Flying high (and on time)

Chatting CX with Kirby Gordon:

Passenger air travel has been at the frontline of CX challenges posed by the last 18 months. We spoke to Kirby Gordon, Executive Manager and CMO at FlySafair, an airline known for its focus on pared down, high quality delivery and got some powerful insight into what drives successful CX.

How would you define great CX in 2021? How has this changed in the past five years?

I think great CX in 2021 is simple and personal. It’s really the same formula that we’ve always applied – it’s about making the customer feel that their negotiation, contract, deal or purchase has been given consideration by your brand and that they’ve been appreciated accordingly, and that it’s all been really easy, and preferably quick.

Technology continues to drive the changes that we see. Consumers want effortless interaction with you in their medium of choice. On-demand Apps like Uber, Checkers Sixty60, and Mr Delivery have become an everyday part of our lives and so we now expect instant results regardless of the logistical complexity and we don’t plan ahead like we used to. I think these trends are placing pressure on ecommerce facilities to deliver faster and it’s putting our industry (the travel industry) under immense pressure because customers are rejecting the view that last minute bookings are penalised with higher prices.

Payments are also changing very fast. We want payments to be very quick and we don’t want to know they are happening. Uber was the first to take the payment reality away from us but NFC is accelerating that – especially in light of the massive recent rollout of technologies like Apple and Google Pay.

What are your biggest challenges in building an optimal CX?

I think one of the biggest perpetual challenges is being able to retain a global view on your experience. We are so deeply involved in our process that we sometime don’t see the wood for the trees and end up fixated on minor adjustments while bigger opportunities perhaps go unnoticed.

The other thing that’s key is finding opportunity and means to cleverly communicate the benefits that customers are receiving. No good deed goes unpunished and in truth a great customer experience becomes and ignored norm if you don’t find clever ways to get customers to appreciate it. For example, we’ve got a really great punctuality record, which people admire, but in fairness, it’s actually what we expect as consumers. We all appreciate that it’s not always possible, but when a flight is on time, it’s not, nor should it be, a moment of celebration for a customer. I’ll let you in on a little secret we use, which almost dates back to Kittyhawk. Upon arrival we always tell customers that on-time arrivals are really important to us and ask that they kindly cross their seatbelts to help us ensure that the next flight is on time too. We go back after the fact and re-cross them all anyway, but we ask people to do that so that they firstly stop and appreciate that their flight was actually on time, and secondly so invest them into our punctuality by having them contribute a small effort to our greater goal.

What creates the biggest wins in CX, for customers and for the business?

Clear and honest communication is always a winner. If things go wrong, you need to fess up and do it quickly. Customers might be annoyed but they appreciate honesty and a level of vulnerability. It makes your organisation human, it makes your interaction with them human and more personal and it primes them to give you that second chance.

Good communication also helps consumers understand. Aviation as an example is technical and in 2021 people know everything. We live in a world where housewives are telling us why we shouldn’t get COVID vaccines thanks to the wisdom of Facebook and High Schoolers are diagnosing their own ailments thanks to Wikipedia articles. People are inclined to assume that they understand all things, even when they really don’t, and often it’s key to gently explain things. “Because that’s what it says in the Ts and Cs” is a banned phrase at FlySafair – we expect that if we have a term or condition, each employee should be able to explain why it exists to a customer and how it protects that customer and the airline.

What do you see as the future of CX?

It’s going to change. The way we live and interact is in constant flux, and that tends to shift our expectations. We expect different things from friends and colleagues now from what we did 2 years ago. As a small example I was indifferent to the technical capabilities of many of my colleagues but these days I get quite frustrated when they battle to perform the basic functions of a video call. So too the expectations that people will have of brands are going to change and history tells us that those who adapt tend to survive.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other businesses looking to improve their CX?

Get your teams on side. Give the people who work with you the authority and the inspiration to design the processes they use and find ways to better meet the needs of the customer. Give them a forum to air their ideas and listen to what they have to say. They may not always have the right solution but they always articulate the right problem.


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