Ever go to a reunion, excited to see that man or woman you crushed on in college? You know the popular one—always had it together and was well-dressed and so very sexy? But, wait! Say it isn’t so! Now they’re enormous—not just with those few pounds time adds over the years, but big. They’re disheveled, exhausted, and just plain miserable. Somewhere between the baccalaureate and now, they simply gave up. Your heart sinks (or, perhaps, fills with pride and feelings of superiority).
That’s how I feel about American Airlines. Have they simply given up?
Over the past week, I have seen a flurry of negative reports. First, it was this one on Luxury Travel Diary, Avoid These Planes when You Fly American Airlines, which reports that the airline is refurbishing its fleet of the Boeing 737-800 aircraft and increasing the number of seats from the 160 to 172 and replacing the old bathrooms with even smaller ones to fit more seats in. Think about that for a sec: even smaller ones.
Next, it was this post by Chris Matyszczyk on Inc. website, “An American Airlines Customer Complained About Its Uncomfortable New Planes. The Airline’s Reply Left Many Speechless.” In that example, not only does a best-selling travel author tweet about the cramped and dumbed down experience, the American Airlines social media replies with a tweet that is canned, trite, and completely tone deaf.
According to Social Media Strategist Neal Strauss, people turn to social media when they aren’t being heard, or valued, in other channels: “This could have been American’s opportunity to correct a bad experience and endear themselves to the customer—instead they decided to use a (presumably) canned response, which only makes the experience worse. No matter how big your brand is, no matter how many tweets you may get, invest in the customer experience online and in person.”
Sure, everyone has a bad day and makes mistakes, so let’s assume the social media team hasn’t given up. There’s another reason that suggests the airline has.
Creating an uncomfortable experience for customers and actively disregarding their expectations puts American Airlines firmly into the commodity category—a value airline that people will only take because the fare is the absolute lowest or the route the most convenient.
“Oh, but that’s only in domestic, coach.”
Don’t bet on it. You can’t have the same brand represent one ideal to one group of consumers and an entirely different one to another. Why?
American Airlines has to remember that people talk. People connect the dots. People remember $#!^. Some people even get to the point in their lives where they no longer have to go with the lowest fare. When that time comes, does American Airlines really think passengers will choose to forget about all their time suffering in cramped coach class? Not on your life.
Pardon the shameless reference to my book, Do They Care?, but American Airlines is sending the message that they do not really care about their customers, so why should the customers care about them?
Is becoming the next Spirit Air really what American Airlines wants? (Spirit, if you’ll remember routinely scores last place on customer satisfaction surveys and had a CEO who boasted proudly about being the Dollar Store of airlines.)
If American Airlines had—and adhered to—a brand promise that, say, focused on connecting customers with people and places important to them with safety and comfort, these short-term, revenue-focused moves would never have gotten the green light. Every day American Airlines continues to treat passengers as just sources of income is one day closer to making Spirit Airlines look good.
What do you think? Let me know.
Spencer Brenneman, LLC