This weekend I enjoyed a very-much-needed serenity/spa/ski break in Beaver Creek, Colorado with my good friend Margo. It was a superb weekend and very enjoyable, but if you know me, you know it is rare I go anywhere and not come back with a story…
Unfortunately, 4 days of serenity were ruined by the trip home. A bad airport experience followed by an uncomfortable airplane experience were the culprit. (You’re probably thinking, is there a good airport experience? Probably not, but work with me here.)
Most of the problems I experienced were because the person who designed and built these things never tried them out. How could you ever know if you do good work if you haven’t tried it yourself?
My vacation led me back to Denver airport, which by my standards is not a terrible airport. But after getting through security, things started heating up. Quite literally – the temperature in the airport was blazing. I can’t tell you how many sweat-soaked travelers I saw, all carrying a heap of winter clothes alongside their carry-on luggage. The airport seemed clueless – if they had really looked at the experience from a traveler’s eyes, they’d know travelers carry coats and lots of stuff with them, and are usually in a hurry, so a slightly cooler temp would be better. (Plus, like many airports, it has lots of glass windows. Sun and no sun can be a dramatic difference.) On Wednesday, most traveler’s lasting of impression of Denver was a stinky sweatbox. Not exactly kind parting words.
Things were even worse at my boarding gate area, at the end of the terminal. For some reason, some engineer who has obviously never boarded a plane before thought bunching a cluster of gates at the end of the terminal building would be a good idea. Many airports are like this, so Denver is not alone, but I have to wonder if these people are clueless? Any visit on a busy day to these cramped quarters and they’d see it just doesn’t work, with people boarding the wrong places, queues of people criss-crossing every way. Just because it looked good on paper doesn’t mean it works.
The final straw in my raising blood pressure was the overhead paging system. The designers of this system didn’t test the acoustics, allowing all paging channels to go at once. So, from my vantage point in this sea of sweaty travelers were the overall airport notifications, the terminal-specific notifications, and the gate agent announcements, all baring at each other at once. I couldn’t hear any of them. I’ve been to airports where gate agents can “mute” other overhead announcements so their pertinent message can be heard, but here in Denver, the easy route won and the customers lost.
The flight home wasn’t any better. Several passengers on our flight had broken seats (no TV, broken armrest, etc.) and because the airlines don’t fly with any slack – no extra seats, no extra anything in fact – nobody could move, and since the FAA deems these particular problems airworthy, the airline pushed away from the gate without even an apology. (We were an hour late too, and again, no apology.) When you abdicate your customer service issues as somebody else’s problem (it was the weather, it’s due to regulations, it’s blah blah blah), you’re in a race to the bottom.
I’m sure in all of these circumstances, there are lots of reasons why – the airport heating must be adjusted a day in advance, the airline forced the airport’s hand in terms of the gates, the flight attendants were tired and couldn’t be bothered to say sorry… but it doesn’t matter. Customer’s don’t care about your excuses.
You’ve got to test your products and services, experience them for yourself, and know what kind of stuff you are selling to customers. Can you imagine a chef who’d never tasted his or her own food? Could an engineer design a car without ever having driven one, or met someone who has?
As far as websites go, you have zero excuses, because testing is very easy. I test my own site often, because I am not in my own target market so it’s harder for me to step into my clients shoes. I even went through hours and hours of creative marketing consultations calls before I put the official product online, so I was confident that it was what clients needed at a price they could afford and an experience that added value to their business.
Airlines and airports have no excuse because we all know what air travel is like these days – and if you’re in your own target market, which quite a few business owners are, then you have to be very vigilant to test, because it is easy to be complacent. Every customer is just a tiny bit different, but that shouldn’t get in the way of your attempt for perfection.
Minor problem: there’s no perfect business, and certainly no perfect website. It is an iterative process. Just apologize when you realize you’ve got it wrong, and move forward.
(And? Reclining airline seats should be outlawed. That is all.)