When building a brand it’s the experience that matters
Experience matters. We live in an experience age and brands can no longer build strong positions by providing clear functional benefits. In research I undertook with a former colleague, Professor Peter Darke at York University, and then student and now professor at Queens University, Laurence Ashworth, we showed that exposing consumers to irrelevant experiential cues, e.g., asking consumers to listen to music genres they liked versus disliked on a given portable CD player influenced their choice of portable CD players. Consumers chose CD players that were objectively inferior on functional benefits like battery life and weight, two important characteristics of portable CD players, when they listened to disliked music genres on them, even though the music experience was irrelevant to choice. Consumers would, after all, never listen to a disliked genre of music on the CD player once they took it home!
North American airlines a nightmare
Service levels on North American airlines have become appalling! And I am here referring to pretty much all the carriers I have tried in the recent past, be they United Airlines, American Airlines, or Air Canada.
Let’s start with check in! They close flights one hour before departure time! Not a minute’s grace. I arrived one hour before according to my watch but 58 minutes according to United and was bumped from the flight to Chicago earlier this morning! To boot, a lot of the staff are rude. I was told by the woman at the check-in counter that I had to go stand by as all flights to Chicago were full. I asked if I could be rerouted and the woman at the counter snapped, “No point asking me in different ways, the flights are full!” The odd thing is that she was wrong as two hours later I had been rerouted by a kindly gate agent! United should reward Laura Sharpe, the very helpful lady who is going to get me to Chicago today. Sadly, I cannot remember the name of the rude, incompetent, and unhelpful woman who checked me in this morning at 7:18 am in Vancouver. I guess she just wasn’t a lady. Perhaps if United will see this blog and can put two and two together and kick this woman’s sorry butt out of the company, since all she is doing is getting United a bad name.
Since I knew the next United flight to Chicago was also full, and at the time, I did not have the re-routed flight, I approached Air Canada. The woman at Air Canada didn’t seem to understand that I was willing to buy a fresh ticket, paying hard cold cash to Air Canada! She kept saying that my ticket was on United so she couldn’t help! Incredible, I understand that I speak English with a foreign accent but my students seem to understand my English perfectly well, but the Air Canada employee clearly couldn’t. Perhaps she needs some training in listening or perhaps education in English! More likely, she just couldn’t be bothered to look in her computer if indeed she could take my money and get me to Chicago today.
I am now sitting in the Air Canada lounge and I cannot but help overhear the lady on the next seat having a conversation on the phone with some North American airline representative over the phone. She has moved along in her frustrated conversation to ask for a “manager”. The manager’s comments to her elicited the reaction “you can’t be serious that, that is a rule”. I guess I am not the only person who is frustrated.
I travel a lot on Singapore Airlines. They close the check-in counter only 40 minutes before the flight and the gate just 10 minutes before. Perhaps United, Air Canada, American Airlines and more generally all North American airlines should take courses from SQ and learn how they manage to get their passengers on board without requiring them to come so much earlier!
The moral of the story is don’t fly North American carriers if you can help it. Within North America, sadly there is no option. This is what keeps these hideous carriers afloat. A free market would see them go under.