I Am The Customer Experience… Not!

I’m in the Phoenix airport and noticed this American Airlines sign at one of the gates that says “I am the Customer Experience.”

Naturally, this sign caught my eye. If this is part of a broader effort around employee engagement, then it could be a sign that American Airlines is heading in the right direction. To test how embedded this message was in the hearts and minds of employees, I went up to the first American Airlines employee that I found and “innocently” asked him what the sign meant. His answer:

I don’t know; it’s just a promo they’re running.”

My take: First of all, I recognize that this is not a statistically significant sample size. So I can’t say that this one response is representative of the larger population of American Airlines employees (although I have a hunch that it is).

But if this is how many employees would respond, then it represents a common issue that I see where companies treat customer experience as a superficial marketing campaign. They think that they can somehow convince customers that they are customer-centric.This is a type of marketing approach that I call “empty promises.”

JetBlue’s “Happy Jetting” Is More Than Empty Promises

Compare this to JetBlue’s approach with its “Happy Jetting” campaign.

Marketing efforts, internal or eternal, are most successful if they ring true to their target audience. If American Airlines was actually working with its employees to engage them in a corporate-wide effort to improve customer experience, than a sign like this might be effective. But if it’s an isolated campaign to convince people that American Airlines is more customer-centric than it is, then it’s a truly bad idea. Employees and customers just see another empty promotional campaign.

Don’t forget the 6th law of customer experience: You can’t fake it.

The bottom line: Take customer experience seriously or don’t waste your time

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

8 Responses to I Am The Customer Experience… Not!

  1. Excellent post. Please keep reminding companies of the importance of the customers’ experience. Somehow we continue to keep getting bogged down in budgets and pricing instead of the stuff that really matters.

  2. Vivisimo_Inc says:

    I’m now intrigued and I wish you had a few more in your sample size. Many organizations launch programs at a strategic level and forget that the bench players are just as important as the starters. CEM begins with a culture shift and will surely take more than a banner. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I wish AA the best of luck. Clearly, based on your employee sample, they a long journey ahead. I, for one, am not going tagging along for the ride. http://bit.ly/hMyG3n

  4. Ray Brown says:

    Great example Bruce of your “empty promises” quadrant. I went to KFC last night, a five piece meal for my wife and I contained a very small wing “piece” alongside 4 substantial chunks of chicken. When I asked for an “upgrade” on my wing I was informed “a five piece meal always contains a wing” and “all the pieces cost us the same”. I’ve been married for over 30 years and this was the very first time my wife had suggested KFC as a “meal” out venue. The experience was poor, the response to the problem unbelievably poor and the solution would have been so simple. “Here’s a bigger bit of chicken.” Cost maybe 10c, cost of the bad experience possibly $1000 over the next few years. By my calculations thats a x 10000 opportunity missed.

    • Ray, really like that you’ve identified the “total cost” of a short-sighted decision. I made a post about how much a similarly bad experience will cost American Airlines. Poor Policy Costs $75,000 | Pivot Point Solutions http://bit.ly/hMyG3n

      How can we teach the front-line/policy-makers the impact of their actions/decisions?

  5. Gigi Pendleton says:

    I used to work for one of AA’s ad agencies. I was there before and after 9/11, which would have been the perfect time to focus on a commitment to customer service. I tried my best to convince the powers that be that, at a time when air travel had become its most stressful and least comfortable, the wisest decision they could make would be to embark on an internal campaign to get employees on board with the idea of replacing what had been lost with extra kindness and politeness, and a willingness to go the extra mile in the name of customer satisfaction. No one would listen to me.

    I see they’re still overrun with marketing genius there.

  6. Craig Tomlin says:

    Great post Bruce, and a reminder to us all that a true Customer Experience change corporate wide is not built on slogans, but on making employees the empowered actors of CE change. Giving American Airlines the benefit of the doubt, I’m wondering if there truly is a Customer Experience improvement plan associated with the slogan, but due to poor communications and implementation the plan was not communicated effectively to all employees.

    You wrote about this as being the 4th characteristic of an aligned organization in your article on P.A.C.E. (https://experiencematters.wordpress.com/2009/12/22/the-4-key-ingredients-of-great-organizations/). I’m betting that if there truly is a organizational desire for CE at the executive level, American Airlines is suffering from the inability to execute as you described:

    “Employee engagement. Building strong commitment from employees through alignment of hiring, on-boarding, training, coaching, communications, and incentive programs.”

    Specifically, I’m thinking that what might be missing in the American Airlines example would be the “coaching, communications and incentive” that would make the slogan a reality at the employee level.

  7. Ryan Browne says:

    I agree with the “empty promises” line of thinking. Companies do a great disservice to themselves by creating ad campaigns around customer experience BEFORE they actually do anything to make it an “experience”. This only sets the front-line employees up to fail. Consensus around strategy, vision and operational excellence must come before the ad’s start to fly (no pun intended).

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