Consider me as your Date! How to improve the Passenger Travel Experience simply and cost-free!

Nowadays airlines are moving very fast forward when digitalizing the passenger travel experience. However, sometimes the “basic” things get somehow out of focus, while re-designing and digitalizing the passenger experience processes. Let me explain you here, what I mean.

Next week I am very much delighted to be invited for participating in two panels at the IATA Global Airport and Passenger Symposium2018 in Athens. The first is headlined with “Go Autonomous - Because We Can or Because We Need To?” It is about the new airport technology and how digitalization will affect the ramp of the future. The second panel “Live The Experience Of Personalization Throughout The Passenger Journey” focuses on the passenger travel experience, which of course also is enhanced by means of digitalization. So for both panels Digitalization is the common key term.

Nowadays airlines are moving very fast forward in becoming a digitalized airline. Usually the Digitalization itself is linked with some kind of invest into new processes, people or IT. This is also necessary to keep up with the competition. Saying this from a consultant point of view however I would also like to advise airlines not to forget about the “little” and basic things when re-designing their passenger experience processes. These “little” things which are based on simple human interaction rules can nowadays unfortunately become big very fast – and worst case - end in shitstormsv(thanks to Twitter & Co). So I invite you to read the following simple and cost-free approach for a seamless passenger travel experience. I look forward to hearing your opinion here or email me on michael.muzik@lhsystems.com

 

Passenger Experience affected by flight deviations

Flight disruptions are unfortunately daily business for airlines. No passenger likes that – and no airline gate personnel is happy to look into any passengers’ negative facial expression when delays occur. I can totally recall these inconvenient situations during my time as ground personnel for Lufthansa German Airlines: We had a delay and 200 waiting passengers in front of the gate. They were nervous or even upset about the delay….

Well from today´s point of view and with some self-critics: Maybe back then the passengers were even angrier about the way we treated them and not about the delay itself. What do I mean? Today, flying a lot business-wise and having the passenger view, I know, what I could have done better these times: Give the passengers information.

 

Flight delay at the gate

Are you familiar with this situation? You are sitting at the gate. Boarding time. But nothing happens. You look at the display panel of the gate: No change of the boarding time. You look at the gate personnel – four people sitting there, looking at their watch, chatting with each other. One makes an internal call, gives some information to his fellow employees, and they continue again chatting with each other. Alternatively they simply sit around, look permanently down to the floor or “through” the passengers, that are standing full of expectation directly in front of them (to be honest: I also saw gate employees browsing their smartphone that time. This is, I believe, forbidden anyway in front of customers). Some passengers get nervous, walk to the gate and talk individually to the personnel. No announcement. Nothing. Waiting. After 20 minutes simply comes the boarding announcement: “Ladies and Gentlemen, we start boarding now. Please….”

Describing this situation, it is obvious, that the gate personnel followed correctly the operational process, but they also completely ignored the passenger sentiments. This gives a big surface for critics and negative passenger sentiments. The important question therefore is: How lower the level for potential critics and negative passenger experience in such a situation?

I would like to introduce two ways – one simple, one more scientific:

  • The simple way: Look at life. Treat the passengers like a date, when disruptions occur.
  • The more scientific way: During flight delays or deviations be aware of some important behavior patterns that emphatic people usually would follow.

 

The simple way: What we do when having a first date

Let’s start with the simple way: If you have a first date (or a job interview or important business dinner, but let´s stick to the date, because it’s nicer :-)), you most likely agree with the other person to meet at a specific time and location. I assume also, that you certainly want to show your best side, because your plan is to see your date again after that first restaurant visit (of course, only if the date went well).

In case you get into a traffic jam while driving to your date, you will inform this person in advance, if you think you might run late. Most likely you will also explain the reason behind your delay and – to make your waiting date feel better – make some time forecast about when you think you will be arriving at the restaurant.

Moreover, if you are absolutely not sure about your arrival time, I am convinced, that you will let your date know, that you currently can´t give any reliable time forecast, but you get back in about 10 to15 minutes to let her/him know, what´s going on.

It is all about leaving a good first impression and making the other one waiting feel good about you!

I am always asking myself: Why can this “dating behavior” not also work for a gate personnel - customer relationship when flight delays at the gate occur? It sounds easy, almost trivial.

 

The more scientific way: Communication rules for service communication during disruptions

For those who didn´t like the dating example, I would like to introduce a more psychological and cultural approach that applies for service communication during disruptions. There are three concepts that emphatic people usually manage to do very well:

  • First: “We are, all of us, meaning-seeking creatures”, as Alex Lickermann, Doctor of Medicine, Speaker and Author explains: “We seek not only to define the meaning of our lives by adopting, whether consciously or unconsciously, an over-arching purpose, but also to understand the reason for almost everything that happens in the course of each day. (…) Why is what drives not only everything we do, but also our emotional reactions to everything that happens to us?” [1] In reverse conclusion this means: When explanations aren't forthcoming, emotional reactions might frequently ensue, when you only know what was decided and not why.

 

  • Second: People, especially in time-conscious cultures (Northern Europe, USA), like to be “on time” and know “at which time something will happen”. In case of time delays they want to be informed about “how long the delay might take.” This cultural mindset also applies for the rest of the world, when it comes to airline traveling, and flight delays. Especially if a connection flight is involved, also cultures that are usually more relaxed with time (Southern Europe, Middle East, South America) are getting stressed. They show the same patterns as the “naturally born” time conscious cultures.

 

  • Third: “You cannot not communicate”, says Paul Watzlawick, family therapist, psychologist, famous communication theorist, and philosopher[2]. Many people think, that if they remain silent about critical situations, all will be good. But saying nothing makes people rather to create their own (false) interpretations. Moreover this reinforces bad feelings because they feel that they deserve to get some sort of communication or information instead of silence.

 

What can airlines learn out of this?

Excellent Passenger Service and Passenger Experience are one key success factor for airlines as they determine, whether the customer will book a future flight with the same airline or not. This applies especially during flight deviations. Airlines usually invest a lot into service concepts, IT, infrastructure and communication trainings. Many claim even that the differentiation to the competitors is the “human factor” – so to speak their ground personnel and cabin crew. When flight delays at the gate occur, why not embrace then your passengers that are potentially not in best mood or seeking information - by either choosing the simple way (“Consider them as a first date”) or follow above three communication rules?

 

Practical recommendations

Being a consultant and many times asked to provide tangible guidelines. Here are some of them for the gate. Again, I know they might sound a little bit trivial. But apparently they are not, because many gate personnel still do not seem to follow them:

  • If you already know, that a delay is expected, inform your passengers at the gate, as soon as you know it. Explain the reasons.
  • Latest at boarding time there has to be an announcement, what is going to happen and why.
  • If you are not aware of the reason of the delay or don´t have any information: Let your customers at the gate know this, and tell them, you do your best to find out and let them know.
  • If you are not sure, about the actual departure time, try to find out, but tell the passengers that you will inform them in about no more than 15 minutes.

 

Bottom line

It is a really simple and effective way to improve the passenger travel experience during disruptions only with sharing information timely. This will lower the contact surface for critics and put the stress level of your customers down, because you create an understanding of the situation and you give them transparency about what to expect. And the best thing is: This measure is totally cost free!

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