What Are Your Customers Actually Buying?

Customer satisfactionWhy do airlines suck? That’s the question raised by the just-released Airline Quality Rating Report for 2012 [PDF link]. The report suggests that airlines increasingly get the operational details right. But, despite these successes, customer complaints also continue to grow.

Why?

Well, as NBC News notes,

“…rising customer dissatisfaction with the airlines goes beyond the basics of operational performance. While the AQR analyzes quantitative measures, there are obviously qualitative difference between the various carriers. After all, an airline can be on time, lose few bags and not bump a soul — and still provide a miserable flying experience thanks to cramped seats, lousy food and fees for everything beyond a seat belt and oxygen mask.

“The air transportation experience is suffering from issues that are not measured in the DOT [Department of Transportation] or AQR [Airline Quality Rating],” said Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance. For Leocha, other issues, such as proliferating fees, confusing code-share rules and policies that make it difficult for families to sit together without paying extra, add fuel to the flames of passenger frustration.”

This is top of mind for me right now, as I’m talking to a group of travel executives next week about customer experience and the high cost of ignoring value (a topic I’ve addressed before).

Travel is an unusual product, in that, for the most part, there’s no tangible good. Someone buying a cashmere sweater at Saks or Target, a book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or a mobile phone from Best Buy or Verizon takes home a physical object, some thing they can touch and live with again and again, day after day.

Travel doesn’t work that way. You get one shot to get it right. The experience is everything. One bad experience might mean a lost future sale — or worse if they write an online review trashing your product/service and let the rest of the world know exactly how bad you treated them (whether justified or not).

Marketers offering hotels, airlines, rental cars, cruise lines, and rail — or packaging the whole shebang — to their customers have to continually look for ways to improve the experience. This isn’t about going above and beyond customer expectations; for many components of the travel experience, just meeting the customer expectation would be a step in the right direction. Sad, but true. As AQR author Dean Headley notes in the NBC piece, “The sad part is that when I get back from a trip and people ask me how my flight was, the best I can say is it was uneventful.”

Interested in more? Sign up for our free newsletter and get more information on how to build your social, local, mobile marketing strategy. And, if you’ve got a minute, you might enjoy some past coverage of customer experience in marketing, including:

And, don’t forget, you can have me speak at your next event, too.

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IAB Study on Travel and Media

The IAB has an interesting study outlining trends among travelers and their media use. Some of the key findings?

  • Travel is their top “big ticket” purchase. 23% of Americans are planning vacation travel in the next six months, making the category the top “big ticket” item they plan to purchase in the period
  • Internet use almost equal with TV. On weekdays, internet weekly reach among intended travelers approaches parity with TV (91% internet vs. 95% TV)
  • Media use grows when they’re ready to travel. Soon-to-be travelers are more likely to surf the internet (91% vs. 82%), listen to radio (77% vs. 69%), and read magazines (61% vs. 51%) and newspapers (58% vs. 50%) than the general population
  • Heavy use of email. They are far more likely to send and read emails than the average American (94% vs. 83%)
  • And of mobile phone apps. Their rates of app usage is much greater than the average American The six most popular categories more than those in the general population:
    • Games (70% travel intenders vs. 66% general population)
    • Weather (69% travel intenders vs. 57% general population)
    • Entertainment (60% travel intenders vs. 54% general population)
    • Social Networking (58% travel intenders vs. 52% general population)
    • Radio (45% travel intenders vs. 39% general population)
    • Travel (53% travel intenders vs. 38% general population)

You can retrieve the whole study from the IAB here [PDF link].

Inside Google’s 2012 Traveler “Road to Decision”

Just a heads-up that I’ve taken a look at Google’s 2012 Traveler “Road to Decision” Presentation over on the main blog.

Loads of good takeaways. For instance, the report (and my analysis), looks at:

  • Travelers continuing desire to define value. This was a big topic of my presentations to NGCOA and to HEDNA earlier this year.
  • How leisure and business travelers prioritize search differently. This is new. In the past the differences between leisure and business were fairly minimal.
  • How mobile is driving increased search query growth.
  • Significant growth in both leisure (38%) and business (57%) traveler mobile access to travel information on the Internet.

Plus a whole lot more. Check it out.

USTA: 39 Percent Don’t Want to Fly

Here’s a shocker: Flying sucks. And it’s impacting all sorts of travel decisions. According to a US News & World Report article that outlines results from a recent U.S. Travel Association survey:

“Lessening the hassles, said the U.S. Travel Association, could win back customers. “Our research shows that reducing hassle without compromising security will encourage more Americans to fly — as many as two to three additional trips a year — leading to an additional $85 billion in spending that would support 900,000 American jobs,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.”

The data is fairly compelling. Now, it’s clear that we don’t want to compromise security. At the same time, the challenging jobs market and stagnant economy could seriously benefit if it weren’t such a royal pain in the tuchus to travel. After all, the best hotel marketing in the world can only do so much if your customers aren’t willing to fly to your destination.