I recently took a trip to attend a training session for Value, or more specifically, Customer Perceived Value. The idea behind this involves the consideration of things like Quality, Cost, Time, and more, however, when you Google “perceived value”, most of the formulas are based on the marketing equation that considers only Benefits and Cost: [Value = Benefits/Cost]
Regardless, calculating Perceived Value, or just Value, is not the intent of this post. Frankly, as a consumer, I have no interest in how you calculate it, and I don’t believe the general public will either. Instead, this post is going to be about the trip I took and how customer perceived value applies to the airlines based on my most recent experience. Then, of course, I will make the tie to kaizen.
I read only last night that the TSA is going to scrap all of those ‘x-ray’ machines they purchased last year for over $40 mil. I guess this is a start; an improvement that could be considered the start of a new trend, even though the decision was based on a demand and deadline from Congress which is soon to pass. The end result will be no more TSA employees laughing it up over some naked 300 lb. man, or gawking over the scan of a that pretty young woman.
The Perceived Value now to the public is no more invasion of privacy. Definitely a plus!
I’m not going to mention the name of the airline only because I don’t want to have to arm myself with defense attorneys, but in this trip I took, some things happened that I think any consumer would perceive as very low in value. In fact, if it wasn’t for the travel agency I use, I wonder if I would still be trapped at the airport.
I traveled through three airports with one short layover earlier this week. The trip up was decent, partly because of my status and the free upgrade to First Class, but the weather did not cooperate and I arrived about two hours late. After the meeting, I checked in the following day for my flight back which was scheduled later that evening around 7:00 PM. I had a feeling there might be problems as the weather report called for snow flurries and high wind gusts starting that night, so I at least prepared my mind for the potential stay-over.
As the boarding time came near, the rain started turning to snow and sleet, and I could see slush starting to build up around the flightline, but the attendants on duty continued to prepare for the board. By now, everything was still a ‘go’ so I could see optimism on most faces. Still I knew, after many years of flying, our chances were now very low that we’d be able to leave.
First Class upgraded ticket in hand; I boarded early in Zone 1, took my seat and pulled out my latest reading material.
Looking out the window after everyone was on board and we started to leave the gate, I was amazed we had gotten that far. There was a lot of rain mixed with snow and some gusts of wind you could hear. It was comforting to know other aircraft were still taking off at the time without any problems we could see.
On our way out to the runway, only a few hundred feet from our point of actual departure, we stopped.
It’s one thing for weather to cancel a flight. People that fly a lot know this too well, and they are often prepared for it. Bad weather will force an airline to cancel a flight to ensure people’s safety. I get it, other people get it, and almost always when this happens, people are calm and cool through the whole ordeal. They are frustrated, but definitely know it’s not the fault of the airline. It’s another thing, however, to not respond to this cancellation.
One thing I noticed after reflecting on this entire situation after the fact was that the airline seemed to hide behind the fact that the weather caused this inconvenience, and used the situation as a means to not have to deal with the 200 or so customers trying to get to their destinations. There were a number of things they could have done to be proactive in this situation but didn’t.
I say opportunity here because that’s exactly what they were. The airline had numerous opportunities to save face with its most valuable cargo and elected not to do that. Yes – I know the weather was bad, but it’s what happened because of the bad weather that frustrated everyone.
- Why go that far when you (or someone) know it’s not going to happen. Did we really have to go through all of that when you knew the chances of taking off were slim to none? As it turns out, it wasn’t the weather at our location that prevented the flight. It was the weather at our destination that was worse that prevented it.
The storms had been monitored very closely by all the parties; the Air Traffic Controllers, the weather folks, the pilots, and operations all knew the chances were greatly reduced, so why then did they even let us board?
Possible Solution > Probability Scheduling. Use the laws of probability to determine if a delay is in order before the actual boarding process. If there is little chance this flight is going to make it out, don’t board! People hate being crammed inside these little tin cans and stuck on tarmacs. If there is going to be a delay, we would much rather be delayed inside a climate controlled, bathroom accessible, food available, roomy place like the terminal. Not the tin can!
- Stop assigning flight crew near their maximum time limits! After a 40 minute delay sitting near the end of the runway, the pilot came over the intercom and said,
Well folks, we’re sorry to have to tell you that because of this weather delay, our flight crew has also reached their maximum daily flight time and will not be able to fly out now. We are going to return to the gate.
Now, think about this for a moment… Really? The airlines assigned a flight crew that was within minutes of their max flight time, leaving no room for error.
