Category Archives: Airlines
Today I have been thinking about innovation. More specifically about how and why some organizations seem to have mastered the art of innovating while others struggle to adopt a culture that embraces change and innovation. The level of industrialization and quality of the processes that run and support an organization, and that make it achieve excellence in their day to day operations and products, whatever their nature, are sometimes the worst enemy of creativity and innovation.
Yet some companies have mastered both sides of the coin and are able to execute, operate and manufacture with atomic precision while creating a corporate culture that promotes and embraces thinking out of the box, pursuing new ideas and pushing the boundaries to create better products and, ultimately, progress.
I have to admit I admire those organizations. And every time I go through this thought process, I end up thinking of my favorite example of innovation at a great scale: Concorde. It is not the first time I write about this beautiful machine and what it meant to commercial aviation, yet I still find amazing to learn the amount and complexity of the challenges faced by the men and women that strongly believed that they could deliver something that changed the way air travel was understood, and they did. They proved that determination and the right culture for innovation can go very far, so far, that they created a gap in progress.
Enumerating every single innovation that Concorde brought would be material for a large number of books, but there are still a few items worth mentioning. The most curious one is how the effect of drag at high speed generated so much heat, that the nose tip would reach temperatures well beyond +100 degrees celsius, even though the air at cruising levels would typically be below -60. This meant that Concorde would be longer (up to one feet) in the air than on the ground. Due to its higher takeoff and landing speeds, the brakes where a crucial component, being the first commercial aircraft to be equipped with carbon brakes. This, together with the early introduction of fly by wire as mentioned in the previous post, mark just an example of the challenges that had to be overcome with the help of creativity, innovation and determination. All of this, using 1950-60s technology.
More than being just a beautiful machine and possibly the most sleek and elegant commercial aircraft ever built, it is a living -at least in our memories- example of the culture of innovation that can change the world.
Today I attended a very interesting session about Customer Service, in which it was made clear that customers expect more than service excellence, they want to be delighted. Apparently customer expectations have gone to a complete new
level, in which Customer satisfaction is now worthless, customers expect that their needs are anticipated, they want to be surprised well beyond their expectations.
We all try to differentiate from our competitors by improving and continuously improving our products, services and processes, implementing better and more sophisticated technologies that enable us to do more with less, but this, by itself, does not bring customer satisfaction, furthermore, it does not delight our customers. No matter how good our systems and processes are, most of your experience as a customer will be down to the person that managed the interaction with us. This will determine whether you will be satisfied or not. Even though, Customer satisfaction is no longer enough. It is now necessary to delight the customer, which is down to how you make your customer feel throughout the whole interaction. Whether you are able to anticipate their needs, and create that wow factor that will be long remembered after the interaction.
The shortest distance between two persons is a smile
Yes, technology can help provide the necessary tools for staff to be more efficient and provide a better service. It is a necessary, yet not sufficient condition for delighting your customers. It is down to the physiology of your customer facing staff, the way the talk, the way the make eye contact and above all, the way they smile. And this is not something that is taught in a customer service training, it is something that needs to be part of the DNA of the Organization. It is the face that you have when you arrive at work that will be seen -and remembered- by your customers. What differentiates good companies from great companies is precisely that, their staff, and how the culture they breath every day influences them, which will ultimately determine how genuine their smile. After all there is nothing worse than a clearly fake smile right?.
As the session went by, I started remembering a few past experiences in one of my favorite companies, Singapore Airlines. Air travel is by nature very anonymous, as you share a small space with a few other hundreds of passengers, and crew see hundreds, if not thousands of customers every week. This seems to be the perfect base of an impersonal service. Yet after so many flights I still get impressed by how they are able to transform an anonymous experience into a personal one. And how they are still able to create that wow factor, by going that extra few miles that are not in any onboard service manual. It is not only about saying please or thank you, it is about genuinely and generously keeping your ego to yourself and letting customers have their moment.
