Jan Carlzon, former CEO of Scandanavian Airlines (SAS) and author of the bible on customer satisfaction (Moments of Truth) would be rolling his eyes right about now if he could have heard the telephone conversation I just had with a US Air. I've just learned that despite holding a US Air-issued Dividend Miles card (pictured below) in my hand (the one to which I've been applying my last 15+ years of US Air travel), I am a figment in US Air's imagination. Neither I nor any miles I've traveled with the air carrier exist.One of the main points of Carlzon's book has to do with all the times that a company touches its customers and how each and every one of them is a moment of truth. They're tests (for the company). The objective is to provide nothing but the best possible customer experience at each such moment of truth. If you fail at one of them but ace the rest, the odds are pretty good that you keep the customer. Screw them all up, as US Air has done in my estimation, and you can kiss the customer goodbye.
Last I heard, sending your customers packing (no pun intended) isn't a good business strategy.
My advice to US Air is to dig up copies of Carlzon's book and have every customer service representative in the company read it. After all, it was written from the perspective of an airline CEO. It couldn't be more relevant (continued below)
Apparently, my US Air issued Dividend Miles card is not valid. For what reasons and for how long this has been the case, I do not know. Like many frequently travelers, I have a pile of these cards for different airlines, hotels, and car rental chains. Whenever I travel with one of these companies, I remember to use my frequent traveler number with them and occasionally, I'm asked to re-key this data into whatever corporate travel system my employer asks me to use. So far, no other travel company has lost me completely. Even when eons have passed since I last used them. I'm not the sort of person that regularly cashes my miles in either. Strange as it may seem, with all the travel I do, the last thing I want to do when I have some time off is get on a plane.
Figuring out if you have customer service issues or if your CRM systems are working correctly starts with taking inventory of your customer moments of truth. In this case, there are several. There's the one where I've been booking flights with US Air for over 15 years. At some point in the booking process, you'd think that a message would find it's way back to me to say "David, there's a problem with your frequent flier number." But no.
Or, how about when I check-in at the airport? There are at least two opportunities there (when I check-in and when I board) to say something about the frequent flier number I've been furnishing.
Finally, there was today's phone call. The first representative noted that I was not holding a valid Dividend Miles card. He dug around in his system and found another Dividend Miles account under my name that matched the first address I ever had in Massachusetts. "But there are no miles in that account" he told me. He took the words right out of my mouth when he said, "Let me connect you with a supervisor."
The supervisor dug too. But nothing, at which point came the second to last moment of truth. He told me he was "sorry." There was nothing he could do. No make-good offer. Nothing. After many shuttle flights between New York and Boston over the years and after quite a bit of US Air-based travel over the last 18 months (it is one of TechWeb's preferred carriers), my consolation prize was an apology.
Then came the last moment of truth. For US Air that is. That was when I said "Goodbye." I meant every word of it.
I know it's an isolated case. There are probably many of you reading this who are incredibly satisfied customers of US Air. But my experience with the carrier lives in stark contrast to the one I routinely have with JetBlue. Whereas there's an informal standard set of customer moments of truth that's typical of most other airlines (booking, checking-in, the flight, the frequent flier deal, etc.), JetBlue seems to have invented new ones just so it can pass those with flying colors too.
Whether it's the judicious deployment of self check-in kiosks, the online check-in experience, the chocolate chip cookies in-flight (you're actually encouraged to ask for as many bags of them as you like), the beautiful terminal at JFK with free WiFi, the comfy seats with ample leg room, or the private DirecTV setup afforded to every passenger, the JetBlue customer experience in totality seems designed to say "we want your business."
Yesterday, I took a late afternoon JetBlue flight back to Massachusetts (from JFK in NYC). The flight attendants clearly had a long day going back and forth. When I asked if I could move up closer to an empty seat in the front, I was told to go right ahead (with a smile). Later, a flight attendant came by with headphones. I said sure (to watch my TV screen) but she said that'll be $1. Not that I'm cheap, but I just didn't feel like digging out my wallet and changing my last bill which was a $20-dollar bill. I said "no thanks." She handed me the headphones anyway. As she walked away, I thought "She has no idea how much of my JetBlue-loyalty she just bought for a measly buck." Just another moment of truth.
I could see other airline executives thinking "What? Create more tests that we could fail? By golly Sandra, the objective is to trim them back so it's easier for us to pass!"
This morning, having no idea of the US Air debacle that awaited me later in the day, I did something I almost never do. At 11:30am ET, I used Twitter to tell anyone who was paying attention about how great my experience with JetBlue has been and how now, even though cost is still an important factor when picking flights, JetBlue is the carrier I look for first. 23 minutes later, JetBlue responded directly to me. I know. Big deal. But you know what? To me as a customer, it means something to know that a big company like JetBlue is not only listening, but responding.
I checked two Twitter addresses to see what US Air was doing to listen. One for USAir and one for USAirways. In fairness, mastering Twitter as a means of communicating with customers is by no means the killer benchmark for airline success. But it's definitely one less customer moment of truth for USAirways to pass or fail.
If you're wondering why I even had this customer experience with US Airways late in the day after having earlier spoke so fondly of JetBlue, like I said, cost is still a factor. JetBlue had flights to San Francisco (where I'm going next for TWTRCON) but the times were not ideal and the cost was double that of a much better-timed combination of flights from United and USAir. My flights were already booked when I learned of the frequent flier problem. Moving forward, however, as a matter of principle, I will do my best to honor my "goodbye."