Week after week, it seems we’re bombarded with poor customer experience examples when it comes to airline companies. From dragging passengers off planes to charging to change the flight of a family whose 3 year old son’s appendix burst, the horror stories are endless.
But do these stories make any difference? With flights cheaper than ever, and companies charging for everything under the sun, are we encouraging bad behaviour due to apathy when it comes to spending our money elsewhere?
In this week’s episode of Marketing on Tap, we look at how airline companies take various approaches to not only their customers, but employees, and ask if we’ve passed the point of no return for airlines and the customer experience.
Settle back and enjoy this week’s topic, brought to you in the usual unscripted manner that you’ve come to expect when Sam and Danny take the mic.
If you prefer to listen on the go, the audio version of this week’s episode can be listened to below.
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Intro: Welcome to Marketing On Tap, a weekly podcast in which marketing pros and authors, Sam Fiorella and Danny Brown, serve up the latest marketing hot topics, campaigns, and trends all washed down with a great craft beer. Join in for the fun as they debate the pros and cons of the topic of the week, while featuring popular or up and coming microbreweries. Topics include influence marketing, brand campaign successes and misses, customer advocacy programs, and marketing challenges facing businesses and agencies. It’s the marketing podcast to listen to for CMOs, senior sales executives, and key decision makers at mid to enterprise level organizations. And with their good natured bashing of each other, each episode promises to entertain and educate in equal measure. Welcome to Marketing On Tap.
Sam Fiorella: Welcome back everybody to another episode of Marketing On Tap. This is my mate, Danny Brown.
Danny Brown: Hello there.
Sam Fiorella: I am Sam Fiorella. Today we’ve got a special treat, for us, not so much for you, but for us. We are live onsite today, which is a little bit unusual. Well, it’s not unusual for us to be at a tap room at a brewery, but it is a for these episodes. It’s a little bit unusual, so I’m pretty excited today.
Danny Brown: Yep. So, we’re at Saulter Street Brewery, in Toronto’s East End. And it’s been open since 2017. They just had their first anniversary this year, and their core beer is a Pilsner. It’s like a good German style Pilsner, but today we’re trying the … What are we trying, Aimee?
Aimee: Copper Pilsner.
Danny Brown: The Copper Pilsner.
Sam Fiorella: The Copper Pilsner.
Danny Brown: Yeah, so this is the Riverside Copper Pilsner, which is a core beer.
Sam Fiorella: From Saulter Street.
Danny Brown: And thanks to Amy, they just brought it, so-
Sam Fiorella: Yeah, cheers.
Danny Brown: Cheers.
Sam Fiorella: We’re going to try this one first before we get into our topic today. Very nice.
Danny Brown: Yeah, you can really taste the Hops coming through, and it’s really crisp for this time of year as well.
Sam Fiorella: Oh yeah. Perfect for the fall. I’d be-
Danny Brown: We find out more about the pilsner later when we speak to Aimee and the team about the brewery for sure.
Sam Fiorella: Oh, I love this. Thank you. Cheers. Thanks, Aimee. Oh yeah. Why have we not been here before?
Danny Brown: Yeah.
Sam Fiorella: Okay. Anyway, that’s … I’m going to … This is bad because we have to go to work after this. We want to talk-
Danny Brown: [crosstalk 00:02:17]
Sam Fiorella: About today’s topic, the airline industry. This is one that I’ve been wanting to talk about for a long time. I’m … For those of you that know me, probably know why, but I’ve hesitated because of the, I don’t want this to turn into a rant about the airline industry. Those of you that know me know that I’ve gone through some harrowing ordeals on airlines, everything from having my luggage dropped out of the plane, to ending up in a city on the opposite side of the country when I wasn’t expecting to be there, to having some guy watching anime porn next to me on a flight across Canada. So I mean, I’ve had everything happen to me, and so I’ve got some very specific issues with airlines, and their marketing, and the overall customer experience. So that’s what we’re here to talk about today.
Sam Fiorella: The reason, Danny, that I want to talk about it is because of an article that I just read this week. So it was very timely for this podcast, and that is the article said that people really don’t care about an airline’s customer experience. They don’t really care about the problems they’ve had. When surveyed, they said they’ll still go back to that airline because it was cheaper or because it was more convenient.
