Why isn’t satisfying customers enough?

This week I had an unplanned trip to Boston to fill in at the Boston FCP User Group meeting for Rich Harrington who’d suffered a back problem and wasn’t able to travel. I travelled American Airlines instead of my normal choice, JetBlue.

That led me to thinking about marketing because of the differences between the two airlines. Let me say up front there was nothing wrong with American. The flight was on time, the crew were ok, the inflight entertainment is a decade out of date (technically and from a marketing perspective) but generally they didn’t do anything wrong.

And yet, I found the whole experience lacking compared with JetBlue. Why I asked myself, and what can I learn from it.

American Airlines is an “old” airline with a long history and tradition, and a lot of old aircraft. JetBlue has outfitted most of its aircraft in the last decade or so, to a uniformly high standard. On JetBlue we get leather instead of 70’s design cloth seats.

Does this look like an airline that values its customer experience?
Does this look like an airline that cares about customer experience?

And that’s part of the problem. The cabin was not modern. In fact, it wasn’t well maintaned at all. Seat back pockets were falling off and falling against passengers’ knees. Not one of the six in-cablin screens that I could see were remotely watchable: five of six screens had black levels around IRE 40, one around IRE 20; two had severe magenta shifts and one a blue shift. And so on.

This can’t be a pleasant work environment and, while pleasant enough, there’s a whole different vibe between the cabin crew on American Airlines and the cabin crew on JetBlue. (There was nothing that I felt worth commending anyone on, whereas I’ve had occasion with JetBlue to send in multiple commendations for above-and-beyond service.)

You see, the bottom line is that American only cares about the bottom line. $25 to check the first bag, $35 for the next! Checked baggage makes more available space for in-cabin baggage and you’d think they’d encourage it. (Here’s a tip. Don’t check your bag unless it cannot fit in in-cabin storage. Take it with you. If there’s not enough space, they’ll gate-check it for you for free, and the gate check is ready when you exit the aircraft unlike the long wait for checked baggage. Just from observation on two flights this week.)

JetBlue think about the whole experience. Just take the in-flight entertainment, for example. On a six hour American Airlines flight we got one movie on the small, ceiling mounted in-cabin CRTs with the affor-mentioned problems, and one NBCU “package” with one TV show and a bunch of short excerpts running about 90 minutes. The other three hours there was no visual entertainment. There were a few audio channels. The movie started more than an hour after leaving the gate. On JetBlue you have a choice of 40 channels of JetBlue on your own seat-back screen, which fills a whole lot more of your field of view than a distant 14″ CRT.  Or your choice of interactive games. Or the whole set of XM Satellite Radio stations. In other words, JetBlue cares about keeping the customers occupied during the flight, with personal choice. An occupied customer is more likely to be  a happy customer.

So if American’s focus is their bottom line, JetBlue’s focus seems to be the customer experience and running an efficient modern fleet makes that easier. But beyond that it’s about how every interaction between customer and company forming the marketing.

When I see a badly maintained cabin, I worry about the rest of the maintenance on the aircraft and wonder if it’s safe to fly with that airline. Logically that doesn’t make sense because there are legally mandated safety standards for the aircraft but none for the cabin, that’s just “marketing”. But people are not logical about things like this. Marketing is always to the emotion not logic.

My takeaway is that it’s no longer enough to just satisfy the customer. I was satisfied with my flights this week, but disappointed because I’ve become used to being “delighted”. Satisfying the customer is no longer enough. You must delight them.

That applies equally to every business transaction that we do; every interaction every single person in a company has with their customers. For example, no-one in any company I control, or in my family will ever fly United Airlines again because of one in-cabin personnel’s totally illegal and out-of-proportion response to my complaint that the light did not light anywhere near the actual seat, like it was supposed to. Her response was to tell me be quiet or I’d be arrested on landing. Totally out of proportion and I would say illegal. I didn’t tell United because a simple Internet search showed that they didn’t care about any customer response. I just withdrew my business. That’s going to cost United $15,000 in the next five years as my mother flies the Pacific twice a year to come visit. She now loves VAustralia.

Marketing is every interaction by every person in your company with every customer.

2 thoughts on “Why isn’t satisfying customers enough?”

  1. Philip,

    My father had a tale he’d heard when getting his Master’s at the Australian Graduate School of Management about GM in the 60’s blowing a million dollars on advertising in a mid-west state.

    They were pushing one particular model real hard and had a huge sales slump in one state. It turned out that a few cars had a problem with windows that had taken one local dealer a month to fix. When everyone started to talk about the model due to the ads people would remember someone who’d said they had a friend of a friend who’d had a “serious problem” with one of them that had taken “months” to fix.

    He also talked about “the rule of tens” – best guess is that for everyone that complains to you there are ten times as many who don’t tell you, just their friends. To make it worse people are probably ten times as likely to tell a bad service tale as a good one and ten times as likely to remember the bad one.

    So fix every customer response as if it was a thousand customers, it may well be.

    (BTW – Your Mum and Dad made a good living in a business that lived and died by personal service and close interaction with the customer, didn’t they?)

    // Tony

  2. You’re right, my mum and dad came to NSW as Tupperware distributors and they were (naive) great marketers. Knew the value of treating people well, and good stories always being spun. I say “naive” because they did it instinctively, without any training.

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