Flying Ahead of the Competition1 Jun, 2006 By: Lou Slawetsky imageSource
Flying Ahead of the Competition
I read that JetBlue Airlines won yet another award. This, the first place
ranking in the Airline Quality Rating study, is sponsored by the University of
Nebraska-Omaha’s Aviation Institute and Wichita State University in Kansas.
This, of course, is not the only recognition for the carrier. Visit their
website and you’ll see 22 major awards for 2005 alone.
No, this is not an advertorial for JetBlue. But, the management of that airline
has honed in on a concept that is highly relevant to our industry. Let’s begin
with the premise that few of us actually like to fly. The lines, the security
hassle, the late flights, the lost baggage and, mostly, the attitude of the
airline staff all converge to make flying one of the more negative experiences
in our lives.
THE ‘UN’FRIENDLY SKIES
How many times have you heard from a road warrior, “I love being wherever I am,
but I hate the process of getting there and returning.” In light of this, what
has the airline industry (with a few exceptions such as JetBlue) done? They took
aim at a population that feels the flying experience is horrible and pulled the
trigger. That’s right! Faced with an opportunity to gain share, the industry
managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Consider just a few industry
strategies for failure:
● Check-in lines at the airport are longer than ever thanks to cutbacks in
staff. Response? Let’s charge for curbside check-in.
● Most business travelers (the airlines’ bread and butter) use accumulated
frequent flyer points to upgrade to first class. Response? Let’s pull half the
first class seats out of the cabin, making upgrades all but impossible.
● Business travelers often use accumulated frequent flyer miles to subsidize
family vacations. Response? Let’s double the points needed for a seat, in
effect, changing the rules after the game is over. Then, let’s make those seats
● No one can understand the maze of airfares
and their attendant restrictions. We all need
help in making reservations. Response?
Let’s charge extra to speak with a customer support representative.
● Some seats are better than others on most planes. Ever sit in the dreaded
middle seat for five hours? Response? Let’s charge extra for an aisle or exit
The list could go on forever, but by now you get the point. Contrast this with
JetBlue who, in the same week began offering spa products on their redeye
flights consisting of eye masks, earplugs, moisturizer, lip balm and a
promotional offer from Bliss, the spa company paying for the kits. The cost to
the customer? Zero. The cost to JetBlue? Also zero. The value in good will?
On those same flights, the company began promoting self-service pantry service
(called “Buh Bye Red Eye”). Want a snack or beverage? They’re placed out in both
the front and rear of the aircraft for the entire flight. Take what you want.
Eat what you take. Cost to the airline? Zero – they were going to give you the
snacks anyway. Promotional value? Huge!
RESISTANCE IS FUTILE
you see the strategy? Ease the pain, target your audience, make the experience
they have with you painless, if not downright enjoyable, and you’ll build
loyalty in your customer base that will have your competition running in
circles. Do you think it’s coincidental that JetBlue is one of the few airlines
that earned a profit for 2005? Most are either in bankruptcy or have been sold
under the theory that two losers will make a winner. If you think for a moment
that customer service is an expense that you can’t afford, look closely at the
airline industry that now wants to charge you for a pillow, blanket and soft
Let’s bring this important lesson that these major corporations can’t seem to
learn to your own business. Let’s begin with the basics. Few of us like to fly.
Consequently, airlines are dealing with a target market that is predisposed to
be antagonistic. Similarly, few of your prospects look forward to buying
a new copier, or worse, a multifunctional product. The decision represents
change and most will resist giving up their status quo unless such resistance is
How do we respond to this resistance? We use many of the tactics employed by the
airlines. Instead of making the process simple, we complicate it with a myriad
of choices, pricing plans and extra cost options. The lease alternatives alone
rival the “logic” of the airline rate schedules. We’re asking the prospects (who
doesn’t want to be part of this process to begin with) to choose from a
bewildering range of plans. FMV? Dollar out? What’s the status of the hardware
at the end of the lease? Who owns the software at the end of the lease? What
assumptions have been made regarding hardware condition?
Leaving these questions unanswered (or, to be generous, fuzzy) is akin to buying
a $195 airline ticket and finding that airport taxes, curbside check-ins,
security fees, fuel surcharges and the like, more than double that cost.
Minimize the stress for your prospects and, down the road, for you too, by being
clear on the solution you’re recommending, the price of all options and
services, and the true cost of the lease. One technique to help accomplish this
is a “statement of work” that clearly defines the cost, the services included in
that cost and, perhaps most important, the services that are not included, but
that are available at additional cost.
You’ll also want to generate a service level agreement (SLA) that specifies the
service to be provided as part of your maintenance agreement. It, too, should
delineate what you’ll be providing in specific, measurable terms, as well as
what you won’t be providing. This document, increasingly required by IT
managers, often carries penalties if you don’t meet the goals as stated. For
be asked to commit to an average uptime and service response time.
Can you imagine the airline industry committing to a service level agreement?
Take off on time, arrive on time, you and your baggage arrive in the same city
on the same flight? They won’t. We hate it and complain loudly. You, however,
should commit to a specified level of service. Your customers will love it and
reward you with loyalty.
THE EXTRA MILE
What about customer service after the sale and installation? For the airlines,
the phrase, “customer service” has become an oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp” or,
for me “living in Rochester.” Customers are something they tolerate, forgetting
the fact that our fares pay their salaries and keep their planes in the air. No
wonder they have problems staying in business!
Your customers keep you in business. They deserve to be treated as though they
are the most important component in your business plan, because they are. In
order to avoid the “airline mentality” you’ll want to reinforce the fact that,
when they partnered with you, they made the right decision. Make them feel good
about it on a regular basis. Here are a few techniques you might want to
1. Conduct regular audits. Be certain that the solution you recommended
is being used the way it was designed. How many times have you installed a
combination of hardware and software only to find that users continue to print
to their existing systems? Too often, you don’t discover this until you approach
the customer for an upgrade or replacement. Your proposal was based upon a
presumed savings. Go back to your customer and demonstrate that those savings
are actually being achieved. Report on a quarterly basis.
2. Be certain your customers understand the benefits. If users have
reverted to their old printers send your customer support rep to train, or
retrain them. Show them how the new workflow should operate. Then, make your
printers or MFPs the default output device at each workstation. Again, report to
your customer. Let him/her know that you’ve gone the extra mile to be certain
the proposed savings will actually be achieved.
3. Follow up. When you dispatch a service technician to solve a hardware or
software issue, or when a customer accesses your help desk (do you even have a
help desk?), be certain that the problem was solved satisfactorily. Too many
times a customer will simply give up out of frustration, providing you with no
feedback on your deteriorating relationship.
4. Get rid of endless voice mail loops. Especially for your service
department. Airlines use them all the time. How many times have you been caught
in that trap? Your customers and prospects are important enough to talk with a
real person – immediately. When they call for service, they are already
frustrated. Don’t increase their level of discontent by forcing them to run a
maze of automated choices while they try to solve
In short, customer service is not expensive. In many cases, as evidenced by
JetBlue’s strategies, it costs nothing. But, the payback in terms of customer
satisfaction and loyalty is immeasurable. Take a lesson from those who have made
it work. Implement strong customer satisfaction strategies. Measure your
progress on a regular basis. Make the buying process and post sale relationship
painless, you’ll have your competition scratching their heads trying to
penetrate your accounts.