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Joseph's Blog

United Airlines: Big Data to the Rescue of the Passenger Experience?

It’s hard to believe it has been seven months since United Airlines faced the first of three monumental customer experience debacles. Here’s a walk down that pothole-riddled memory lane:

  • January 22nd all domestic flights were grounded for 2.5 hours due to a problem with a computer system that provides technical information to pilots.
  • February 8th was the delay of approximately 500 flights due to a computer glitch.
  • April 11th was the forcible ejection of Dr. David Dao after he boarded a plane in Chicago en route to Louisville, Kentucky.

A Shared Challenge

In fairness, other airlines have faced similar flight delays due to computer-related “glitches” during the same time frame. United, however, has become emblematic of an industry viewed as operationally challenged, uncaring, and not customer-centric.

Given the time I spend on planes traveling to speak and consult, I have a fairly positive view of the airline industry. My perspective likely varies greatly from someone who travels only during peak holiday periods or who watches the same customer-experience disaster video repeatedly. My view is also colored by the work I’ve done with very dedicated customer experience professionals within the airline industry.

Overbooking and United’s Technology Initiatives

Recently in a Wall Street Journal article, Linda Jojo, United executive vice president of technology and chief digital officer provided insights on some of the strategies United is deploying to improve the customer experience (particularly as it relates to that pernicious issue of overbookings.) Like many CX improvement efforts across industries, United is exerting sizable effort leveraging big data. As Linda notes:

The vast majority of [overbooking situations] are due to some kind of operational disruption that causes us potentially to fly a slightly different plane than the one we had planned. … That could happen fairly close to the time of departure.

The biggest thing we do from technology is help run the airline better [in those situations]. How do we help with anticipating issues so that if we do see a thunderstorm, we can help with proactively rescheduling and talking to customers about the fact that weather could disrupt their travel? If we can get to people early so they can change their travel plans, that’s one of the biggest things we do.

Data Mining and Analytics

In the WSJ article, Linda highlights several data points United is mining in hopes of anticipating, quickly adjusting, and more rapidly communicating with consumers. This data includes precisely watching overbooked flights and the check-in/airport arrival behavior of customer segments. Linda notes:

We know that people flying between two business locations on a Monday morning are probably going to show up. We know people who are flying to a resort location are probably going to show up. But there’s a certain percentage of people who don’t set their alarm right, or hit traffic and don’t make that early-morning flight. We also know the last flight of the day, everybody’s there to get back to their city. So what we’re doing is helping further refine the analytics to understand which flights have a higher probability of no-shows.

United Airlines reportedly is focused on ten high priority customer experience initiatives many of which involve big-data or technology interventions (biometrics, mobile app improvements, etc.). The success of these initiatives will likely be proven through traveler perceptions, the absence of viral United customer trauma videos, and improved brand reputation.

Data Plus People

United, like most other brands pursuing a transformative and differentiated customer experience, will have to marry their technology initiatives with improvements in human care delivery. Take the case of Dr. Dao’s removal from the Louisville flight as an example. Better data analytics might have averted the crisis, but a more humane response could have also prevented the bloody scene from dominating the news cycle.

A study by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) showed that staff attitude is among the most “annoying or frustrating” components of experience delivery and accounts for 62% of customer complaints.

In my humble opinion, big data will greatly improve customer experiences but it can’t and won’t solve for the other important contributor to the equation – the actions of people!

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

{Infographic} Guilt or Greatness?

 

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

Guilt or Greatness? Associations that Affect Customer Perception

When I was a kid, one of my mother’s favorite “mom-isms” was…tell me who you run around with and I will tell you what you are.

Like many of my mom’s seemingly esoteric pearls of wisdom, that phrase was probably lost on me in my youth. Today, however, I understand the power of associations – not only in the context of one’s personal brand but for corporate brand health as well.

Your Customer Experience Defined

From my perspective, your customer experience is the sum of perceptions consumers have about your brand based on their interactions with you. Those perceptions, rightly or wrongly, include not only your behavior but also the actions of those who associate with you and your products. It is for that reason that so much time and energy is spent trying to associate product use through celebrity endorsements or partnerships with social media influencers.

TIKI® brand

Sometimes associations are formed in unexpected and undesirable ways. Take TIKI® brand torches for example. In 2001 the TIKI®torch brand, popularized in the 1950’s, was purchased by Lamplight® (a family owned manufacturer of outdoor torches). In essence, it was such a good association between Lamplight® and TIKI® that the former acquired the latter. To keep the backyard/leisure lifestyle theme going, Lamplight® itself associated with a family of brands under W.C. Bradley Co. These brands include grill maker Char-Broil® and fishing reel manufacturer Zebco®. All of which brings together positive lifestyle brand synergy.

