Reading time: 4 – 6 minutes
I’m attending the POD Network 2014 conference in Dallas this week.
All the service design and customer experience design exploration and reading has sharpened my attention to detail as I was on board two United flights.
Now I understand why Andy Polaine uses air travel as his go to example for service design workshops.
I got stuck some weird Kafkaesque online check-in interface that required me to select a list of visa options, none of which applied to my situation. I gave up in frustration and checked in at the airport.
At the airport
The attendants berated passengers for not using the self-serve kiosks to check-in and weigh their baggage. It took an hour and a half to self-check in, navigate the queue to the secondary check-in with the attendant, and navigate the border and immigration.
On the first flight
1. The cabin crew on my flight from Vancouver to Houston used the discourse of safety to discipline passengers as they went about they work. We were extolled multiple times to “watch your elbows, shoulders, legs….” The discourse of safety came up again when the crew had to stop its work mid-service because of turbulence. I’m all for being vigilant about the safety of passengers and crew, but when it shifts over to hyper vigilance it creates a bit of a weird dynamic. I wonder if there might be a more customer-centric way so the focus is on customers rather than on the implications of turbulence on the crew’s workflow.
2. A more serious CX moment was a behaviour some of the more experienced cabin crew on the flight exhibited. They made relentless requests to passengers to specify exactly how each person takes coffee an tea. The crew was trying to encourage people to volunteer the details without having to ask. One attendant even sarcastically praised a passenger for doing what she had asked. Obviously United doesn’t want to waste sugar packets, stir sticks and creamers. But maybe the staff shouldn’t grouse about asking people how they prefer their beverage.
3. Did I mention there was no in-flight entertainment. What happened to the movies, music and shows? I guess United assumes passangers bring their own devices.
On the second flight
3. The gate attendant let us board the flight before the security sweep of the plane had been completed. We all had to leave the plane and stand on the gangway for 5 minutes. She apologized for the mistake, but another passenger noted that the plane had been at the gate for 90 minutes before we attempted to board.
4. The weirdest moment of the day was when the male attendant on my short-haul flight into Dallas lip-synched the entire safety announcement, which happened to be narrated by a woman.
All in all, these flights featured more turbulence and worse customer service than I can remember. Clearly I don’t fly enough to recognize what is normal, but I think United has endless CX work to do.
In contrast, I drooled when I saw the Virgin America departure lounge at Love Field. They have mounted a cool collection of framed art on the wall and the place looks downright hip compared to the bargain basement blandness of the United spaces.
Getting to the hotel
If somewhat asked you the difference between a hotel shuttle and a ride share van what would you say? At Love Field, I learned these services stop in different locations and mean very different things.
I took a ride share van to my hotel. It was a sorry example of disorganized service. There were three drivers with android tablets mulling about on the tarmac. My driver was clearly the most experienced and was trying to help his colleague know where to go. But they clearly didn’t have an automated system for grouping customers going in similar directions. We sat in the van for 10-15 minutes while they figured it out amongst themselves.
Seeing that helped me appreciate what Uber is trying to do for transportation services.
Ultimately our driver was polite, efficient, and I enjoyed seeing how tablets are being hacked by entrpreneurial transportation companies to manage point of sale, logistics and way finding on the dashboard.
It should be an interesting week in Dallas. I will keep my service design goggles on and perhaps compose a response to James Tyer’s post on applying the 70:20:10 framework to conferences. POD has a reputation for being extremely interactive, so it may offer a counterexample of how to do interactivity at conferences well.