While this piece is geared towards the commercial aviation audience, most of the findings about the relationship between perceived value and repeat purchases are also relevant to the business aviation industry.
At aviation conferences, Board meetings and investor presentations, Executives understandably have their attention focused on managing costs, reviewing operating models, exploiting revenue opportunities and coping with changing customer behaviours. One of the biggest challenges is pricing activity being its own opposing force; a lever that is pulled down low to attract new business but only really creates healthy revenue when it’s pushed up high.
In that context I was asked recently how knowing what it’s really like to be a passenger could help address the issue and generate hard, commercial returns. Surely, it was suggested, it’s all about price, routes and rewards, not fluffy niceties.
The answer, I believe, is to let customers speak for themselves. I analysed comments from passengers who’d flown recently and they made it clear why they would or wouldn’t fly with the same airline again with thought-provoking conclusions.
It was clear that poor communication at times when passengers needed it most had a greater negative impact on future purchasing behaviour than a pricing incentive has a positive one. Avoiding the unwanted emotions that were evoked last time trumps the rational benefit that could be had next time.
Now I will not pretend that such findings will turn around airline fortunes at a stroke. That will take a lot more than my piece here. But nonetheless, there were some very stark conclusions that, at the very least, are worth considering.
The passengers who said they would definitely fly again with, and recommend, the airline cited friendly cabin crew and clean aircraft as the primary reasons. Not low prices or discounts. Comments such as this were not uncommon:
“The flights were on time, the aircraft was clean and the cabin crew were friendly with no pushy selling on board”
The passengers who were throwing up their arms in despair and telling everyone never to use the airline again were saying it was because of the way they were treated. A lack of communication when flights were delayed and the sheer effort needed to get help. Not because flights were too expensive.
Even with “hidden” fees, the problem was more about the transparency of information than the actual cost. People felt they were not treated with any respect, being taken for fools. Comments such as this were not uncommon:
“I’ve gone from spending around £5,000 per year with them to avoiding them like the plague. To change anything is like pulling teeth and takes so long. Not only that but we eventually found out the flight was cancelled when someone noticed the ’cancelled’ message on the main departure board”
In my investigations of nearly 50 passengers, pricing was neutral in that it appeared neither as a positive attribute or a disincentive. Price makes it hard to differentiate whereas attitude and culture – the living embodiment of the brand – create more opportunities. After all, the brand is what the brand does.
Compounding the issue is research that found over 90% of unhappy customers don’t complain, they just go to a competitor next time. Such startling statistics make it even more important to listen to what passengers are saying; to know what they will say to others about what it’s like to do business with you and to be prepared to do something about it.
Back at the office, as the papers for their next Board meeting arrive, airline Executives will reflect that although we’re now in 2013, the tough operating and regulatory environment is still not making things any easier. To protect its financial health, decision-making and planning become more strategic. Organisational restructure, a new operating model, new partnerships and debt refinancing may all be on the agenda. It’s unlikely there’s an item called “How we made our passengers feel last month and why”. Meanwhile, at the sharp end, margins are being cut to the bone to keep load factors up, the dependency on ancillary revenue is growing and operating costs continue their relentless upward path.
So while those Executives take their seats at the Board table, having planned their set-pieces and rehearsed responses to the hardest questions, customers who are pulling down their seat-back tables are giving them an important message: communication, especially a lack of, comes at a price.
Empathyce – the business of Customer Experience