Unwanted Associations

Now to the unwanted brand associations for TIKI®. Imagine being an executive at the Lamplight® company and reading the following headline in the New York Daily Press about your TIKI® brand…

Tiki torch-wielding white nationalists at UVA rally roasted by critics on Twitter

Moreover, imagine seeing images of your product splashed across print and electronic media in the hands of participants in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA. A rally that was a precursor to senseless violence and death perpetrated by white nationalists.

Distancing

Swiftly and without equivocation leaders at Lamplight® took to Facebook and in a resounding TIKI® brand voice stated:

Wise Action

Many social media posts emphasized that TIKI® did NOT need to issue the statement as people understood they were not supporting the action. As a customer experience consultant, I disagree.

TIKI’s® leaders demonstrated wise brand stewardship by asserting that their product is NOT an authorized symbol of a movement which would tarnish TIKI®’s identity and brand equity. While most rational adults can separate the product itself from those who seek to use it in intimidating ways, TIKI® forcefully dissociated themselves from the fray.

Cynics of TIKI®’s action, might say, “No big deal, who wouldn’t quickly distance themselves from toxic brand associations?” I say commerce and the risk of giving up revenue can make easy things difficult. For example, in the context of this same White Supremacist brand association quagmire, Bill Chappell of NPR highlights the groundswell needed to oust the Neo Nazi website Daily Stormer from the GoDaddy web hosting platform:

GoDaddy had banned the site after receiving complaints from the public led by women’s rights advocate Amy Siskind, who‏ wrote via Twitter, “@GoDaddy you host the Daily Stormer — they posted this on their site. Please retweet if you think this hate should be taken down & banned.” 

More than 6,500 people retweeted her message, and the Web service replied late Sunday night: “We informed the Daily Stormer that they have 24 hours to move the domain to another provider, as they have violated our terms of service.”

The Takeaway

The big takeaway from this week’s blog is my mom was right. Namely, associations do matter whether those associations are strategic or inadvertent.

All of us must realize that perceptions of alliances are formed when two things co-exist. As brand stewards, we are responsible for strengthening those connections when beneficial and severing them when they are detrimental!

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

 

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{Infographic} Differentiation Strategy: Flying on Segmentation, Experience Design, & Relevant Messaging

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

Differentiation Strategy: Flying on Segmentation, Experience Design, & Relevant Messaging

There must be something wrong with me. I am generally content with my airline experiences and I have a lot of them. I’ve also been willing to forgive many of the service breakdowns I’ve experienced as a traveler – as long as I can get to my venue safely and in advance of the time I actually need to arrive (not necessarily what it says on my itinerary).

The Future of Air Travel?

That said, maybe airlines are moving even further in the direction of “experiential offerings.” Here is the contender:

In case you missed it, Joon is the new airline brand of Air France. With the announcement of the launch, Air France has communicated its intention to go after a clearly defined market segment and purportedly has designed an optimized experience for that sizable group.

From the Voice of the Brand

According to Caroline Fontaine, VP Brand at Air France:

“We started with our target customer segment, the millennials, to create this new brand that means something to them. Our brief was simple: to find a name to illustrate a positive state of mind. This generation has inspired us a lot: epicurean and connected, they are opportunistic in a positive sense of the word as they know how to enjoy every moment and are in search of quality experiences that they want to share with others. Joon is a brand that carries these values.”

In their preview statement about Joon (which evolves from the French word “Jeune” translated to “young” in English), Air France notes:

“Joon is especially aimed at a young working clientele, the millennials (18 to 35 year-olds), whose lifestyles revolve around digital technology. This new brand has been entirely designed to meet their requirements and aspirations, with an authentic and connected offering that stands out in the world of air transport.

Joon will not be a low-cost airline as it will offer original products and services that reflect those of Air France. Joon is a lifestyle brand and a state of mind. Short, punchy and international, the name Joon is designed to address a worldwide audience.”

While light on details, pending a grand unveiling around September, Air France has offered a glimpse into Joon’s “electric blue” brand colors and brand imagery in this YouTube video:

The Traveling Jury is Out

I am certainly not ready to opine on Joon’s likely success (given so little is known about its actual re-engineered offering), but I think a lot can be learned from Joon’s brand development and communication efforts to date.

