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Where Does Your Customer Experience Begin And End?

May 3, 2008
Where does your customer experience begin and end? What is the emotional state of your customers as they begin an experience with you? It is fundamentally important to know this if you are to market to and design an emotionally engaging customer experience.

A few years ago, we at Beyond Philosophy were engaged by an airline to improve its customer experience using Moment MappingŪ, our tool for designing emotionally engaging experiences. "Where do you want us to start and finish this experience?" we asked, to ensure we scoped this correctly. The answer was, not surprisingly: "from the beginning to the end of passenger's travel with us." That meant from the moment a passenger checked in to the moment he or she left the arrivals lounge.

I started the engagement off by challenging the airline marketing team members' thinking: "Is this the start of their travel with you?" You could see their brains working overtime as they realized that, maybe, this wasn't the beginning of the experience. After some discussion, they realized they didn't know where the beginning was--or, more importantly, where the customer thought the experience began.

We started considering the experience through the customer's eyes. We discovered that customers viewed their travel experience as being from the moment they woke up on the day of traveling to the airport, all the way through to the moment they arrived at their destination.

Consider the last time you woke early to catch an early morning flight to an important business meeting. What did you feel like when you woke? Why is this important? Well, more 50 percent of a customer experience is about emotions. Everything we, as human beings, do is driven by emotions, whether you are in B2B or B2C. Yes we want what we would call the "physical" or "rational" things like price, product and quality, but the drivers of most of our actions are emotions.


We found that when they wake up for an early morning flight for an important business meeting, most people feel "anxious." They are anxious, as they need to get to the airport on time. And they are worried something is going to delay them and they will miss the flight or the meeting. As a direct result of this emotion, people take physical actions to try and compensate or "prepare" for this feeling.

For example, they may lay their clothes out the night before to ensure they can get dressed quickly. We found that people go to bed early to ensure they wake up on time. They set two alarm clocks and even put one clock at the end of the bedroom to force them to get up! We discovered that, invariably, people had a very shallow sleep, as they were anxious they would not wake in time and were constantly thinking, "Is it time to get up yet?"

When people finally woke, they turned on the TV or radio to find out what the traffic was doing. We discovered their levels of anxiety dramatically increased as they made their way to the airport. In this particular airport, there was nearby roadwork, which caused delay, again increasing their anxiety. The car park signage was poor, and people were getting lost. When people got off the bus between the car park and the terminal, they weren't told by the bus driver where airline check-in was and had to spend time finding it.

Finally, we found something fascinating when they arrived at the check-in line. Those people who were feeling anxious overestimated the number of people ahead of them in the line by 50 percent!
'No thought was given to the trauma that these customers had gone through.'

When they eventually reached the head of the line, they were greeted by the check-in person with, "Good morning. Did you pack your bags by yourself?" No thought was given to the trauma that these customers had gone through to get themselves there, and all the marketing ads were of smiling people having a great time! A far cry from the actual experience. We found this jarring to the customers. And, yet, this was the starting point the airline executives had originally asked us to view the experience from. If we had, we would have missed all of the lead-up that critically affects the customers' view of their travel experience.

Emotional state

A key question for any effective design of a customer experience must be this: "What is the emotional state of the customer entering the customer experience?" This has a massive effect on how effective that is.

Now, I hear you saying that the airline doesn't have control over the "pre- and post experience," as we would call it, and it is not the airline's responsibility. However, if you are trying to design a good experience, in our opinion, it is vital to understand the effect this has and how you can use marketing to enhance that experience.

We suggested to our clients that all their collateral carry a message that the airline understood passengers were feeling anxious. The marketing team partnered with a local hotel and offered a discount on overnight accommodation to the airline's passengers under the banner of "taking away the worry of arriving late."
And we crafted the marketing messages around this "anxious" state. And, now knowing where the customer experience began and ended for the customers, the marketing team could ensure it advertised in the correct media and time slots, such as sponsoring the weather broadcasts and giving updated information on the flight situation.

Segmentation became even more important. High-value frequent fliers were offered alarm calls and a text message service about travel conditions. Great play was made by the marketing team that the competition didn't "care" the customer was feeling anxious, but this airline did. We also implemented line combers: people who walk up and down the line, calming people down and explaining how long it would take to get to the front.

The next time you think about your experience and how to enhance your marketing, ask yourself where the experience really begins and ends. What is the emotional state of your customers entering your experience? How can you extend your experience to provide your customer with a great experience? I guarantee you will look at the world from a different angle.
About the Author
Founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, leading experts in the customer experience, Colin Shaw helps organizations identify the ramifications of commoditizing global markets and how this affects relationships with customers. Shaw is the author of Building Great Customer Experiences and Revolutionize Your Customer Experience. Copyright: customerthink.com.
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