Sam Fiorella: Alright, and then you contrast that with some recent articles that I’ve read about some airlines like Ryanair and other low disk, or low cost discount, airlines in the UK are struggling because all they market to is low cost without any extra service. So there’s some conflicting results and studies out there that I want to talk about.
Sam Fiorella: So the premise that I think maybe we can focus on today is, can an airline market solely on low cost flights? And is customer experience really relevant today? And what can we learn for other businesses?
Danny Brown: Yeah, it’s hard because you’ve got the big guys that have got just such a monopoly on the airline industry. You got, United Airlines, your American Airlines, et cetera. So to these guys, they probably don’t care about the whole experience. But then on the flip side, like you say, you’ve got the $99 flights or the 99 pound flights in the UK, 35 pound flights, bare basics. You’re essentially just powering the airline yourself.
Sam Fiorella: Yeah.
Danny Brown: So it’s like really hard to actually know whether customer experience really comes into it because you see all the horror stories, and yet these companies are still making profits, flying the planes, getting customers to buy tickets.
Sam Fiorella: Well, yeah. And that’s the thing. That’s what I don’t understand about this recent study that said people will still go back regardless of the bad experience. I know I won’t. But then again, maybe it’s because I’ve been flying so for so many years, I’m very, very particular. You know, the study that I read said that people will go back simply because what they’re looking for is a low cost because flying has become very common. More people are flying today than ever before, but it is also very expensive. And so the airlines right now have gotten to the point where instead of giving you the best experience, you know, where you remember the old days, the golden days, they say, of traveling? Where you got to dress up and it was like an experience? It was like almost going to some formal event. Now, you know, people are very casual. They’re out in their PJ’s when they’re getting onto an airplane in their flip flops. They just want to get there fast, and cheap, and quick.
Sam Fiorella: And there’s certain … Obviously there’s a market for that because discount airlines are popping up left, right, and center. But then when you take a look at what’s happening right now in the UK. We always talk about the UK for some reason. Ryanair just released a profit warning saying that they’re probably not going to make a profit. And then their … A competitor, Primerair, which is I think a Dutch airline, they basically just shut down service leaving people stranded. They’re also a low cost carrier over there. And so if low costs … The problem with low cost is you can’t go up. You could only go down from that point, right? You’re basing your entire business on low cost. That means that you’re going to cut into your margins, especially when you have strikes like Ryanair has had with their pilots, and flight attendants, and the rate rising costs of fuel.
Sam Fiorella: So what can an airline do? Again and, we’ll talk about maybe how does this apply to other industries? But what can an airline do to differentiate itself when you’re so tied into tight margins?
Danny Brown: Well, I don’t know when it comes to … I mean if you compared it to like the stack them high, sell them cheap retailers, and how many of these guys go out of business. You know, and they only appear sometimes even once a year, you know, for like seasonal stuff. But if you look at the retail industry, is the airline industry going to go that way too? And I think to your point … One of my favorite airlines is Porter because they give you good prices and a great experience, and they show the way forward for airlines where it does come back to the customer. You’ve got spacious leather seats. You’ve got complimentary food, complimentary drinks, Wifi, the works. So you’re thinking if these guys can do it, pretty sure the bigger guys can do it. I know they’re flying farther and more people, but they still should be able to afford it.
Sam Fiorella: Yeah, but you know what’s interesting with … I love Porter Airline as well. It’s … I fly it out of New York frequently to Chicago all the time now. But the thing is, they’re not the cheapest airline though. They don’t advertise … They advertise, this is the civilized way to fly. You know, you can get an espresso when you get there. I mean the lounges are kind of like, you don’t need to have a card to get into the lounge. The whole waiting area is a lounge for anybody that has a ticket. So they’re basically saying, well, we’re not … They don’t say they’re the cheapest. They don’t say they’re the most expensive, although often they are the most expensive. But it is very much convenient because of its location at the Toronto Island airport. But if when you go there you feel … I don’t know. You feel important.
Danny Brown: Right.
Sam Fiorella: That’s how I feel when I walk into their waiting area, when I walk into the plane, I feel important. And so, I’m prepared to pay a little bit extra because I feel good when I leave there despite all the stress and stuff, right? So definitely looking at that. You look at another example, which I love is … I don’t like the airline, but I love what they do, and that’s Southwest.
