A while ago, I was sitting in an airport where all flights were delayed due to weather. As is quite often the case in situations like this, staff at the gate initially don’t have a great deal of information available to them. In my experience, airport staff will do everything they can to keep customers updated, but sometimes they seem to know little more than the passengers (and are probably every bit as eager to know what is going on!).
What has changed in the last ten or so years is that getting information from outside sources is a lot easier. While some people were lining up to speak to the gate staff, others were accessing apps to try to piece together what was going on. For example:
- Using a flight tracking app, I could see planes that were previously in a ‘holding pattern’ above had now changed direction (very likely they were diverting to other airports)
- Looking at other airports’ websites, I could see flights destined for this location due to leave hours ago had not left (presumably as the weather had been forecast). I concluded this might cause a problem, as even if the weather clears, the aircraft and staff won’t be here to conduct the onward/return flights (and even if they are, perhaps the flight crew might have exceeded the number of hours they are allowed to work without a break)
- Looking out of the window, I could see that the weather appeared to be getting worse, not better…
- When I accessed a hotel booking app, I could see hotels in the area starting to sell out of rooms. I started to worry that if the flight was canceled, there wouldn’t be anywhere to stay
The airport and gate staff were incredibly helpful, to the extent that they could be, but the only information they could really give is “flight delayed: next update in an hour”. The irony was that a consumer had access to more information via free smartphone apps than the airport representative was able to share.
I made a decision to stick with it, but assumed that I probably wasn’t going anywhere that day. My prediction came true, and after a mad scramble I thankfully did get a hotel room for the night and flew late the next afternoon.
Customers Need Information
It will come as no surprise that for customers to have a good experience of a service, they need accurate information at key times. If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you’ve probably found most airports are pretty efficient at managing routine information flow. There might be hundreds of other flights leaving on the same day, but it’s usually pretty easy to know what terminal and gate you’re leaving from. Airports are usually also pretty good at getting people to the gate on time (even if they occasionally pretend they are ‘boarding’ long before the plane is actually boarding in order to get people moving…). Issues sometimes occur when things aren’t going as planned. This is where you have to rely on someone announcing something over a loudspeaker system, often in a noisy airport, where everyone is desperately trying to work out what is going on…
What is perhaps less obvious is that someone has designed how and when information flows to the customer. The “happy path” (where things go well) is a well-trodden and well-designed path. Perhaps some other exceptional paths are less well-designed, meaning customers are less likely to get the prompt information that they need.
Consider Information Needs
This is an area where BAs can add significant value. Quite often, the focus will be on designing a customer journey or set of business processes. That is a perfectly good approach, but at each step in a journey or process it is worth asking “what information might the customer need here” and “how can we deliver it to them?” This applies as much to the exception flows as the main “happy path”. Often exceptions are where those “moments of truth” happen where a customer really relies on good service.
Not only this, but if a customer’s information needs are preempted, this will likely prevent queries. Imagine an announcement at an airport:
“This is an announcement for people on flight BMXXXX to Southampton. All flights are currently grounded due to weather conditions, and all incoming flights are being diverted. We currently hope to run the flights, but right now we can’t be sure. We will be updating you every hour, and a final decision will be made at 9pm. If we don’t fly today, you’ll get a free place on a flight tomorrow, which will be automatically allocated (you won’t need to take any action, you’ll get it via email). If you’d prefer to voluntarily change your flight, come and see us and we’ll explain how to do this, but please do be aware a fee may apply if you opt to change before the flight is canceled”.
This isn’t perfect but it would help a passenger make a decision. It has preempted the decision they might want to make and has provided them some context.
Of course, you probably don’t work in an airport, but you almost certainly work to define and design processes that are used by people. By considering what information those people want and need during the process, in both the “happy path” and in exceptional circumstances, we can enhance the experience. And surely that is worth doing!