August 26, 2012
This past Friday a friend of mine, a former colleague from my Ogilvy days, posted a New York Times article from August 18 on his Facebook timeline. Written by Alex Stone, it talks about how irate customers get when they are forced to wait in line, why it’s such a sore point and how some companies are dealing with it.
It’s a great article and, at first blush, my overall impression was that he had found some organizations who were being rather innovative.
For example, when executives at a Houston airport received tons of complaints about the length of time it took to claim luggage they decided to analyze the situation. They learned that it took passengers less time to walk to the baggage claim area, then it did for their luggage to make it to the carousel, and into their hands. Which, in turn, made the time these passengers had to wait for their bags seem that much longer than it really was.
So what was their solution? They moved the arrival gate further away from the terminal. Therefore it took passengers longer to get to the baggage claim area. Which, in turn, made the wait time for their baggage seem negligible.
It worked. Apparently complaints dropped to near zero.
Mr. Stone sites several other examples that make for interesting reading, but you should read his piece for yourself. So why did I say “at first blush I thought these companies were coming up with innovative solutions”?
Think about it from the passengers’ perspective. Traveling’s not nearly the fun it used to be. Even a short trip becomes a long trip when you factor in the time it takes to get to the airport, check in and leave enough time for security. So if you’re on an 8:00 a.m. domestic flight and live 40 minutes from the airport, you could be leaving your house at 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning. If you’re slow, like I am, in the morning, your alarm would be going off at 4:00 or 4:30 a..m. So a 2-hour flight is really eating up 5 hours of your time — before you land at your destination. Let’s not even discuss the hassles there always are with luggage, how long it takes for everybody to board and get settled and the fact that, rarely, do planes leave on time.
So you have finally landed. Safely. You’re hot, tired, thirsty and hungry. All you want to do is get your bags and get home — or to your hotel. But now you have a considerably longer walk ahead of you than you did in the past. All because those good folks at the Houston Airport were tired of fielding all those complaints and, instead of thinking things through strategically … instead of thinking of the customer experience … they solved a problem by creating another problem. How customer-centric of them!
I’m not suggesting they had an easy problem to solve. But in my opinion, their solution is not really a solution, even though complaints dropped off. I travel. And I hear passengers bitching and moaning about how long the walks are in airports. All airports. We may not write angry letters about it, because we probably don’t think there’s anything anyone can do about it, but that doesn’t mean we like it. It doesn’t mean the ‘experience’ is good. And it does mean that next time, we may consider taking the train or driving instead of flying, should that be a possibility.
Okay, so now let’s talk about what a great customer experience looks like.
Different industry. Different challenge. Different opportunity. But the most significant difference is that in this company, the executives are 100% about maximizing the customer experience:
Buy anything in an Apple store. You don’t have to stand in line to pay. Any member of their staff can cash you out, anywhere you happen to be in that store. No lines. No waiting. How brilliant is that; and on how many levels? Well, for one thing, if they want you to “think different” it’s really nice to know that they do, too. It proves that they understand, and appreciate, that their customers are excited to buy their products. And they can’t wait to get home to play with them. So their entire retail experience — not just the paying part — is designed to let you do that. From beginning to end. From the greeters, to the experts, to the genius bar, to the classes you can take that make you smarter about what you’ve just bought.
But they’ve also improved their own efficiency. Now they don’t have a bunch of disengaged cashiers, just staring into space, while they wait for the next credit card carrying customer. Instead they have motivated, engaged, enthusiastic, ‘facilitators’ whose sole purpose is to make sure that every individual who walks into a store, leaves that same store as a happy customer.
Because they know that every time someone walks into an Apple store, it is an opportunity for that customer to renew his or her vows with the brand.
Houston. We have a problem.