What airlines can learn from smart marketers about the customer experience

The airline industry has been hit with some highly public complaints over the past few months. Columnist Evan Magliocca discusses how airlines are lagging in the customer experience and what they — and any brand — can do to put customers first.

Go to any marketing conference these days, and everything will be about customer-centricity — which isn’t a bad thing. I don’t think people realize how astonishing the evolution of the customer journey has been in recent years.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Sears or Penney’s catalog was still the apex of marketing. Now it seems that there’s a new technology, KPI or customer touch point every month. We went from the print catalog to email, to e-commerce, digital, social, and all the way to virtual reality and machine learning in a very short time.

Overall, the change has been revolutionary and in the customer’s favor. There is one exception, though, where the customer experience has somehow seemed to regress: The airline industry seems to be moving in the opposite direction from all other forms of commerce.

While everyone else has been fervently seeking to understand their customers — how they’re changing and what ways they can provide better service — some airlines have continued to cater to a select few, while (quite literally in some instances) dragging the rest of us kicking and screaming through our travel experiences.

Before we can make it better, we need to understand some factors that are, in fact, out of the airlines’ control.

Complicating factors

  • Flight delays

No retailer can imagine the nightmare it would encounter if it had to deal with the logistics and subsequent delays that airlines manage on a regular basis. Delays and cancellations are inevitable, and while there’s much more that airlines could do to empathize with passengers, there’s no way to avoid the vitriol they’ll receive from some individuals.

  • Regulations

The only thing worse for the customer journey than the airlines is having the government put its hand in the pot as well. That’s not to say that regulation isn’t completely necessary, but let’s face it: The government is not good at dealing with people.

The seemingly arbitrary rules that create flashpoints between flyers and the airlines are not entirely the airline’s fault — they’re just following regulations. Unfortunately, we associate bad government interactions with the airlines at times.

Think of security lines, for instance. One bad experience with the Transportation Security Administration and your entire flight is ruined, even though the TSA is not associated with any airline brand.

Airlines are culpable, too

While there are some factors that are out of their control, airlines have enough problems of their own to fix. We can focus on individual touch points, but the biggest issue with the airlines is simply the brand mindset and what is often perceived as arrogance.

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Source: Marketing Land