Tuesday, November 2, 2010

International Terminals, Sales and Service

Have you ever met a friend or loved one after they exited Immigration and Customs at an airport?  The palpable anticipation and noise of the eagerly waiting loved ones is one of the most beautiful things to watch.  Little kids are often dressed in their best clothes and holding on to the flower or the balloon they are to present to whomever emerges from the door.  

The payoff comes when they finally see the friend/cousin/sibling/parent/spouse and there is this huge swell of emotion.  Some people laugh with joy while others show their happiness through tears.  I've had the chance to see this play out over and over through the years thanks to family visiting from abroad.  I never get tired of it.

I was watching a similar scene unfold yesterday as I was waiting for my parents.  While I was enjoying the reunions, I saw something dramatically different unfolding.  For those connecting through O'Hare, there was some serious and immediate confusion which as you know is not difficult in my hometown airport.  Immediately upon exiting Immigrations and Customs are three large arrows that are pasted to the ground that direct people to use the airport train to go to the domestic airline terminals.  They look something like this (my ugly facsimile):

And just beyond, are signs immediately pointing to a escalator appearing to go nowhere and a sign outlining which airline is in which terminal.  There was also a female security guard shouting out "Take the escalator" over and over as people were exiting.

This is what I saw: people groggy from jetlag, scarred by Immigration and Customs, confused by the lady guard yelling the same thing over and over, with somewhat of a language barrier in some cases, who have never been to O'Hare and not familiar with domestic airlines.  The result: a sort of vertigo and people looking all around and up above to get bearings and information.  They never looked down.  If they did, they'd see a collage of baggage and luggage carts and never the arrows.

All of this reminded me of a post that Bruce Temkin wrote back in August about the new elevators in New York's Marriott Marquis.  I encourage you to read the post and travel back here.  If you've not the time, his overall point was that one key design element can go a long way.

So why talk about the airport when this is a business blog?  Good question.  I think the people at O'Hare meant well when they devised the stick the colored arrows on the floor solution.  I really do.  My main indictment here is they designed for themselves and not for the groggy and confused passenger.  They made the groggy and confused passenger even more confused.  That's a big no no.

It's a big no no in business, too.  We should never make people confused by our business processes.  We should never make them feel like they made a mistake (even if they had) with the reward being an alarming error message and instructions to call a random 800# with an obscure code to report to the phone rep.  And if you think I threw that out there randomly, I didn't.  That was my customer experience with a loyalty program recently.  No lie.

As business owners and executives, we are supposed to make things easy and seamless for the customer and not for ourselves.  Even in the worst and most stressful, complex moments, the #1 feeling the customer should have is confidence as they are doing business with us.  It's the emotion people have (in addition to the actual product/service) that make people want to come back to us.  They are buying confidence and it always has an equal or greater price than the product/service itself.

And this point of emotion is critical.  When anyone buys anything, it's to address a particular pain point that he/she has.  Sometimes it's not a grave pain point but sometimes it is.  The way we interact with prospects and customers should be predicated on the underlying diagnosed pain and not what we choose to foist upon them.

So, let's go back to the arrow example.  Have you had an experience where you've made to feel like you've a bit of customer vertigo?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef


  1. Interesting post. Not sure we are comparing apples with apples here. O'Hare is thinking crowd control, thus not really concern about the people they need to control.

  2. Hi Jim,

    Thank you for your comment. Regardless of intent of crowd control, it's still a communications failure and it's still a failure to help the crowd disperse. What it does actually, is make people stop in confusion because they don't quite know what to do causing a backup into the terminal which means the airport signage has failed. If we don't communicate clearly in business or in ways that the customer understands, then we've created this similar blockage leaving customers and prospects with not very loving feelings towards us.