LRA executive wants airlines to think differently about service


In an era of ubiquitous customer satisfaction surveys and real-time inflight trouble shooting via social media, sometimes the best way to connect with your passengers (and ensure their loyalty) is by knowing the difference between service and hospitality, according to Stephanie Perrone Goldstein, sales director for consulting firm LRA Worldwide, the leading global provider of Customer Experience Measurement services for companies with complex customer interactions.

“If you want to understand your customer service experience, you first need to understand service,” said Perrone Goldstein, whose company has worked with major multinational hotel chains, BMW, Giorgio Armani and even the NFL. “Service is a live interaction that is happening in real time. Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how that makes you feel,” she added in a speech at the recent APEX Expo in Anaheim.

Citing a quote from restaurateur/hospitality guru, Danny Meyer’s best-selling 2006 book “Setting the Table,” Perrone Goldstein said “Hospitality exists when you believe the other person is on your side. Hospitality is present when something happens for you, and it is absent when something happens to you.”

In other words, “Service is a monologue, [companies] decide how they want to do things and then set their standards for service. Hospitality is a dialog. Listen, understand, deliver.”

Take a passenger who has missed their flight, for example. This person has now gone to the gate, they’ve asked for help and expressed a problem and it’s not handled. They now have to go to customer service and they’re wondering if they’re ever going to get the caliber of help they need at that moment. In most cases, they probably won’t and will walk away frustrated and/or angry. That’s why how things are handled by airline staff from the moment the situation arises is vitally important, said Perrone Goldstein.

This sentiment was echoed by aircraft interiors designer James Park, who told RGN this week: “…if you can’t get the space in economy, perhaps the service could be better. Onboard service could be a little more attentive.”

Perrone Goldstein noted that “more than 40% of customers” are satisfied when the problem is resolved by the first person they interact with, when that first person took care of the issue. “Less than 25% were satisfied when it was the second person.”

What’s even more telling is that the average cost to resolve a customer service problem is generally three times as much when a second person has to resolve it. “For all of you who are looking to save money and to spend money more efficiently … that should be pretty compelling,” cautioned Perrone Goldstein.

Ironically, Perrone Goldstein said that customers with service failure issues and a successful recovery are actually more loyal than those who never experience any issues at all. In other words, a little customer service goes a long way in generating repeat business.

And while that all sounds great, it was clear from the Q&A that followed that several of the airlines present were at a loss about how to actually implement the changes Perrone Goldstein was espousing.

“I think it would help to change the perspective … shift the thinking to look at service recovery issues as an opportunity to create customer loyalty” rather a negative, said Perrone Goldstein. “Obviously, this has to be done within a brand, it has to become a part of your [corporate] culture, and the best way to do this is through continued training.”

First and foremost, it’s important to know who you are, said Perrone Goldstein. “You want to make sure you understand who you are before you start telling other people who you are and how they have to act. So, it’s really important to understand you [and] your service culture … otherwise people don’t have clarity around what they need to do to deliver that to a customer.”

Unlike traditional training programs that front load the employee training experience, Perrone Goldstein said the best training needs to be varied and ongoing. “Whether it’s via coaching or training, however it’s done…everything needs to be monitored otherwise it dies and momentum dies. And it doesn’t have to be an expensive, corporate retreat or weeklong team building session in the woods, said the LRA executive. In fact, in most cases, the best ongoing training can be as basic as a little “refresher” from time to time. “Something to rejuvenate you or to make you a little more excited about what you’re doing. I think it really varies, again, but a lot of time that’s what training is. It’s getting you re-inspried to do your job on a daily basis.”

Meanwhile, the APEX association is paying very close attention to what passengers want in-flight. “2014 marked the launch of the APEX ‘State of the Air Passenger Experience Program’, an initiative which periodically surveys flyers to gain valuable insights into passenger wants, preferences and behaviors,” said APEX media in a recent blog post. What’s clear from the survey is that men and women “have conflicting priorities”, notes The Daily Mail, which is running APEX’s full infographic on its findings.