Danny Brown: Okay.
Sam Fiorella: Southwest I think started in 1970, 71, something like that. Their … When you talk to their executives about their success, the one thing they’ll all tell you is that their success is focusing on their employees. Right? The founder famously said, if you focus on the employees and your employees are happy, they’ll make sure that their customers are happy because they’re happy. If your customers are happy, they’ll come back and that takes care of the shareholders, right? Whereas most businesses focused on the shareholders. How do we drive shareholder value, right? We hear that all the time from our clients. So this was really interesting. What I love of what they do and their success, if you take a look at their NPR score, the net promoter score, they’ve got the highest of any other airline out there. Yet, they’re a discount airline, but they’re the most recommended amongst regular flyers. But what they do is they actually focus on employees. They’ve got a loyalty program for their employees.
Danny Brown: Right. As opposed to just the flyers.
Sam Fiorella: As opposed to just the flyers. And if … They looked at, if you engage in some excellent customer service, you get rewarded with points or whatever the program is. So I thought that was brilliant, focusing on your employees and letting your employees then take care of your customers is kind of fascinating. Have you ever had a chance to fly Southwest?
Danny Brown: I did when I was coming back from Vancouver, I think. I’m thinking of Westjet. Sorry.
Sam Fiorella: That was Westjet. Yeah.
Danny Brown: Westjet. [crosstalk 00:09:57]
Sam Fiorella: [crosstalk 00:09:59] For those of you that don’t fly Southwest, one of the things that they do is they don’t give you … They have multi-class seating, so they don’t have like a first class, a business class, economy class. They don’t even give you a seat. You get a ticket, which gets you onto the plane, and then you get like certain boarding times. So you know, boarding zone one, boarding zone two, boarding zone three. And so, if you’re in boarding zone one, you get on first. So, you get lined up, and-
Danny Brown: [crosstalk 00:10:24] seats?
Sam Fiorella: Pick whatever seat you want. You can sit at the back. You can sit at the front seat. You sit at a window, aisle. I hate that because for me that just drives more stress because I’ve got to like fight for my seat as soon as I get onto this, so I purposely avoid that airline. Yet, you know, it works for a lot of people. They’ve got a really high net promoter score. But again, the difference there I think is focusing on their employees, which was a really interesting thing.
Sam Fiorella: One of, you know, looking at other industries, I think one of the things I want to sort of take this away from the airline industry because they’ve definitely gone to a cost-based model, as opposed to a customer service, customer experience based model. And even those that promise great customer experience don’t really give it. And I think some of those articles or statistics that show people will buy your flight anyway, so why should we really care? I don’t know.
Sam Fiorella: But what can we, looking at like other, whether it’s technology industry, media industry, manufacturing, doesn’t really matter. Other industries. What are we seeing right now because of the power of the Internet, and people going online and giving recommendations, and giving referrals? How important is it to shift back to customer experience as opposed to a price strategy?
Danny Brown: I think longterm, it’s key. I mean you can give away flights, discount flights, discount Apple iPods, etc. Though Apple don’t really need to discount anything. But yeah, I mean you can only go so far with the discount model, or the cheap model, and it come back to your key. [inaudible 00:11:59] all you’ve got because as more companies go bust, then you’re getting less choices, so you will choose the one I think that looks after you at the end of the day. If you’ve got a choice between paying 100 bucks and getting treated like cattle, or paying 150 bucks and actually having a nice comfortable seat, a coffee when you arrive, etc, you know, an area to test out the latest electronics, then that’s who you’re going to go for.
Danny Brown: I know personally, I’ve moved like service providers for my Internet because of the experience with the previous one. I want to try something different, and I’m paying a little bit less, which is great, but I’m trying something different because experience wasn’t there. So I think in industry, there’s going to be a plateau where you run out of discounts, run out of options, and it has to come back to how you treat the customer.
