Thoughts from the Airport… How to change and improve habits of customers

Currently, I am sat at the gate at Chicago O’Hare waiting to board a flight to DFW and I’m struck by the number of people mingling around the gate entrance waiting for it to open and then to rush forward zone by zone for preassigned seats.

With the wealth of information we now have available through Apps, Digital Signage, Push notifications, Emails and all manner of traditional prompts (Gate announcements, etc), its fascinating that this behavior of crowding around the gate still happens, much like it has for as long as I can remember.  Despite all efforts to date by airlines to mitigate this behavior, it persists.

This is because at the heart of the issue, the desire to guarantee that carry on baggage will make it into the cabin, instead of being relegated to stowage in the hold, is the primary driving force behind this crowding behavior. This has not yet been resolved by airlines. Plus, the habit is very difficult to break. If the airline announced that the flight was almost empty, and that there would be plenty of space for everybody (though I don’t think I’ve ever heard such an announcement!), I would expect that a group of people would still mingle near the gate, waiting anxiously to be the first of their group to board.

Q: What’s the lesson here?

A: Changing behavior is incredibly difficult.

Changing customer behavior is incredibly difficult and can only ever be solved by addressing the underlying need, and in a way that is more convenient and efficient for the customer than before. I have yet to see airlines devise a solution for the challenge above, though I am confident that by looking algorithmically, airlines could predict based on flight capacity the likelihood that some carry on would require stowage. For these flights, offering a token gesture for those willing to volunteer to stow their carry on (perhaps by granting some Airmiles or another small perk) would eliminate (or at least vastly mitigate) the otherwise negative experience of waiting, unknown as to whether carry on will fit within the on-board stowage or be relegated to the hold. I expect taking an approach like this would also speed up boarding by pre-emptively managing the overhead storage capacity allocation. For airlines, the cost burden of delays, even short ones, can very quickly escalate, so finding a resolution to the issue above would quickly offset the small incremental cost of goodwill for volunteered checked carry-on.

What are the key factors that influence ability to change customer behavior?

1. Relevance

To improve customer experience, correctly identifying the issue that must be addressed at that point in the customer journey is the single biggest requirement before putting plans in place to create a solution. Relevance should be determined by a mixture of research, intuition and data.

2. Data

To improve a company’s ability to enhance customer experience, there is a ever growing need to synthesize and filter important information from miscellaneous information across all channels.

3. Context/Timing

Timeliness is very closely linked to relevance. The relevance diminishes over time, and in many cases, this can happen in seconds and minutes, rather than hours and days. Timing of messaging, service improvement, or new experience is absolutely critical, and needs to be viewed in in seconds and minutes, rather than hours and days.


An example of strong execution of timely messaging I have recently experienced is the post-workout messaging I receive from Orange Theory Fitness.

Following a workout session, I am sent an email in less than 5 minutes providing full statistics from my workout, and my current status in progress. The next step for OTF should be to integrate this data to their App and send a deep linking push out in the same time schedule, but for now, the timeliness and ubiquity of the emails works well enough. Checkout the timestamps in the screenshot. My workout finished at 6:55am, and I received the summary just three minutes later.

As a contrast, my typical experience with UBER has been that I only receive post-ride push messages related to the journey I took between 30 minutes to an hour (or more) after the journey has ended.  For me, this completely misses the window of relevance as I have moved on with my day and the journey is all but forgotten by this point.

There are many factors that influence the ability of a business to quickly manage data and provide the right data to customers to enhance customer experience. Behind these factors, there are architectural decisions, data management and pooling related challenges, and often, limitation of third party implementations to consider also. However, the customer doesn’t need to know or care about any of these things.

Ultimately, Getting it right means the getting the right information in front of the the customer, but in today’s increasingly connected world, the timing and medium of our messaging needs to be critically reviewed if brands aim to create a superlative and game-changing customer experiences.

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