Possible Solution > Are there enough pilots? Are they staffed too low? Were they scheduled properly? There is no excuse for this. This is an easy one!
- Have the assigned gate attendants manning the gate until the plane takes off! We left the original gate, taxied out to the runway, and waited less than an hour before we headed back. But this time, we had to park at a different gate for reasons unknown. At this end of the terminal (2 gates from our original gate) there were no other aircraft or people flying out, so I knew the crew wasn’t reassigned to another gate. So where did they go? Dinner? Paperwork? Playtime?
A plane just left the gate; it was on delay, sitting at the end of the runway packed full of people, with a very high probability of not taking off. And there was no one left at the gate when we returned. We had to wait longer now for someone to operate the gate ramp and let us out.
As we started leaving the plane, I was #2 in line to head to the front desk, where, to my surprise, there was only one young airline employee who seemed to be just as surprised as I was as the line of people started shuffling out of the ramp and back into the terminal. I honestly don’t think he was there in response to our dilemma. I think he just happened to be in the area, unfortunately for him. He did however, jump in and take control of the situation with a little push from us first few in line. Within minutes, there were over a hundred people in line… and one attendant.
Possible Solution > The gate attendants assigned at the beginning of the flight for boarding the plane do not leave their assignment until the plane has actually become airborne. How many times have you returned to the gate only to wait for more people because you’ve caught everyone there off guard? No excuse!
- Everything in the airport shut down. Why was it that after only an hour or so after first leaving the gate did we return to a ghost town? Regardless of who’s in charge; airlines, flight operations, airport management, or store management, IT DOESN”T MATTER! You must work together to find solutions for your customers. Until everyone actually takes off, there should always be food and supplies available. What if we had been stuck on the flightline for three hours instead of one? There would have been some very hungry and thirsty people to deal with.
Possible Solution > I don’t think I need to spell this one out for you.
- No help for at least 30 minutes. After all of us de-boarded the plane and got in line, only those of us at the front of the line had any idea what was going on, or what we needed to do. It took the airline more than 30 minutes to send another attendant up to the terminal to start handing out cards with a number to call for help. As I stood there in line, I could hear the mumblings of people upset and confused. I was taken back to my readings from Robert B. Cialdini’s “Influence” about Social Proof and how people tend to follow others because if everyone else is doing it, it must be right. Everyone just got in line because there wasn’t anyone there to tell them otherwise.
Possible Solution > Always have the cards ready, or the number posted on the wall or overhead TV screen. If the number changes, have the next number already determined ahead of time.
- Bad weather was forecasted 3 to 5 days out – BE READY! All of these possible solutions I’ve mentioned here apply to this. Everyone, including me, knew 3 days beforehand that the weather might disrupt our travel arrangements. I was prepared and brought extra skivvy’s and socks. Some people were not, so when it was finally announced that we were not getting another crew, and the weather was too bad anyhow, some people didn’t know where to go. Luckily, I was traveling on business and my business travel agency is awesome so I got a room at a pre-negotiated corporate rate, and had a good night’s sleep. Some people, I learned later, spent the night at the airport.
Possible Solution > Be ready!
- Don’t ever play down the situation. As we were lining up in front of the counter, the crew came out of the ramp. The pilot walked by and looked at me with a smirk on his face and actually said to me while he chuckled,
Oh well, guess we’ll try again in the morning.
Maybe it was me, but I have to say that that little sentence, and the way he said it really pissed me off!
My mind was already abuzz with thoughts about my sick daughter at home, work I was going to have to reschedule, and a million other commitments. And that was just me. I’m sure I could have walked around and asked everyone else their stories – some of which may have made us cry. You never know what people are going through.
Possible Solution > Train your people to handle these situations better – to be more aware and empathetic to the needs of your customers. Employees should always treat every customer situation with a sense of urgency.
But actually, here is their chance. Not only did I list out a number of problems I encountered, I also provided suggestions for improvement. And that’s just me – someone who has never worked for an airline and doesn’t understand the inner workings of the airlines. But what was my Perceived Value?
This case would have made a great kaizen event for the airline. Imagine if the 200 people stranded at the airport were employees; pilots, ground crew, attendants, operations personnel and managers. In 4 hours, they could have made some very serious improvements to their procedures that could result in much more satisfied customers. If I was flying this airline for the first time, it is likely I would not fly with them again, and I’m considering that in future reservations even though I’m a part of their frequent flyer program.
I just spent the past few hours writing this post, and I’ve already resolved half their problems! I challenge you to do better Mr. Airline CEO!