As a keynote presenter, I fly a lot. And I’ve seen and experienced the many changes airlines have been making over the years, most of which haven’t been positive from a customer’s perspective.
Yet, even with all the changes and added fees airlines have been charging, from baggage fees to pillow fees, most are still struggling. For instance, American Airlines is in bankruptcy, and almost every airline has been merging because if they don’t merge they’re going into bankruptcy.
In fact, if we look back in history, most of the major and some of the minor airlines that are still around have been barely surviving. They like to blame high fuel costs for this, but that’s not the whole story. Unfortunately, the airlines are making sure that customers find little to like about them.
I spoke with a friend recently who did a cross country flight on a major airline, and his comment was, “The seats were so old on the plane. They had no cushion in them that it was completely uncomfortable the entire trip.” I’ve experienced these rock-hard seats too.
This is where airlines need to be anticipatory. The competitive advantage is not in doing what everyone else is doing—which in this case is raising fees and lowering value. The competitive advantage is going in the opposite direction.
All airlines actually have a huge opportunity to win customers back and gain advantage if they simply focus on solving their customers’ problems. For example, if an airline upgraded their seats to be comfortable, they could tell customers, “We’ve checked all of our planes and have gotten rid of those old, rock-hard seats. As a matter of fact, if you find a rock-hard seat, tell a steward right away. We’ll change it so you never get another one on this airline.”
By doing this one simple thing, the airline would be giving customers a voice—a voice of change. Even if I did sit in a rock-hard seat, I’d know I can tell someone and trust them to take care of it. I’d even use the airline again because they listened and promised to take action. And that’s all most customers want—to be heard and be a voice of change.
Thanks to social media, customers have a way to come together, state their case, and be heard. And we’ve seen that doing so actually works and causes change. So rather than protest in person, we can arrange an online protest to American, United, Delta, or any of the airlines that are doing things we don’t like. Just like physical protests such as the Occupy movement, virtual protests work too, as we saw with people protesting online about Bank of America’s proposal for a $5 monthly debit card fee.
In the long run, these types of virtual protests are a good idea, whether they are directed to an airline or a bank. Why? Because it gets companies to wake up and think more before acting. And from my experience, thinking before acting is always a good thing.