Archive for September 2009

Unintended Consequences, Decisions and Continental Airlines

September 27, 2009

Decisions only scare me when I don’t understand their consequences. If I do, and as long as those consequences are acceptable, I’m fine. That’s why when confronted with a challenging decision, I always try to investigate what could result from it. It’s important to me that I weigh the potential positive and negative consequences.

My recent trip from San Francisco dramatized the importance of doing so.

Continental Airlines prides itself on “flying right.” Their brand is built on attentive service and well-planned departures and arrivals. In fact, in a press release earlier this month, I found this quote — “Continental’s corporate culture is based on treating customers and co-workers with dignity and respect,” said Diedra Fontaine, Continental’s director of diversity and sales development. “Dignity and respect are key principles of our Working Together cornerstone.”

Continental’s recent decision to charge for bags is a terrific example of unintended consequences and illustrates how a set of negative consequences can jeopardize a brand.

Continental, like many airlines, saw this additional baggage charge as a way to increase revenue. Their customers, however, responded by deciding to take more and more of their luggage on the flights so they could avoid the additional fees.

The unintended consequence: With more than 25 people waiting to get on board this plane from San Francisco, the overhead bins were completely filled. The flight attendants at the gate then proceeded to offer free baggage check-in to all those that had yet to board.

Some passengers took the attendants up on their offer and the gate and boarding ramps were transformed into luggage check–in areas. The attendants scrambled to check the luggage at the entry of the plane. This was difficult for them because the physical location made this problematic and most assuredly, assuming they were trained to do so, it was certainly not what these attendants intended to be doing at this time.

Many passengers chose not to check their luggage. They had to stow their bags underneath their seats, resulting in uncomfortable rides for many, many passengers and difficult entries and exits from where they were seated. More passengers also stood in the aisles for portions of the flight simply to stretch their legs.

As to those poor flight attendants…

They were trying to get the flights to take off on-time because that is one of the areas that Continental evidently measures.

Once the plane took off, the flight attendants rudely rushed to pass out the meals. The were frustrated and like most people put in similar situations, they never had the chance to regain their “balance” and they performed their work the way someone would do it if they were upset.

These were the short-term unintended consequences.

The long-term ones, of course, concern the brand and image of Continental.

And if these become tarnished enough, Continental may discover that the revenue that they gained in no way compensated for the customers that they lost.

The Changing Face of Marketing and What It Means to Your Company

September 6, 2009

The message has always been the brand and the brand has always been the message.

Marketing and marketing communications have traditionally been about what is conveyed to the public and to a company’s employees but the changing face of customer service may be altering the way we think of this important role.

As more and more small and mid-size companies shift into creating ways for customers to help themselves – see this article on Southwest Airlines, a not so small company – perhaps it is time to reconsider the role of marketing in the development of new programs and IT solutions.

The thinking here is that the customer experience is the brand, as much and if not more than the message. Large companies have known this for a long time. Small and mid-size companies need to recognize this.

Does their web portal reflect the important messages of the brand? Is the IT system that is being deployed throughout the company an extension of how the company wishes its employees to think of it?

One of my clients asked the other day if it’s time for a ne role, one that he called a “Customer Experience Officer.” In these tough economic times, I’m not so sure I would approach this opportunity by adding a new role.

Here’s what I would do…

(1) Insist that Marketing outline the key principles that all new programs and internal and external software solutions must incorporate. If these solutions did not reflect these tenets, they are not rolled out.

(2) Until these principles are second nature, marketing should be a member of all new programs (and I do mean all – not just software programs) and design teams.

(3) All graphical user interface developers on the IT side should have to learn and discuss how they are incorporating these principles into their solutions.

If you share this belief that people are attracted to your brand and what it represents, is there really any other choice?


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