My experience with the airlines is far from this delightful with the exception of some of the European and Asian airlines. The feelings have gone from frustrated to angry to surreal, i.e., “how can they actually treat customers this way and get away with it?” to nearly helpless and sad. We don’t really have other options if we need to get from A to B in a hurry. They know that so why bother treating you like a human?
Photo credit: National Airlines
That’s often how it feels, so much so that I talked to some reporter friends recently, asking them why why why hasn’t the media gone to bat for the consumer in a big way? I talked about this on my blog a few times over the past couple of years.
Then I read Silicon Valley Watcher recently that points to another piece from the Washington Post that attempts to address consumer’s issues. Flyertalk is a site where you can see a flurry of messages from the so-called travel elite who are increasingly becoming fed up. (Right now, its over 130,000 members – it needs to be higher to get the CEO’s attention, so c’mon fellow travelers, sign up and speak up).
The thought of jumping on an airplane today is daunting. They can continue to blame it on financial struggles that came about post 9/11 (“morale is low” they cry), or simply decide to care a little and treat their customers like customers. But then again, its not marketing that is ‘serving’ the customer at the check-in desk or glaring at you when you politely ask for real milk in your tea rather than powdered whatever that white stuff is.
If marketing or management were on-site, and saw the number of inappropriate exchanges between staff and customer, would they actually do something about it? And if so, what and how would it be handled? How would it be handled so the customer is left feeling like the money they spent to use their service (yes, its a service) was not just a ‘worthy’ experience, but a rewarding one.
If the press won’t create a serious debate, then bloggers and forum partipants need to pump up the volume. United apparently has a chat room (by far, my least favorite airline from a service perspective – words can’t describe how awful my experiences have been in the last 24 months — and service isn’t United’s only problem), but they have invited only 200 of its highest-mileage fliers to join the private discussions.
Only the elite count? 200 is a pretty small number – what about those of us who are frequent travelers, but divide our miles and status across various airlines, those of us who remain price conscious and go for the fare rather than the brand. I believe in brands when they ‘count for something,’ but why go for the brand when great service or food isn’t part of the offering? They need to take serious lessons from Virgin and Singapore Airlines.
Continental apparently sponsored two events in recent years for Flyertalk members at its headquarters in Houston, which attracted more than 200 people who PAID THEIR OWN WAY!! You’ve got to be kidding. Smart PR move Continental – what a great way to give back to your top flyers.
That’s the problem – travelers are so desperate to tell their horror stories because they’re so bad, many would ‘thumb it’ to get to Corporate where someone would listen to what they’ve been through. I have a recent United saga that is so crazy that I’m still processing whether it actually happened. Once I do, the word needs to get out. By me. By you. By all of us……until the airlines realize that like all industries with paying customers, they need to treat their paying customers like paying customers.
Remember Marketing 101 prehistoric textbooks when customer was king? There was a time in America when companies wanted their customers to feel like royalty. They strived to create an experience worth remembering. An experience that leaves customers longing to come back for more.
So while its great that we have chat rooms and some executives are apparently monitoring them (if you were heading up marketing and didn’t, you’d likely lose your job), what about what’s happening on the ground in real-time? Addressing concerns and answering questions online is great ‘after the fact,’ but that’s not when the customer is experiencing the real pain. What about doing something to change the way frequent flyers FEEL?
If you don’t think this is a serious issue in this country, don’t speak up. Allow mediocrity and poor service to become the norm, shake your head when you see further decline and say “that’s life.” We all have a choice to express how we feel and how we are treated on and off the airplane.
We need to collectively stand up and re-emphasize service in this country, whether its the airlines, a salon, a hotel, a gym or wherever you lay down your wallet.