Sam Fiorella: That’s actually a good point. I switched cable providers about two years ago. I went from Cogeco to Bell because they had a better price, so I went for price just to try and save myself 40 bucks a month or 35 bucks a month. So I did it. The service is okay, like in terms of the actual streaming service that I’m getting to my house, but their mobile app sucks. Their five TV I’m really unhappy with, and anytime I call I don’t get the friendliest of people calling. So now I’m regretting doing it to save that 40 bucks. I’d rather have spent that 40 bucks, but go back to having better customer service.
Sam Fiorella: Now, I mean I think you can probably find fault with any cable. They’re probably one of the most hated businesses or types of industries in the world, you know, cell phone providers and cable companies. But I think that today … And I was having this conversation with my Uber driver coming here today, which is really interesting. The idea that we can now rate each other, like the Uber drivers rate us, and we rate them. The conversation I was having with the Uber driver today was, isn’t it interesting how this concept of social democracy I guess, or the democratization of brands, which is where you know, we actually own it and we, based on what we say about each other and about the brand online, is it makes us have a tendency to be happier or at least kinder to each other?
Sam Fiorella: Because I remember the first thing I thought when I go into this Uber is, I got to make sure that I’m nice to this person because he’s going to rate me, and it’s going to affect whether another driver wants to pick me up when I request it. And I’m sure he’s doing the same thing because he wants a five star rating. He wants a tip. We were talking about cabs, and every one of the cab rides I’ve had in the last year have been the exact opposite experience. They weren’t necessarily rude to me, but my conversation in that cab is always they’re bitching about the weather. They’re bitching about politics.
Danny Brown: Or the Uber.
Sam Fiorella: And they’re bitching about Uber. That’s the first thing that comes out of every cab mouth. And in fact there was a cab right in front of us that had a negative Uber sign behind him. So, you know, like, I found it really interesting. So in terms of customer experience, focusing on creating happy customers. You know, you can pay the cheapest price for an airline, but if by the time you get to your destination you are stressed, and you’re complaining … That’s what you’re doing on social media, you’re posting negative comments as opposed to happy comments, right? So I’m not … I agree with you in that case that social media is really giving brands, I think, the emphasis now to say we’ve got to focus on creating some kind of a differentiator, right?
Danny Brown: When you see some of them … I like the way that some of the brands are going with the snark in their response, and burning people that are complaining. And I think there’s only certain ones that can do that and get away with it, but you can see in the reactions of the people around that that their followers grow, their brand awareness grows, and people start to actually defend the brand then.
Sam Fiorella: Let’s talk about that a little bit because yes, somebody said to me … Actually, I was watching a clip online about an Ellen. Ellen has recently come out and started her comedy again, so she’s doing stand up comedy. And one of the comments that I read about her comedy was, it is so nice to see a comedic performance that doesn’t even have a slight hint of negativity, and snark, and maliciousness because everything right now is so divisive in our politics, in our day to day conversations, in our social media, in our relationships.
Sam Fiorella: Should … I know a lot of brands are moving towards that snarky response, but is it the right thing?
Danny Brown: Right.
Sam Fiorella: Yeah, certain brands can only get away with it, if it’s part of your ethos. But is that a trend?
Danny Brown: Yeah, I don’t know if it’s a trend, but I think definitely it’s [sam 00:16:30] because there’s a level of snark that most people recognize, you know, they’re having fun at your expense. They’re not making fun of you. They’re having fun with you. And I think that’s a key differentiator, and I’d rather have that than this whole crappy, brands be human, [crosstalk 00:16:46] all social media gurus dictate that brands should be. I’d rather have them being honest as opposed to human, or for humans. So I think, I wouldn’t like to see American Airlines, for example, try to be snarky about a three year olds burst appendix. That wouldn’t fly. No pun intended.
Sam Fiorella: Yeah, exactly.
Danny Brown: But yeah, I think there are opportunities for brands to actually have a bit of fun. And say, you know what, we’re not perfect, but are you? [crosstalk 00:17:09]
Sam Fiorella: Yeah, yeah, let’s have some fun with it. But I think part of that fun is being human. I agree that this being authentic, being human is overplayed, and very few people know how to do it properly. They’re trying so hard that they’re inhuman.
Danny Brown: Yeah, yeah.
Sam Fiorella: You know what I mean? So to speak, because they’re just trying so hard to be so genuine.
