Zappos Airlines

The following is a guest post by my friend and passionate advocate for the customer experience, Tim Sanchez. Tim is the General Manager at ABIS Consulting Group, an enterprise software and consulting firm based in Houston, Texas.  Tim’s blog, Deliver Bliss, is dedicated to, as Tim describes it, “getting down to business of customer experience and helping to deliver bliss to customers every day” 

 
What do Zappos and the airline industry have in common? Almost nothing, except that they’re both in the news quite a lot. While Zappos frequently makes headlines for doing what’s right for the customer, most of the airline industry is busy scheming ways to nickel and dime its customers.

But, what if you were to mash the two together and Zappos started an airline? It’s something that CEO Tony Hsieh has mentioned on more than one occasion, including in his recent book, Delivering Happiness. Barry and I tossed around some ideas a couple months ago regarding Zappos and how they could transform the air travel experience.

How would Zappos run an airline? What would the face-to-face experiences be like? How would ticket exchanges be handled? What would the planes look like?

Borrowing from five of the Zappos Core Values, let’s take a quick look at the experience we might expect from Zappos Airlines.

1. Deliver WOW through Service
The #1 core value of Zappos is the foundation of their culture. It’s also the catalyst for the ridiculous amounts of word-of-mouth marketing the brand receives; it’s amazing to think a brand that sells something as boring as shoes is reinventing a business model. Zappos is proof that a company can create value and loyalty by consistently delivering a great service experience.

Do your recent air travels conjure up thoughts of remarkable service? Were you wowed by the airline’s ability to deliver an unexpected and innovative experience? My guess is no. Are there random acts of it occuring? Sure there are, more so on airlines like Southwest, but they’re still few and far between. I think Zappos Airlines would be different. By delivering WOW through service and creating a remarkable customer experience, Zappos Airlines could build the same word of mouth and loyalty they’ve enjoyed in the online retail world.

2. Embrace and Drive Change
Talk about something the airline industry needs a lesson on. Their idea of change is removing meals and charging for bags. While those things have helped the industry get back into the black, they’ve demoralized travelers and seem to have escalated service incidents, like this one (and this one and this one and this one and this one and…well, you get the picture).

3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
Southwest actually does a pretty good job of this, but that’s only because it’s also part of their culture. The rest of the industry seems to look down on fun and weirdness. If anything, I’d say they’re seen as a safety threat; something that should be avoided at all costs.

I’m told that people used to look forward to flying; that it was a privilege awarded to a lucky few. It must have been fun back then. I bet they smiled more. I bet they took great pride in their products and service. I bet they wore attractive and eye-catching uniforms. I bet they weren’t afraid to have fun while at work. I bet they acted a lot like Zappos acts today.

4. Be Adventurous, Creative, And Open-Minded
The air travel experience is a victim of rigid and pointless policy. The TSA has instituted a vicious fear tax (no snowglobes please) whose only purpose is to simulate security, not actually provide it.

The airlines have followed suit and continue to adhere to rigid systems that thwart service, instead of empowering their employees to use awareness and make decisions that are helpful to both the customer and the company.

Zappos prides itself on hiring employees that can solve problems in their own way by thinking outside the box. They are encouraged to take risks and not punished when they don’t work out. This creates unexpected and memorable experiences. Experiences worth remarking about. Experiences that drive loyalty.

5. Do More With Less
As the airline industry continues to search for experience-destroying ways to increase the bottom line, companies like Zappos are busy providing great service and making money. The only thing the airline industry is producing more of is complaints. The recent Air Travel Consumer Report from the US Department of Transportation shows a 90% increase in complaints when comparing June 2009 to June 2010. Year to date statistics show a 32% increase in complaints in comparison to the same time period a year ago.

While the value delivered by the airlines continues to diminish, Zappos is always striving to incrementally improve itself. As they become increasingly more efficient and refuse to succumb to the good enough syndrome that plagues its competition, Zappos continues to serve as an example for not just a great shoe company, but a great service company.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be waiting in line to buy my ticket on Zappos Airlines…just as soon as Tony finishes up with that bus.

Comments

  1. Another great post by Tim. It would be fun to see how the Zappos approach would change various industries and corporate giants.

    As far as airlines go, I've heard great things about Jet Blue. Their flights are affordable, they provide more seating space than their competitors, individual TV's for each passenger with Direct TV and XM Radio available. Their social media accounts are informative and responsive… basically, they're doing it right.

    The only thing they lack (in my opinion) is a wide selection of flights. If I ever get the chance to fly with them, though, you bet your buttons I will… just to try them out.

  2. Thanks for the comment Bags. I think Jet Blue, as long as they can resist the temptation to expand beyond their niche, has a pretty good chance of continuing to deliver that kind of experience.

    Part of Southwest's challenge recently has been due to their drive to expand routes and in return this has diluted their unique value proposition.

  3. The rate at which airliners produce complaints is just so alarming; so much that traveling is at the risk of being more of a hassle than a leisure. Now if only they could really revamp everything and start to amplify what good customer service is, then good things will really start to show up. Not only this will be a drive to enrich the airline industry again, but there are other good things bound to happen.

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