The Problem with Flying… A Lack of Innovation?


Up, Up, and Away

As I get settled into 2012 and prepare for my first business trip of the new year, I find myself smiling on the outside, with knowledge that I now possess Platinum Medallion status on Delta Airlines.  This satisfaction quickly sours as I bite my lip until it bleeds and shed a tear when thinking back on 2011’s travel schedule.

Question: So what did 55 flights and nearly 90,000 miles teach me?

Answer: The real problem with air travel is the simple task of getting on and off of the airplane.  

Furthermore, I contend that the solutions to the issues causing so much passenger consternation are fully within the control of the airlines.  As a matter of fact, the airlines have largely created what appears to be the biggest contributor to the problem – baggage fees.

Baggage Fees

When I say that Baggage Fees are an issue, I don’t mean in the traditional, monetary sense, rather in the human behaviors it has created as a result.  By lowering prices slightly (and temporarily I might add), then adding on the “optional” baggage fees, the consumer has now been given an incentive to not check their bags.  This leads to slower TSA screening, crowded gate areas, and difficult boarding.  To exacerbate the issue, the aircraft crew most often does not actively manage the boarding process and participate in helping passengers load bags into the overhead properly, resulting in the space being woefully mismanaged.

So for those not fortunate enough to be in the front half of the line, they are left searching for a place to put their bag, most often behind them, which leads to swimming upstream like a salmon to retrieve one’s bag once the plane “has come to a complete stop”.  The fear of not securing adequate overhead space for what you know is a bag way too big, leads to cattle herding around the gate when the first boarding announcement is made.  While it is not exactly a mosh pit, it does take some diplomacy to squeeze through.  In some cases this is still better than the dreaded gate check, which most certainly adds to delayed deplaning for all parties.  I believe the ease at which a passenger can handle this gauntlet correlates directly to how often they fly, but could easily be improved if there were no bag fees and/or better load management by the flight crew.

The Infrequent Flyer

The Infrequent Flyer has the deck stacked against them from the get go, and it all starts with security screening.  The TSA will tell you the disparate and inconsistent procedures from airport to airport are part of the protocol to “keep terrorists on their toes”, but I’m not buying it.  Once successfully through security, the Infrequent Flyer is faced with a boarding pass that contains about 10 times more information than anyone needs.  I’d like to see the paper boarding passes more closely resemble the smartphone version: Destination, Flight Number, Time, Gate, Seat #, and a Bar Code.  The other 300 characters of text do nothing but confuse the Infrequent Traveler.  As pointed out above, the cattle herding at the gate will not cease  until the baggage issue is solved, so I am not expanding on that any further.  Once aboard the plane, the flight crew should take some pride in ownership of the boarding process and make sure that every bag that comes on board is stowed properly – that might mean moving up and down the aisle and physically turning suitcases around in the overheads and even removing smaller items for passengers to put under the seat in front of them.  Do you just let your kids throw the suitcases in the trunk before a road trip?  Of course not – you know they will not all fit unless you assist in loading.

Lack of Design Innovation

At the end of the day, the Baggage Fee issue will likely resolve itself when the airline realizes that the entire baggage hold on the plane is mow empty and they can install seats and market them as “steerage” or “super economy class” – now that’s innovation – better bring your mittens.  Kidding aside, we all know that innovation in the airline industry does not have a great track record.  Sure, some amenities have improved like  individual media/entertainment centers, lay down beds, satellite TV and in-flight Wi-Fi, but who are we kidding.  If you showed even the newest model Airbus or Boeing to Howard Hughes or Charles Lindbergh, they would likely shrug their shoulders and say “it’s an airplane, so what?”.

I don’t know if I read it somewhere in the past or what (I would hate to take credit), but someone needs to ask Disney or NASA how they would design an aircraft that could load passengers and carry-on bags more efficiently.  The problem is that it is almost too late now – all airports are being designed to accommodate what has become  a “standard” aircraft configuration – “single tiny door (maybe 2) connected to the airport terminal via retractable jet bridge, loaded in a single file fashion”.  Makes me cringe reading back what I just wrote.  Imagine if we loaded trains that way.  What if airplanes opened up with gull wings, and passengers could be loaded in multiple queues – even if not an opening for each seat, what if there was a door every 10 rows?  Think about how quickly you can get off and on a roller coaster!

What if all passenger loading and securing of carry-ons happened inside of the terminal in a “pod” that was then lifted and placed inside of the awaiting airplane through doors like those on the Space Shuttle cargo bay or sliding it into the plane through an open nose cone?

Certainly we can design a plane with enough structural rigidity to pull this off and maintain cabin pressure and comfort?  Treat me like cargo please.

Come on man.

Tell me what you think – is innovation in commercial aircraft design the answer?

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Spray and Pray is NOT a Customer Contact Strategy


My family and I recently moved  into a new house, and in the process I utilized the “moving” services offered by Big Satellite Company [name changed to protect the guilty].  I was a little perturbed when I was unable to coordinate the moving service online, but that’s another topic.  Anyway, all went well and the move went great – they even threw in some free premium channels for free as a “value add” to using the service.  Great way to protect against attrition to competing companies or, god-forbid, cable.

