Brand Engagement

Barbara Porter, Ernst & Young: What Happens When Experience Does Not Match Expectations?

close enough


This is a guest post from Barbara Porter, Executive Director, Advisor, Customer Practice, Ernst & Young


One of the first steps to improving customer experience and engagement begins with aligning employees to the guiding principles and vision of the company.   This allows all employees to link their behaviors and decisions to delivering on those principles every day.   The challenge is many companies focus first on the tools, processes and policies  to engage customers and ignore the fact that employees determine the  success or failure of the experience.

Relevant timely offer

Case in point. The airlines are getting more sophisticated using analytics to target frequent travelers as well as to provide more relevant offers based upon individual behaviors and needs.   Recently,  I had received an email offer to receive immediate Platinum status .  They made it easy to participate by providing a link to register via the email .  Simple criteria – make reservations and fly between certain dates.  I registered, received the upgraded status and made reservations  on a flight from Chicago to Salt Lake City.  So, their target offer was relevant, timely and effective.

Match experience to expectations

I was expecting an experience that matched the level of sophistication of their analytical tools.    Instead there were 2 glaring missed opportunities.

Missed opportunity #1 – customer engagement and goodwill

On this flight, there were 12 First Class seats, yet only 3 were occupied.  As passengers boarded the plane, multiple people on the flight asked the flight attendants if they could move to First Class and each time the flight attendants said No, we can’t do that.   A group of passengers started talking and all of them were frequent travelers, traveling almost every week. In other words, these were the exact people that this airline was using its analytics to try to locate and convert them to their airline.  Yet on this flight, at least 10 of their target customers were on the plane.  Imagine if these customers had been moved to First Class – the positive word of mouth, goodwill and experience they would have had.   Instead, the passengers I spoke with said the lack of customer service is why they choose to fly other airlines.   Their experience with other airlines has raised the expectation that when there are empty first class seats, frequent travelers get upgraded.  This clearly was not the practice at this airline.

Missed opportunity #2: employee engagement.

For one of the flight attendants this was her first flight. The other flight attendants had a chance to put the values of this airline in action.  Instead, throughout the flight the employees were defensive about not being allowed to fill the seats in First Class – they were following the policies.  It was clear that the new flight attendant felt badly.   It was an awkward experience as first class sat empty and passengers could  clearly see it throughout the flight.   Overall, this was a missed opportunity to build trusted relationships and to deliver a positive memory for employees and customers so they become advocates for the company.

As technology, analytics and segmentation become more targeted and sophisticated, companies cannot forget about the expectations they are setting.

The success of the offer goes well beyond acceptance and reaches into the experience.

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