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Evaluating Your Military Customer Experience

Have you recently evaluated your military customer experience?

Summer air travel, whether for business or pleasure, has proven challenging this year. The air travel system that was maxed out pre-COVID seems to be failing around the margins under stress. Delays, lost baggage, and workforce issues are happening with greater frequency. Some airlines appear to be dealing with things better than others.

Summer Air Travel Challenges

During the past week, I had to fly three of the major US airlines: American, Delta, and United. I flew First Class in United and American, and Delta Comfort on the third. What struck me most was the variations in boarding protocols. But there are other nuances as well.

As one walks buy a Southwest Airlines gate, the prominent stanchions with seat numbers stand out. Customers line up by group and seat number and are then free to choose their seat based on boarding sequence. Southwest Airlines remains the most profitable of airlines because it has maintained a singular focus on cost. Passengers accept the quirks of seating and boarding at Southwest knowing they are purchasing a reasonably comfortable seat with a highly flexible ticket. Southwest flies one airframe, variants of the Boeing 737.

Is your process and the customer’s process understood by all participants?  Click To Tweet

When you walk to a Delta gate, passengers waiting to board represent a “gaggle.” There is no signage or apparent indication of a system in place. For those, like me, who don’t fly Delta regularly, it seemed a bit chaotic. The Boeing 757s board from the near center of the plane. So, when you step on, it’s not clear whether to go right or left in the plane.

Weather Delays

At the Norfolk airport, the Delta gate agent started the boarding process then realized she forgot to grant active military their early boarding privilege. In Norfolk, the active military population flying is often half the number of passengers or more. Boarding was halted while this condition was corrected. Once in flight, the on-board Delta crews could not have been more engaged and personable. Flight delays on take-off due to weather and late passenger transfers were well explained by the flight crew. Ground delays due to lighting on arrival further delayed what should have been a short flight. The day after my travel on Delta, I received 5,000 flight miles from Delta along with a short, but sincere apology for any inconvenience the weather delay had caused.

Flying American Airlines, the boarding process was well defined. Groups are segmented with signage, and announcements of the process are plentiful. Service in flight was excellent despite poor weather conditions. Delays on take-off were well explained by the Captain and First Officer. I had not flown on an American Airlines flight in over 20 years and was pleasantly surprised by the entire two-leg experience.

United Airlines

United Airlines has been my go-to since coming out of the pandemic. My perception has been that United responded to the pandemic challenges better than other airlines. I have flown internationally and across country using both United Polaris and United First Class. Each are excellent. Without fail, each time I fly United, at the end of the flight a flight attendant personally thanks me for choosing their airline. It is subtle, but direct and personal feedback to me as a passenger. My wife was asked to switch meal selections to allow another passenger with a dietary restriction to eat the only remaining offering of a meal choice. Gladly complying, the flight attendant then emailed a $100 voucher on the spot as a thank you for helping out.

The Military Customer Experience

On each of my trips, there has been some relationship to the military customer experience. I can’t help but wonder if my clients and their military customers notice the distinctions of the various forms of engagement that occur throughout the sales process. There are multiple points of contact that, if done well and in a timely manner, can influence the experience of your customer.

Just a simple test you might consider when evaluating your engagements:

  1. Is your process and the customer’s process understood by all participants? 
  2. Are the communications happening at the right time and place?
  3. Is everyone on message?
  4. What are you doing that specifically makes you the best choice over others?
  5. Do people on the front lines have authority to enhance the experience?

The Make Your Move podcast is a multi-season series devoted to the lessons learned of military members in their post-active duty lives. I hope you enjoy the stories of the men and women brave enough to share their transition stories so publicly. Listen to the latest episode here.

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