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Shaun Illingworth

Shaun Illingworth

Akendi Alumnus

Customer Experience in the Friendly Skies

Recently, I enjoyed a fantastic vacation in the tropics with my family.  The travel was long, with three connections and over twelve hours in flight.  Thankfully, the airline had a great web check in that allowed me to see each flights aircraft type, seating configuration and seat availability.  Our island bound travel was painless. As a fairly frequent traveler, I appreciated the attention on the website to what mattered to me most as a customer.

And after a relaxing (and incredible) vacation, we headed back to the airport for a mellow return home.  However, it was not the experience I expected. Check in was a bit confusing with only a handful of staff.  The line was long and only because of the kindness of a stranger did we realize our luggage required pre-screening before speaking with the Check in agent. Not a very obvious system.

Making it near the head of the line, I realized the source of the delay… kiosks!  Three or four agents scampered like mice in a maze behind a bank of “self check-in kiosks.”  Obviously installed to accelerate the process, yet with most of the travelers being families, with lots of bags, kids, and car seats it was having the reverse effect.  While a kiosk is a great way for a lone business traveler to check in on a non-stop, round trip from Chicago to JFK, it is not friendly to the seldom-traveling family unit with overweight bags.  Because of this, the few staff on hand were frantically dashing from one kiosk to the next, helping, moving, helping again, moving. Why kiosks? – I thought to myself, as I watched almost every group wave for help from the agents.  This is a vacation island, everyone here is a group and almost all travel is international.

With my island mellow fading, we scurried through security. Flight boarding was slow and rowdy.  Despite the “seating by section” strategy of the airline, the multitude of priority plans seemed to get everyone onboard before they started calling sections.  Why would the airlines maintain such competitive systems?  Can’t they merge priority cards and seating sections into one system?  Would this not be faster?  As a priority member on an affiliate airline in this global alliance, I felt no honour or privilege as I waited.

Now securely tucked into our seats we prepared for the long overnight flight to our connecting city.  I drifted back to thinking of the beach and the warm ocean breeze.  ATTENTION LADIES AND GENTLEMEN – blares over the public address system.  Ok, just a short delay, we’ll still make our connection.  Following a second, third and fourth announcement, the “crew delay” has now evolved from a “minor technical” to a “major mechanical issue.” It’s now close to midnight and we’ve been in the airport and waiting to depart since 8PM.  The official announcement is now made that this flight is cancelled.  We are informed that the flight is rescheduled for 10AM the following day.

Let it be known that that rescheduled 10AM flight never left.  Following hours and hours on the phone with the support center that night and throughout the next day we managed to make alternate connections at 6PM the following day.  Even as we walked past our original flight to the gate for our new departure, there sat many of our compatriots – tired, hungry… and angry – as every call ends with “we want to thank you for flying the friendly skies.”

Why didn’t the local agents provide better service?  Why didn’t the call center agents focus on the customer first?   Do they not see the experience goes beyond the website?  How many customers will email, talk, tweet or blog about their experience?  How many will tell their friends?  How many will remember to tell them about the great website?

Warren Buffet was recently quoted saying “A great reputation is like virginity. It can be preserved, but it can’t be restored.”  In many ways this message holds true for user experiences – once you blow it, it is tough to win it back.
Shaun Illingworth

Shaun Illingworth

Akendi Alumnus


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Akendi is a human experience design firm, leveraging equal parts experience research and creative design excellence. We provide strategic insights and analysis about customer and user behaviour and combine this knowledge with inspired design. The results enable organizations to improve effectiveness, engage users and provide remarkable customer experiences to their audiences.