Launching an airline is NO small feat. The infrastructure and investment (even in the context of a well-established brand like Air France) are daunting. To take on the endeavor, Air France likely:

  • defined an emerging traveler segment that they were not sufficiently capturing.
  • believed that they would not be able to retain their current traveler segment and attract their desired segment within their current brand structure or experience.
  • felt there was a market opportunity if they could resonantly “claim” and “design” an experience better suited for their target market.

Doing the Homework and Bitesize Info

Brand leaders at Air France and Joon have spent time studying their desired segment. As evidenced by their messaging, the study of millennials went beyond “stated preferences in air travel” and to core values as well as the overall lifestyle of that customer group.

Based on customer insights, Air France is launching a brand that attempts to “look like” and “speak like” the segment they are seeking to attract. The Joon announcement has sought to create “buzz” through video assets like the one above and via short easily shareable snippets about Joon’s unique value proposition (UVP).

Now What

I suspect leaders at Joon have paralleled their market research spending by investing heavily in revamping aspects of travel so millennials will feel that Joon’s experience is “perfect for people like them.” The title of a Fortune article written by Kirsten Korosec (Millennials Are Getting Their Own Airline and That’s Good for Everyone) speaks to optimism that improvements geared at millennials will have wide sweeping positive impact.

Like all things in business, the market will prove if Joon will dial-up a differentiated experience for its target consumer. For now, Joon’s brand leadership has seemingly positioned a well thought through market approach and has offered initial messaging that has conjured up images that maybe a truly different experience will take flight.

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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{Infographic} Recovering Business Trust

 

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

Recovering Business Trust: Listen, Admit, Apologize, Fix

This will be my third and final installment on what has become a mini-series about trust and business. Over the past couple blogs, I reported a trust gap, emphasized the need to extend trust to customers, and outlined an initial list of qualities possessed by trustworthy leaders. This week I’ll look at one of the greatest opportunities every leader and company has when it comes to building trust. That opportunity is standing-up when things go wrong.

Fertile Ground

Whether it is leadership miscalculations or service breakdowns, employees and customers often doubt that leaders and businesses will fulfill promises; particularly if something goes wrong during an interaction. Writing in Forbes Magazine, Ernan Roman shares findings from a 2015 Gallup study which found approximately 50% of customers expect brands will NOT deliver on their promises and only 27% of the employees they surveyed “strongly agreed” that the brands they work for consistently deliver on their promises.

5 Steps

When it comes to leadership errors or service problems, I’ve reduced my formula for trust-building service/leadership recovery to 5 steps which were initially chronicled in my book The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company:

  1. Share a genuine and compassionate reaction to the other person’s distress.
  2. Offer appropriate apologies.
  3. Assure the person you will take care of the issue.
  4. Individually, and through resources, see that the problem is taken care of in a way that meets the satisfaction of the customer/team member and does not recur.
  5. Go one step further and make a gesture that respects the person’s loss or frustration.

Zappos Example

One of my favorite examples of the aforementioned service recovery process in action was captured in my book The Zappos Experience: 5 Principles to Inspire, Engage, and Wow and it came in the form of a blog posted on the company’s website after a pricing error occurred:

Hey everyone – As many of you may know (and I’m sure a lot of you do

not), 6pm.com is our sister site. 6pm.com is where brandaholics go for their guilt

free daily fix of the brands they crave. Every day, the site highlights discounts on

products ranging up to 70% off. Well, this morning, we made a big mistake in

our pricing engine that capped everything on the site at $49.95. The mistake

started at midnight and went until around 6:00 am PST. When we figured out the

mistake was happening, we had to shut down the site for a bit until we got the

pricing problem fixed.

While we’re sure this was a great deal for customers, it was inadvertent,

and we took a big loss (over $1.6 million – ouch) selling so many items so far

under cost. However, it was our mistake. We will be honoring all purchases that

took place on 6pm.com during our mess up. We apologize to anyone that was

confused and/or frustrated during our little hiccup and thank you all for being

such great customers. We hope you continue to Shop. Save. Smile. at 6pm.com.

Cheers!

Aaron Magness

Sr. Director – Brand Marketing & Business Development

Doing the RIGHT Thing

While I am not suggesting every brand needs to take a $1.6 million-dollar pricing loss, I am asserting that leaders fix problems and don’t affix blame. Those leaders and the brands they represent admit shortcomings, acknowledge the impact of their breakdowns, empathize with those who are affected, apologize where appropriate, address root causes, and take action (sometimes painful or costly ones) to live up to their promises to team members and customers.