Not all crew are the same, of course, and there are always good and bad days. But one thing (and I say this by personal experience), these guys are just doing it right and they have managed to create a whole corporate culture around customer service that clearly pays off. The most remarkable flight I have had onboard any Singapore Airlines plane will not be remembered by the quality of the seat, the food, the amount of champagne of the movies offered on the entertainment system. It will be remembered by how genuinely the crew smiled and took care of me throughout the flight, and how they went well beyond the service manual to make sure I enjoyed the experience.
Once I was told that the only thing that truly can differentiate ourselves from our competition, and that can not be copied by them is the human being and their attitude. The session today was all about it, and I can only tell by personal experience that it is very true.
Often progress and technological evolution is seen as a continuous and relentless process. Some industries progress faster than others, and every now and then, there are huge steps that create a huge gap with the precedent technology. But extremely rarely, evolution goes backwards and progress is inverted, creating an anomaly in progress, a situation in which something that was technically possible is not possible anymore.
This is the case of Commercial Supersonic Travel and the incredible machine that made it possible for 27 years. Concorde.
The more I look into the history of how this beautiful craft was designed and built, the more admiration I develop for the huge, quantum leap that designers and engineers managed to make using 1950’s and early 1960’s technology. Interestingly, some of the techniques and technologies developed for Concorde are still being introduced gradually into modern airliners, like fly by wire. Now widely adopted (Airbus first introduced it after Concorde in 1988 on the A320 family, whilst Boeing waited until the 777 was introduced in 1994), it was an example of how Concorde was way ahead of its time.
A controversial machine, though, environmentally unfriendly for the noise its four Rolls Royce Olympus engines generated, and its generous fuel burning, yet an incredible breakthrough in progress, so big, it constituted one of the very few anomalies in progress. Nearly a decade after it was withdrawn from commercial service, there is no sign that Commercial Supersonic Travel will be possible again in the near future.
When finding your place in the market maybe you are differentiating by price, or by having a niche product. Some other companies would like to be recognized as leaders in Customer Service. I really like these kind of companies, as I think it is really difficult to achieve excellence in customer service. If you combine this with the size of a large, global business, then the task acquires a completely new dimension. Not only you need to design and deliver an outstanding service to your customers, but you also need to do it consistently in any location and interaction point. It is all about how your customers perceive your company, and in the premier league of customer service, no flaws are allowed, anytime, anywhere.
The material and human side
Creating a high quality customer experience is a serious business. And complex, very complex. After you look at all the material aspects of your customer service, which will depend on the industry, you will probably realize that the most important, and difficult piece to achieve is the human bit. If you are a Bank, no matter how good your Internet Banking Technology is, or how fancy your latest mobile app looks like, how well you have designed your branches or how finely tuned your call routing strategies and scripts are in your call center, the human part can spoil the whole experience, or the other way around. Standardizing the material aspects of your customer experience might look challenging, specially if you have a global scale business, but, what about the human side?. How do you ensure that the people that face the moment of truth with your customers deliver exactly the same experience?.
There are very few companies that have achieved this, and there is one for which I feel particular admiration. First, for the quality of their service, and the human side of it. Second for the consistency they have achieved in a global scale. It is Singapore Airlines.
Airline customer service
If you think about what is customer service in an airline, it is really a complex topic, involving many material aspects, and a crucial human part. In the last few years I have traveled half a million kilometers, mostly between Spain and Singapore, and using mainly BA, Qantas and Singapore Airlines. After some hours on board (and half a million kilometers is a few of them) you start to appreciate the difference. Some differences are subtle, others much more obvious. Both BA and Qantas have nice business class products in their long haul fleet, specially Qantas after the introduction of the A380 on the route. The seats are comfortable and the service is quite nice to, but here start the differences when you introduce SQ in the equation. Their service is clearly outstanding and in a different league when you compare it to the other two carriers.
There are subtle differences like the cabin design and ambiance, or the nice orchids in the lavatories, but it really becomes serious when it gets to the food and the way it is presented. No tray food. Delicious food carefully presented in Givenchy tableware, and fine wines served on full size fine glassware by the same firm.
But above all the material aspects which define the great service onboard SQ flights, it is clearly their cabin crew and personnel that really set the difference. Some would say it is part of the Asian culture for customer service, and I would agree only partly. It is also a fantastic job of customer service standardization. No matter whether you board an SQ plane in Singapore, London or Barcelona, the way the crew address you, the way the Satay is served and the way the crew genuinely care about you throughout the flight is exactly the same.