Here’s the kicker – a day later I received an email from Big Satellite Company asking me “Did you know that you can manage your account online?”.  My first inclination was to reply and ask them “Do you know that I had been doing so for my 10+ years as a customer?  Not to mention that the account service I most recently used was not accessible online?”.

Obviously there is a business rule trigger that sent me the email, likely because I called in to the service center to request the moving service, but the automation rules failed to recognize the fact that:

  1. I am frequent user of their online system for account changes.
  2. The service most recently used in not available online.

To borrow from the ESPN crew, C’mon MAN!

I know this is probably rocket-science to some, but companies can do better!

Spray and Pray is not a Customer Contact Strategy – by this I mean that automating communications with your customers should not be done simply for the sake of doing it, and furthermore, not all customers are created equal.   A sound Customer Contact Strategy should span each and every potential interaction a company could have with a customer regardless of contact or delivery channel.  And, these contacts should be well thought out, situational, and personalized to maximize relevance to the customer.  This results in improving sentiment towards your brand with the big payoff being not only the retention of customers, but perhaps more important, the recommendation of your product or service to the customer’s extended “network” of friends, family, and colleagues via social networks .  This is often exacerbated by the  interactions being handled through different software platforms and the wide spread practice of outsourcing portions of CRM processes to different companies (or handled internally by different teams)  as well as the proliferation of subcontracted delivery channels – but trust me when I say that it can be done!

Ask me how…

“You Put Your Chocolate in My Peanut Butter!”


We’ve all come to love the irresistible combination of chocolate and peanut butter served to us by the folks at Reese’s and can probably name scores of other perfect combinations in nearly any context. Things like cell Phones with cameras and Gin & Tonic; or people like Sonny & Cher or Will & Grace! Not to mention the ever-present “Value Meals” and Price Fixe menus in nearly every segment of dining these days. I guess 1 + 1 does equal 3?

To this end, my blog is aptly named marketing+technology and I wanted to share with you some fine examples of how the combination of sound marketing principles with appropriate technology can yield tremendous results.

I assume you’ve read my recent post about getting reading glasses? Anyway, yesterday I received an automated phone call from the retail eyeglass location where I purchased my glasses. The computer voice on the other end of the line was a very pleasant-sounding young lady, British or Australian I think, who identified herself as calling from the store in question and asked to confirm that I was Mark Donatelli (she even pronounced it right – better than many people!) and if I was willing to answer 2 survey questions about my recent experience. After I pressed 1 (Yes) to continue, I was asked to rate my experience from 0 to 10 (10 being best) and rate my willingness to recommend them to others. After pressing my entries I was then asked to record a short message about why I rated the experience as I did. Done and Done. After this 20 second process I immediately thought “They put chocolate in the peanut butter!”.

By this, I mean that they took the solid marketing and CRM practices of:

1. Follow up with your clients after their purchase.
2. Survey your clients to measure satisfaction.
3. Ask your clients for an endorsement or quote regarding your satisfaction.
4. And as a by-product, they were also able to verify my phone number in their database.

These steps if done by a person would be time-consuming and costly, but with the injection of some technology the process is automated and efficient.

To take this a step further, I imagine that about 11 months from now I will receive a postcard reminding me to stop in and have my annual eye exam. If they were really cookin’, I might get a birthday card with a discount coupon on prescription sunglasses – we’ll have to wait and see on that one. Regardless of industry, these types of automated “campaigns” can have a positive effect on your business by deepening customer loyalty.

From a prospecting standpoint (as opposed to the CRM scenario above), the combination of technology and sound marketing principles can be even more powerful. For example, a national home improvement store might have ongoing, automated direct mail programs for New Homeowners, New Movers, Households expecting a child, or those will children headed to college. Each mail program has a creative design and content relative to the “lifestage” the recipient is experiencing. This allows the store to call attention to specific, relevant products likely needed by the recipient. Without technology to automate the data acquisition and delivery, then merging with creative and print, this would not be possible.

Imagine if Peanut Butter and Chocolate had never met? Tell me about your marketing+technology idea and let’s make it happen!

A trip in the way back machine below – 80’s commercials for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

The Data Dilemma: Mining, Privacy, and Other Concerns


Xplor Lunch & Learn Series

I will be a panelist on the Xplor.org Lunch & Learn webinar scheduled for August 19th. The topic is “The Data Dilemma: Mining, Privacy, and Other Concerns”

Space is limited, so reserve your Webinar seat now at:
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/485313730

We’re all encouraged to make our marketing more relevant, add personalized marketing to transaction documents, and target direct mail more strategically. That requires using data, and that gives some people pause. Especially privacy advocates. What do you really need to know before you jump in the pool?

Our panel will include industry experts and will be hosted by Pat McGrew of Kodak.

Title: The Data Dilemma: Mining, Privacy, and Other Concerns

Date: Thursday, August 19, 2010

Time: 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM EDT

After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP, 2003 Server or 2000

Macintosh®-based attendees
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

If you build it they will come…


I know, I know, it’s actually  “he will come” in the movie Field of Dreams, referring to Shoeless Joe Jackson and eventually even more members of the 1919 Black Sox.  That’s probably the only situation where it rang true.  In the real world it just doesn’t work that way.  Regardless, my blog is now “built” and the rest is up to me….

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