Over four million views for just this one video titled ‘Shame On You United Airlines’. United’s market capitalisation briefly fell by nearly $1 billion following their process-driven relationship disaster.
“What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers” United’s CEO did a quick volte face on the rude ejection of a passenger. But it’s easy to see why a C-Suite can think that a disaster like this is just a blip on the radar: and that’s because of a growing tendency to view dashboard metrics to the exclusion of everything else.
“Oh really,” a C-Suite’s initial reaction might be when news like this breaks. “But we score right on NPS and CES. So this has got to be a statistical aberration, right?”
Consider this. In their quest for The Ultimate Question And Indicator to evaluate customer satisfaction – and therefore their willingness to pay for additional products and services – our marketing gurus might have lost some faith recently.
Recent examples of sub-par customer management at United and American are just unveiling what every frequent traveller already knows: the bottom line is that you’re just a seat number.
I firmly believe that the focus by the top management on simple indicators leads to a standardized process-driven approach to customer management. What is missing completely its objective, which should be customer satisfaction.
BBS. Is it just more BS?
Over recent years it has been very interesting to see the parallel evolution of the airline service metrics go from full to null. Customer satisfaction measurements have evolved from ‘one of too many’ to ‘this is the one’.
The goal of the Key Indicator is to be as simple as possible, and easy to measure. In line with the cult of Occam’s Razor, the customer satisfaction metric has become as sharp and binary as possible. It’s a trend that’s becoming an industry standard, supported by some fashionista VPs who want to show they ‘get it right’. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) used to be trendy, and is currently being challenged by the Customer Experience Score (CES). Next, some imaginative guru will come up with a new BBS (Big Boring Score).
My point is definitely not to delegitimize these indicators. Neither to deny the benefits of having a management culture focused on measuring company performance. It is actually the opposite, since I personally believe that having regular dashboards, and cross-referencing different facets of the company performance, is a key to success.
Why? Because dashboard metrics can help airline managers to comprehend the complexity of their operations and competitive environment. But, importantly, those metrics can also support a real collaborative decision-making process within the management team, rather than relying on a siloed functional view to address challenges or leverage opportunities.
This explains why I am always puzzled when I see the trust that smart people put in some simplistic index or score. You have to be a firm believer to put all your faith into a single indicator in order to estimate whether or not you deliver on your promise to your customers.
More perniciously, these simple indicators are leading to an extreme standardization of the customer management process. The more a process is complicated, the less an indicator is meaningful since it cannot be summed up in one number.
Anonymized, homogenized dashboard data doesn’t allow for contextual insights.
Going back to the United example, the initial reaction of the airline was actually quite revealing, along the lines of, ‘the staff were following the company procedure, by all means and at any costs’. ‘Just doing my job’ is a phrase which has been repeated throughout history to deny responsibility. Based on that logic, the action of forcibly ejecting an innocent passenger was perfectly right, viewed from a detached perspective, and as such was (initially) supported by the CEO.
This shows the danger of focusing on dashboard scores to the exclusion of all else. It drives an automatic procedure-driven response without considering the context of the decision, nor its impact and even its legitimacy. I’m reminded of Alfred Korzybski’s statement that ‘the map is not the territory’ (see footnote), and the inference that dashboard-focused C-Suites will blindly follow their GPS instructions without actually glancing at the road ahead.
So, my contention is that two-digit ‘scores’, whatever they are, cannot reflect the complexity of the customer management process:
First, because multi-dimensional, interpersonal issues depending on circumstance and emotion cannot conveniently be abbreviated to two digits. Just ask any psychologist!
Second, because the focus shall be on client satisfaction against certain standards, rather than against processes. Just ask your front desk staff and cabin crew!
With this objective, airlines can re-introduce some actionable, contextual insights to their field management team. The context of their decisions will be at the forefront, and the quality of your customer management team will be to make the best (or least worst) decision when facing an operational challenge.
Think like a hot air balloon pilot. Not a train driver.
Processes and procedures must, of course, exist. But, most importantly, guidelines and clear priorities should be given by management on the customer management front. This empowers staff to deal responsibly with any unexpected situation.
And this is the key: we aren’t living in an environment where all potential situations and risks can be evaluated, their triggers identified, and a detailed process created to sort it out and make sense of it. Our operating environment is complex because uncertainty is always a component. And the only certainty is that the uncertain will happen … and be shared on social media!
In a world where the information is viral and a single video might wipe $1b off your capitalization and seriously damage your reputation, empowering your employees is the key to address the unexpected. And that, in my opinion, is why C-Suites should not go for the comfort of a one-score-fits-all solution, but rather they should focus on triangulated indicators that will depict a closer picture of your customer satisfaction level.
This is what we call Marketing Agility!
Find out more about Milanamos and our PlanetOptim software for predictive airline marketing.