Sam Fiorella: Alright. So we’re getting the signal. Thanks, Steven, for our bell again. Last call. Although this will not be my last call here today after we’re done. I’m really enjoying this beer. Final thoughts on this issue of price versus customer experience. Where do you hang your hat as a business moving forward?
Danny Brown: I think, and not … I was going to bring this up. I’ll bring it up really quickly here. I think the brands need to go back to how they started. So if you look at the psychology and marketing of airlines, there’s three examples here. So American Airlines, their tag is, we know why you fly. Kind of seemed now we don’t know why you fly because you know, we don’t really care if you’re [inaudible 00:18:08] in a tiny carriage, your kid’s got appendix or whatever. So, Jet Blue, our promise. So it’s all about, you know, it’s about reassurance. You know, you fly with Jet Blue, we’re going to get you there safely, comfortably, a good price, and good service. And then Southwest Airlines is fees. They actually have it back at the guys as to how much fees and add ons you pay as a customer of other airlines.
Danny Brown: So I think if you go back to these original brand taglines, and ethos, and the psychology that you wanted for your customers, that’s for me, that’s a start. Like American Airlines gets back to, we know why you fly. You want stress free. You want to be arriving, relaxed and ready, be with your loved ones, businessmen and etc. Get back to that and start owning your mistakes as opposed to trying to get away because of terms and conditions, that kind of stuff.
Sam Fiorella: Right.
Danny Brown: I don’t know.
Sam Fiorella: So for me, the final takeaway, I’ve got two takeaways, in fact. The first is, go back to what Southwest was doing with focus on employees, right? That’s been a recurring theme in a couple of these, be it from an influence marketing standpoint, they’re your best influencers. From a customer experience standpoint, they’re the ones that are going to deliver that experience. So make sure that they’re trained, and encouraged, and feeling appreciated. So definitely focus on customer experience, but you’ve got to start with your employees.
Sam Fiorella: The other thing that I want to sort of leave as a takeaway regardless of the industry, but I want to use an airline industry. One of these low cost airlines that I’ve seen do really well is that they didn’t talk about price. They are … Everybody knows there are low cost airlines. They can see it in their price, but that’s not their advertising. Their advertising is about the destinations. They want to be seen as a gateway to your dream destination or to your best business experience, if you’re traveling for business. They’ve created an app that allows you, if you have the app open, you can scan Instagram, look for an killer destination that you want to go to. You can screen grab it, and then the app will give you the best way to get there using their airline.
Danny Brown: That’s cool.
Sam Fiorella: So this is the way you can do it. So again, a little bit of outside the box thinking. They’re pulling in the millennials, and you know, this Instagram generation, and this whole idea of I love what Instagram is doing because look at these great photos. Oh, I really want to be there. So they’re really taking advantage of that. So if you do want to be the low cost provider, if that’s what it is, that’s great. But don’t advertise you’re the low cost provider. Advertise to your customers aspirations, to their values, to what makes their life better.
Danny Brown: Yeah.
Sam Fiorella: And the low cost, they’ll see it when they compare prices. They’re going to be drawn to you longer term based on that versus low cost. Because if your price ever comes up, you’re still that aspirational brand that they want to be part of, right? So that’s the one takeaway that I would give brands, regardless of the industry that you’re in.
Sam Fiorella: And so with that, I want to say thank you. Thank you, Danny. Once again, thank you, Aimee, for the beer and to Saulter Street Brewery. We are not sponsored by any brewery, so this is … They were just kind enough to allow us to sit here and drink their beer today. So, that’s fantastic. We’re definitely going to be enjoying these.
Sam Fiorella: If you like these podcasts, please subscribe. If you like the vlogs, if you’re watching us as opposed to listening to us, please hit subscribe on our YouTube channel or like. Let us know. Put some comments down below. Let us … And we’ll be happy to engage with you on any of these. So, until the next time, next week, thank you very much everybody.
Danny Brown: Cheers.
Sam Fiorella: Cheers to everybody.
Danny Brown: Cheers mate.
Sam Fiorella: There we go.
Danny Brown: Tap it.
Sam Fiorella: I’m already like drunk.
Outro: You’ve been listening to Marketing On Tap with Sam Fiorella and Danny Brown. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next one, and please feel free to leave a show review. That’s always worth a cheers.