The Make it or Break it Moments
By Christopher Bevel
I recently flew Alaska Airlines for the first time. I was shopping fares, and thought, why not give Alaska a try? They had a pretty good selection of flights that worked for my trip, and the prices were competitive.
Unfortunately, my first flight with Alaska Airlines may have been my last.
You see, they had the opportunity to make up for what is an increasingly common ‘moment’ in air travel: the flight delay. Now, I know that weather delays are pretty much out of the airline’s hands. But in this case, it was a flight delay that is 100% controllable by the airlines, a maintenance delay. Nothing really putting the safety of myself and my fellow passengers in harms way. It was simply a delay of paperwork. That’s right, paperwork. For some reason, the gate crew had a hard time producing the necessary paperwork that must be presented to the crew prior to departure. It was probably a faulty printer or something.
The crew offered some consolation in their announcement of the nature of why I had to sit in a crammed aircraft seat at the gate for more than an hour before departure. However, this gesture did little to make up for being terribly late to my destination. I was impressed by how patient my fellow passengers were during the wait. Or at least I assume so; they could have been fuming as I was quietly. I say ‘fuming’ because one really has no choice or control in these circumstances; I felt pretty helpless, which is not the desired emotion brands should evoke in their experiences.
I believe this was a ‘make it or break it’ moment for Alaska Airlines.
For me, and I believe for many others, this was their opportunity to convince me to continue flying their airline — or go away with a bad perception of them. How could Alaska Airlines have recovered in this mishap, that caused me to be over an hour late for my destination? I have a few ideas.
They could have offered me a discount, or voucher for travel. Maybe, some points or free wifi. Heck, a free in-flight drink would have helped. But, I got nothing. Zero. Nada. Did I not deserve something from one of America’s top rated Airlines for not delivering on their brand promise?
I even tweeted my complaint about this terrible scenario, and got a response from Alaska’s customer service. Their response was an empty ‘we’re sorry’ and a reiteration of nature of the delay, which I already knew from the crew announcement.
Even with my feeling of helplessness, and the real downstream impacts to my schedule that day, my trust in Alaska Airlines could have been restored with the right gesture to make up for a failed experience. But that didn’t happen. So, what could have been an easy recovery, turned out to be a big break it moment.
The Costs of Poor Experiences
When I think about this personal example, I begin to imagine the math of this. Imagine how many times a day, week, year this happens? And, how many times will passengers switch airlines because of negative experiences like this?
Make it or break it moments have real financial consequences for brands. Remember last year’s United Airlines brand crisis? The airline lost $1.4 billion in value overnight when that horrible experience went viral on social media.
A 2018 NewVoiceMedia report showed that US businesses are leaving as much as $75 billion on the table every year because of poor customer service experiences. This is because 2 out of 3 customers are willing to switch brands due to poor customer service from brands that are “failing to create the positive, emotional experiences that drive customer loyalty.” Part of this is because consumers are expecting more than ever before from brands as choices and easier ways to compare multiply. The NewVoiceMedia ‘brand switching’ statistic was up 37% from their last report.
In their 2018 ‘Customer Experience Matters’ CX Infographic, the Temkin Group reported that 41% of consumers who had a bad experience would spend less with that company.
Source: Temkin Group
The Payoff for Great Customer Experiences
There is also tremendous upside potential of delivering outstanding experiences. In their April 2018 “Experience Is Everything” CX report, PwC quantified several benefits that brands gain in providing good customer experiences.
First, people are willing to pay more for great experiences – 42% of consumers said they would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience, and 52% would pay more for a speedy and efficient customer experience, according to the study. The study asked about all sorts of products and services, from coffee and clothes, to hotel stays and cable subscriptions. Consumers would pay a 10% premium for airline tickets, for instance, if the airline provided a ‘great customer experience’ ( I assume ‘great’ in this case, means no controllable delays.)
The same study shows that the price premium benefits are multiplied by long-term brand loyalties — since 73% of consumers say a good experience influences their loyalty to brands.
Defining Great Customer Experiences
And what exactly does ‘great’ mean in terms of customer experiences? Well, given that customer experience is inherently a very personal thing, it’s somewhat subjective to each individual’s own context and life circumstances. And, it can vary widely across industries and products.
Still, there are some pretty good benchmarks to go on. For instance, the PwC CX report shows that “80% of American consumers say that speed, convenience, knowledgeable help and friendly service are the most important elements of a positive customer experience.”
So, the lesson here is this. No brand is perfect; and most people don’t expect them to be. Even in the worst experience fails, if a brand at least tries to recover, the customer will reward them for it. And, in this age of elevated customer experience expectations, brands must pay ever closer attention to the ‘make it or break it’ moments that can either pay dividends, or drive customers away. Map the customers’ journey to find and prioritize them. And, do everything that is possible to prevent and recover from them.