Success in the Minority

Henry Ford once said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.” I might alter his quote a bit, in the context of these low-trust times, to read: “Earning trust is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason too few leaders and customer service brands fully engage in its pursuit.”

Are you one of those few?

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

{Infographic} High Trust = Happy Employees, Customers, Shareholders, & Leaders

________________________________________________________

Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

High Trust = Happy Employees = Happy Customers = Happy Shareholders = Happy Leaders

You might say I am on a “trust” kick.

In last week’s blog, I highlighted a US decline in social trust (a precipitous drop of 46% points from 1964 to 2016). I also opined on the critical role of trust in strengthening the social contract between businesses and customers. Finally, I asserted that trust begets trust. As such, I suggested business leaders should take the first step by trusting customers out of respect and gratitude for them.

Value of Trust

So this week, I thought I’d look at the “value of trust,” first from the perspective of shareholder returns and then from the vantage point of benefits to the entire business ecosystem. In his seminal work, “The Speed of Trust,” Stephen M. R. Covey cites a study conducted by Watson Wyatt that showed, “Total return to shareholders in high-trust organizations is almost three times higher than the return in low-trust organizations.” In other words, when employees feel they can trust their leaders, investors tend to reap greater returns.

In addition to investor returns, high trust organizations are good for leaders, team members, and even customers. I depict this relationship in the formula:

High TRUST = Happy Employees = Happy Customers =

Happy Shareholders = Happy Leaders

Research Support

In support of my formula, Neil Davey, the managing editor of mycustomer.com recently cited David Ulrich’s research on the value chain of trusting and engaging employees. David Ulrich is a professor of business at the Ross School of Business at Michigan. Neil cites David’s research noting that it demonstrates, “For every 10% increase in employee engagement levels, a company’s customer service levels go up by 5%, and profits by 2%.”

By contrast, employee distrust, disengagement, and neglect for development create the environment for most customer complaints. Neil notes, “A recent survey of 3,000 consumers by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) reveals that staff attitude and staff incompetence are rated the ‘most annoying or frustrating’ service problem, while ‘people-related issues’ account for a whopping 62% of all complaints.”

I have often said, if something doesn’t live inside an organization, it won’t be perceived outside the organization.

Key Leadership Behaviors

What do great leaders do to build the trust of those they serve? While the list is long, I will focus this blog on three key behaviors:

  1. Share a Vision
  2. Make Promises in Keeping with that Vision
  3. Honor Your Promises

Share a Vision

It’s hard to trust a captain without a compass or an Uber driver who is unwilling to use a map or navigation guidance. By taking the time to create and articulate your vision you offer your  people navigational bearings or a sense of “true north.” The delineation of vision allows them to choose if they want to join you on the journey.

In the context of working with leaders at Mercedes-Benz and writing my book Driven to Delight – Delivering World Class Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way, I witnessed first-hand the trust-building power of crafting a vision for the desired future state. In the case of Mercedes-Benz leadership, that vision was shared both through words and in the form of a visual roadmap.

Make Promises in Keeping with that Vision

Once people know where you want to take your organization, you must commit to the steps needed to help them get there. While consulting at Mercedes-Benz, I watched this willingness to verbally commit to a course of action build incredible trust with employees and dealer partners. Then CEO, Steve Cannon, promised the following through a video known as The Standard:

“<This year> will see the introduction of the most comprehensive pledge to an extraordinary customer experience in the history of Mercedes-Benz. Every department will be mobilizedEvery touchpoint in the brand will be examined and refinedEvery employee in every dealership will be trained and equippedWe will begin immediately and will not rest until we are viewed as the global benchmark…”

Honor Your Promises

Nothing erodes trust more quickly than false promises. It may be better to commit to nothing than to commit and fail to act in accord with one’s commitments. In the case of Mercedes-Benz, despite many possible distractions, leaders stayed their course and provided touchpoint mapping, toolkits to activate the maps, and training for every corporate and dealership employee.

Trust, Engagement, and You

What are the trust and engagement levels of your workforce? I suspect those trust levels are impacting customer engagement and your ROI. Moreover, I believe you can drive trust in your organization through vision creation, commitments, and actions in support of those commitmentsWhat do you think?

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

{Infographic} Winning Customer Experiences – Simple Matter of Trust