Sorry Is Not Enough – How Sun Country Learned the Hard Way

Did you know that apologizing can actually frustrate your customer? A recent study on Frontline Problem-Solving Effectiveness uncovered that apologizing to a customer for an issue only goes so far, and that continuing to apologize only frustrates the customer. According to the study, customers are fine with an initial apology. They then desire creative problem solving to resolve the issue, rather than continued apologies and very little focus on their problem.

Sun Country Airlines learned that lesson the hard way, after leaving passengers stranded following a late season blizzard in Minnesota last year. In fact, Sun Country has faced great criticism for not doing more, which could have included sending rescue flights or doing what they ultimately ended up doing– reimburse passengers for other flights home. In the words of one frustrated customer “Weather is out of their control; how they’re handling the situation is IN their control,” she said. “Send a plane, go get your passengers.”

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index 2018 Travel Report, airlines’ overall customer satisfaction dipped in 2017 2.7 percent to a score of 73 (on a scale of 100) as compared to 2016. Hotels managed to keep their score at 76. However, internet travel services also dipped in 2017 to a score of 78, down 1.3 percent from 2016. While the ACSI travel report mentions that competition in the airline industry is limited, equaling higher prices and promoting less attention to good customer service, customers disagree and still desire a positive customer experience.

According to Humach CEO, Tim Houlne, there may be a lack of focus on the customer experience in the travel industry because of the seasonal nature of travel.

“During peak times, the travel industry will refresh investments, but are not necessarily motivated by new customer experience parameters,” says Houlne. “They look at technology, tools and infrastructure improvements, but not with a customer centric approach.”

Airlines and many hotel chains are large conglomerations, making it more complex to integrate new technology with legacy platforms. It is not unusual for a technology implementation to take so long that the tech itself is dated by roll out. Coupled with a lack of focus on customer experience, these industries will continue to compete for the same group of customers as few have a true customer experience or retention strategy.

“It is important for those in every industry, including travel, to design a customer centric strategy that is fused into the corporate DNA,” says Houlne. “They need to listen and connect with the customer, learn from them and design a customer journey that can be unified all the functional areas of the organization for continued improvement.”

Out with the Old. In with the Customer.

Focusing on the customer means not only utilizing customer experience as an overall company strategy, but also scrapping old ideas.

“The problem-solving study highlighted an important point – people want creative, rapid problem solving rather than apologies,” says Houlne. “They also want to have their experience improved. That means re-engineering flawed processes. For the travel industry, that requires a focus all year, not just high season.”

In the past, there were certain ideas that today simply do not work. For example, having a script that makes your contact center representatives use a person’s name five times during the conversation does not work and can be frustrating to the customer. Improving CX means streamlining all processes and procedures so that information and technology use is seamless, rather than segmented.

“There is an energy company that allows new customers to sign up online in five to six clicks. However, it takes an agent helping the customer on the phone twenty clicks,” says Houlne. “This is a prime example of not aligning your customer experience and not serving your external or internal customers. The experience should be as similar as possible.”

Another example is the ability for airline passengers to find more information on flight status via their mobile app than from airline employees. Self-serve is necessary, but the team members should always have seamless access to the same data.

Organizations, particularly those with a seasonal business, can set themselves up for success by interacting with customers year-round. Of course, this requires understanding the various types of customers and how to focus on their needs. For example, in the airline industry, some are business power flyers while others are vacationers with different needs, different motivations and a different interaction with the airline.

“We work with our clients to really dig into the customer journey map and customer experience strategy. It’s important to thoroughly understand the segments of customers, in order to create and continually update a map that provides actionable information,” says Houlne.

With the baseline foundation of customer experience mapped, the next steps are to evaluate and update outdated processes and procedures across both human and machine touchpoints.

“Our team is experienced with providing operational intelligence that ensures that every touchpoint is aligned and meets a key performance indicator,” says Houlne. “We make sure that the KPI’s are aligned so that every experience, human, machine and blended, correlates with a positive customer experience.”

Whether your industry is seasonal, as in the case of the travel industry, or has a more consistent rhythm of purchases, it’s important to craft a customer experience strategy that is implemented year-round to ensure a positive outcome. Today’s customer expects a blended experience of technology-based, self-serve options and human interaction that provides rapid, creative problem solving.

The team at Humach supports their clients in creating these complex strategies to ensure a positive outcome. Additionally, they provide an incubation model to minimize technology implementation cost and maximize results. To learn more, contact us today.

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