Last Thursday, I was more excited than a kid on Christmas Eve. Having rushed from a conference in Central London, I arrived at Heathrow Airport bursting with excitement and anticipation. As the time for boarding drew nearer, I felt light-headed and tingly, and as I stood waiting to board Finnair’s brand new A350, I knew that this was something that I had always wanted to do. As I walked onto the plane, greeted by the ever-charming Finnair cabin crew, admiring the gorgeous design of the business class cabin, with it’s subtle lighting and flawless lines, designed by world-famous Vertti Kivi, I slipped into my pod and laid back. The seat was amazing, the 20″ TV screen was crystal clear, the service was impeccable and the champagne flowed. After take-off, as I tucked into my reindeer stew and snapped my hundredth photo of the interior, something occurred to me. Whilst I love customers, I also love BEING a customer.
My whole career has been built on serving customers, fighting the customer injustice we find within our business and generally trying to stop us driving our customers crazy with daft processes and behaviours. But all this time, I rarely ever considered how I felt and acted as a customer. Relaxing with another glass of champagne, flying silently toward Helsinki, I let my mind run with this thought. After all, we all have to be customers in life – whether it’s the mundane transactional products (such as transport, utilities, supermarkets, banking, etc), or the exciting experiential products (such as travel agencies, hotels, fashion retailer, etc), we have needs that are provided for by others, and we pay for those goods and services.
As you’d expect, I’m a demanding customer, I expect you to deliver what you committed to, and when it goes wrong, you need to put it right or I’ll get frustrated and take my business elsewhere. Whilst there are different ways of expressing yourself, that series of expectations and actions is surely not unreasonable? After all, if you promise me a blue pen, then give me a purple spoon, you’ve either misled me or you’ve made a mistake. Continuing this thought, my expectations as a customer are thus no different than anyone else (even though I may use my skills in customer experience to drive the outcome I want.)
I paused my reflection for a moment to change the seat to the flat bed position so I could more comfortably continue my rumination. In doing this, I drew an analogy between my flight experience and an average company’s goods & services. The goods or products were represented by the plane’s “hard products”. This means the seat, the TV screen, and anything else that is a fixed part of the flight. The seat was brand new, the interior of the plane was spotless and the TV screen was huge. Tick – I was very happy with the product. But I know that the product alone is not enough.
So then I considered the service aspect – in the case of my flight, the “soft product”. This typically refers to the crew, the food & drink or the amenity kit provided by the airline. The food was delicious, the champagne was plentiful, but what made the biggest impression was the crew. Smartly dressed, warm and engaging, always with eye contact, no request too much and through their years of experience, flawlessly able to see that rather than “Mr Ollitervo-Murphy”, i preferred “Michael” and a less formal tone to make me feel most comfortable. As the flight came in to land at Helsinki, I genuinely felt sad to be ending my fabulous experience, although I do have hundreds of photos to remind me of it!
Flying back to London the next morning on a different plane, I felt sadly disappointed to not be on the A350 but the Finnair “soft product” aspect – the crew – once again delighted with the attention to detail, warm smiles and high touch service. Being a customer on both flight with Finnair was a wonderful experience, and as a result, I’ve booked two more return flights with them, instead of the airlines I’d usually fly with. I may be demanding, but when the product and the service are delivered well, I love being a customer. In turn, that helps me constantly raise my game and ensure I’m doing everything I can to deliver the best possible experience for my customers.
Should you get chance to try out Finnair’s new A350 on the various short haul routes it’s running around Europe (or indeed long haul from Europe to Asia), I’d suggest taking a window seat to admire the amazing views and enjoy the lower cabin air pressure and constantly circulated fresh air that makes this plane out as jet-lag busting. For anyone with an eye for design, you can’t help but appreciate the stunning design of the plane and the gorgeous styled interior, not to mention the adorable cabin crew on Finnair. Is it an indulgence? Yes, of course, but sometimes we all need to find a space to reflect and remind ourselves that only if we love being a customer, can we love our customers!