Walk down the air bridge towards the aircraft door and you will start sensing the particular fragrance of all SQ planes -yes, they all smell the same- while you are welcomed by a couple of members of the crew and you already feel a bit home.
Standardized vs personalized
So now we have an outstanding customer service that is also consistent across the all the touchpoints. But wouldn’t this feel a bit cold and non-personal for the customer?. They seem to have also taken care of this. No matter how standardized the onboard service is, but they still manage to make you feel special and truly cared of whilst onboard. It is all about YOU. The amazing thing is that there are hundreds of thousands of YOUs every day on dozens of SQ aircraft across the world, and all of them feel special and unique.
Clearly there is a very interesting lesson to be learnt from other industries isn’t it?. Imagine you could deliver this service in this consistent manner across your whole enterprise, whilst still making your customers feel unique?.
I must admit that when I first got introduced to Microsoft Surface 2 a few weeks back in a Microsoft event I was a bit skeptical about its potential applications. Maybe it’s the size or the price tag, but after reflecting on it a bit I think there is one
fundamental thing in which it can be extremely useful. Breaking the screen barrier. If you think about customer interactions, a big number of them happen in front of a counter or desk, where the an agent is normally looking at some information in a computer screen in order to complete a transaction, hotel or flight check-in… What about configuring your new car with the sales agent?.
I do find this situation a bit odd, as the screen is not shared, so the customer experience is somehow affected by this barrier. This is precisely where Surface can bring a completely new customer experience by allowing the customer and the agent share the same screen, not only by placing the screen in a horizontal manner, but also not having a default orientation. This means that content can be placed, rotated, fliped, etc. so it can be looked from any angle. This is new. So now you have your customer and your agent interacting with exactly the same information. The multi touch experience adds so this, actually Surface can handle up to 50 simultaneous touch points, and that is a lot of fingers.
When you think about it, this can be really have a great impact in your whole customer interactions. Imagine a financial planning session with your relationship manager in your bank, looking at the same widgets, market reports and graphs, your expenses and investments, your risk profiling. You can now have all these elements in the screen, and they can be placed, moved around, zoomed, all in a shared manner. Or maybe you are checking in for your next flight, so no longer you are looking over a counter where the airline staff key in cryptic commands in order to find you your preferred seat. Now both of you can share the same screen, look at the seatmap, use gestures to zoom and pan around it.
Actually Surface 2 brings a lot more than the ability to look at a screen from many angles and have multiple interactions with it. It opens a whole new way of human to computer interaction. Actually the screen not only recognizes your touch, but can also see you. Or any object placed on it. This opens yet another completely new dimension, but I admit I need more thinking into it before I can imagine practical applications. However, I still wanted to share the customer interaction bit which is more due to the form factor and the multi touch capabilities rather than the new Pixel Sense technology which brings the vision capability.
Now just imagine a 15 inch Surface and you have something that can fit on every customer service counter and deploy massively into branches, airports and hotels.
So finally I found the time and the theme to start my own blog.
I guess the most difficult thing when starting a new blog is defining what is all of this going to be about. I just realized that this blog will not have a single theme. It will be around a few things for which I feel specially attracted or passionate, and hopefully the posts here will be around them. And what are these things? Everything within Technology, Banking IT, Aviation, Cars and Travel. And sophistication, I love sophisticated stuff.
Quite disperse, yes, but I guess there is something in common. How these industries have excelled in some aspects, and how these can be applied to the others. Don’t be surprised if you find a review about a flight or a restaurant I enjoyed, or a funny application for a new technology I just learned about.
Above all, the whole idea behind opening this blog is about finding how technology and sophistication can be applied to the Enterprise World by becoming a bit wild. Some of you would agree that in todays average enterprise, the application of technology is somehow restricted by policies, controls and other forms of governance.
So this tiny little place in the web is where we can all go wild and imagine how those innovative technologies that we use, and those we only read about, could break through in the Enterprise World and find fabulous applications. Let’s go wild.
The journey starts, Welcome onboard!