Personal versus premium service

24 Mar 2014

A fascinating report has appeared in the New York Times on the use of technology by airlines to get more personal with their premium customers. Take note of the word ‘premium’ because most airlines have mastered the art of making ‘non-premium’ customers really feel like second-class citizens. Flying ‘cattle class’ these days is a pretty accurate description.

While airlines spend zillions on Google Glass and iPads for staff on board flights, lounges with hors d’oeuvres and champagne, limousine pickups, fast security and immigration clearances and on-board chefs serving meals to order, they do everything in their power to make sure ‘economy’ passengers know their place by cramming them up the back and feeding them regurgitated cardboard.

Sorry, getting back to the point of airlines trying to get personal. The issue is that you either do it for everyone or don't bother at all. Those that expect the extra service and ‘earn’ it by paying through the nose (three to five times what the yobbos pay) probably deserve to get the extra service. It makes them feel good, separates them from the ‘rest of us’ and impresses their family and friends. But for those that get to see it and not experience it, the whole thing becomes annoying to the point of disgust.

If any enterprise decides to take the path towards total customer experience and offering service at the most personal level of one, then shouldn’t it be available to everyone. Making some people feel special and others feel inferior only produces bad will and the repercussions to the bottom line could be grim.

Strangely, when some companies attempt to offer ONLY premium services and avoid the riff-raff altogether, they seem to have short lifespans. Anyone care to remember Air One, Air Atlanta, McClain, Regent, MGM Grand and Legend – business class only airlines? All gone. And how about Singapore Airlines business class only, non-stop flights from Singapore to Newark. Also gone.

They were great airlines but it seems that people that were willing to pay more also wanted to feel more pampered than other passengers on the flights. If everyone is getting the same level of personal service then where is the ‘show value’? And nobody wanted to sit up the back on these aircraft because they were so used to sitting up front in the big seats that the paupers had to walk past on their way to the purgatory section.

As anyone that has managed to reach a lofty status in an airline club but still flies ‘economy’ will know, the agony of being singled out by the chief steward who offers them a special ‘personal’ welcome in full view of the ordinary ‘economy’ class, can be somewhat discomforting.

If any business really wants to get this concept of personal customer experience right they are going to have to find out what their individual customer appreciates, expects and wants. Making bold assumptions by groupings, as the telecoms and other industries have been doing for years, just won’t fly (No pun intended).

In this era of ‘selfies’ and the power of one, I want things done my way and I don’t want to feel that someone else is any better or worse off than me. I want to be treated as me and I want to get what I pay for. I don’t expect more and I certainly don’t expect less.

Now, what level of big data analytics, social media scraping, usage pattern analysis, even deep packet inspection is going to tell my service provider exactly what I like and what will keep me a happy customer? Hmmm, maybe they should just ask me!

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