, beer.

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