CX Made Easy: The American Airlines App

American Airlines’ planes aren’t safer or faster than anyone else’s. The company is no vanguard of customer service. And, if you check Orbitz or Expedia or any number of price-beater sites, you’ll likely find cheaper fares on other airlines.

Yet, American Airlines earned significant market share over the last several years, particularly among frequent flyers, by vastly improving its customer experience. And they did it with a simple, singular solution: an app.

It’s hard to know, specifically, what drove the creation of AA’s first-generation “travel app.” But two difference-making customer insights* may have informed that strategy:

 

  • Purchasing tickets online is frustrating and time-consuming
  • The cheapest ticket price usually means a bad flying experience
*These are perceptions, mind you; but, as we all know, perception is reality.

In an industry where price wars had become the norm, AA took a risk in assuming that some flyers would care more about a quality experience than price. It was the same thinking Starbucks applied to coffee in the late ‘80s. And, it turns out they were (both) right. A certain contingent of flyer is willing to forego the cheapest possible fare so she can reserve and change seats from her smartphone, avoid printing out boarding passes, and earn/use valuable rewards in the process.

The risk paid off. Fast-forward to June 2017, when Radius Global Market Research conducted a survey of American travelers’ interest in airline apps and in-app support. Here’s a short list of what they found:

  • 81% of American adults use smartphone apps to manage different aspects of their lives
  • 21% use airline apps, and, of those, 83% feel these apps improve their flying experience
  • Among airline loyalty members, 42% use airline apps and 95% of those feel these apps improve their experience

On the heels of the app’s success, AA even launched the 2016 campaign: “The world’s greatest flyers fly American.”

Here’s the point:

Creating a great customer experience isn’t necessarily a monumental challenge.
If you’re the aforementioned Starbucks — with 238,000+ employees across 13,000+ locations in the U.S. alone, who need to be trained and motivated to deliver that face-to-face experience — then, yes, that’s one thing. But the question for you is: What can YOUR brand do to better serve the customer?
A great customer experience is defined by the customer. Sometimes it’s as easy as AA’s travel app, or Zappo’s unlimited free shipping both ways. Human beings aren’t Rubik’s Cubes. The simplest answer is usually the right one.
To find it, you need to do two things exceptionally well:

  1. Get the clearest possible view into your customers’ minds (without an fMRI)
  2. Tap that insight to create an experience that makes you better than the other guys

As Steve Jobs famously said: “You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” And starting with the customer experience means starting with where it’s lacking.
We find ourselves in 2017 — years into the Digital Age — with so much to be excited about. At the same time, the promise of digital is often what holds us back. Thinking about tech first is usually putting the cart before the horse. And thinking that data can solve all your problems is tantamount to believing in snake oil cures.
Data is just information; but insight is opportunity. Start with the customer’s perceptions, always. If you commit to understanding your audience, and solving one small problem at a time, you’ll be on your way to delivering a world-class customer experience (at least, “world-class” as perceived by your customers — which is all that matters).

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