On return from a recent holiday, I was fortunate enough to be in my favourite seat on my favourite plane – American Airlines flight AA100 from New York JFK to London Heathrow. Not for the first time, I’ve chosen a specific route home to incorporate this flight, and once again, it was a great experience. Next time I’m in East Coast USA, I will make a point of routing to take this flight, even if it’s not the most expedient flight home. Question is, even taking into my account my love of flying, what is it about flight AA100 that I like so much, and why does it make me feel at home? There’s a number of factors that are important in most customer experiences (especially when it’s experiential rather than a transactional experience.) I thought it might be interesting to break down how these factors contribute towards my sense of “feeling at home.”
Safety – First and foremost, no mater what else contributes to my AA100 experience, feeling like I am in safe hands at 38,000 feet in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is really, REALLY important. Flying over a vast ocean, there is likely to be turbulence, but in such a large plane, I just buckle up as we are buffered through the bumpy patch. Heightened security concerns globally also might raise my concerns on safety, but the thorough screening process at the airport reassures me that the risks have been mitigated. With multiple very experienced pilots on-board, I know that there will be someone with the right skills to fly the plane. Overall, I can’t prove any of these things, but the overall sense of safety on-board means that I don’t question any of them. Observation: if you convey a sense that you are the expert of your product, customers will often take your word for it, so be thoughtful in what you claim and be able to deliver on it.
Comfort – The Boeing 777-300ER is a big plane, and one of the longest commercial airliners in the world. It’s designed to fly a lot of people over long distances. Each airline decides how they will configure the interior – some cram in as many seats as possible, other balance the need for revenue generation with the experience of the customers. Business class aboard the AA100 flight focuses on the latter. I always choose to sit in the mini-cabin, just two rows of business class seats, in the window seat 3A. It’s a really comfortable seat, that reclines into a comfy bed, and after eating a great meal and enjoying a glass or two of champagne, I quickly fall asleep on the short trans-Atlantic hop. It feels like a private space, with all the features and functions I need, and I can quickly settle down and enjoy the experience every time. Observation: It’s really important to balance the focus on maximising revenue with delivering a great customer experience that customers will want to consume again and again.
Familiarity – The first time I experienced AA100, it felt comfortable and familiar. I’d flown many times before on many airlines. I’d tried business class on many different airlines. But I’d never flown on an American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER, so why did it feel so familiar? As an airline geek, I research aircraft, airports and airlines that I want to experience. I consider others’ opinions before forming my own. I establish a certain expectation of what my experience will be – ideally the aircraft and airline will at least match, if not exceed that expectation. AA100 never fails to deliver, it’s always familiar in a really great way, and that makes me really happy. Observation: customers often buy based on their understanding of your experience from friends, colleagues or internet research, so make sure you understand what others say about your experience.
People – On my most recent flight, I realised I’d forgotten to pack something more comfortable to sleep in, I casually made a comment to my husband. Tom, our exceptional member of cabin crew returned minutes later with a First Class sleeper suite for me to change into. He chatted informally with my husband and me, showing charm and wit throughout the flight. This added tremendously to our sense of feeling at home. He made a real difference to our experience. Observation: magic touches are often not related to your product, but are delivered by your people, so as Virgin’s Richard Branson constantly reminds us, invest well in your people and set them free to deliver differentiation.
When these factors are aligned, a business can create a sense of anticipation for a customer, an eagerness to consume a particular experience (either for the first time, or repeatedly.) This is turn creates a sense of well being when the experience is great, giving that “feeling at home” buzz. It’s really hard to maintain this cycle of anticipation and eagerness to consume an experience if you are not consistent with your delivery. Take time out to think what key factors you need to understand and measure to drive that anticipation and sense of “feeling at home” in your customer experience.