Has the Airline Industry Reached a State of "CX Nihilism"?

Apr 12, 2017

Vox.com just published a great article on why air travel has become a terrible customer experience (CX) in the aftermath of United Airlines’ removal of a customer when he refused to give up his seat.

So has the airline industry, through its conditions, nature, and its market dynamics, reached a state of “CX Nihilism”? CX Nihilism is where customer experiences are ultimately insignificant and meaningless. As a result, aggravation, annoyance, discomfort, and inconvenience are the service norms: while meeting customers’ basic product and service needs.

CX Nihilism occurs when most (if not all) of these factors are present:

--High demand inelasticity

--High built-in costs

--Complex product/service delivery

--Presence of CX-impacting factors beyond companies' control

--A high stress environment, including security risks

--Instant copycat behavior by competitors

--Market monopolies or oligopolies

And most importantly: where price and necessity significantly outweigh other customer buying and loyalty considerations, including comfort.

Airlines aren't the only industry that may be experiencing CX Nihilism.  Many commuter rail, urban mass transit, and ferry operators have the same conditions.  Financial services, healthcare, utilities, and necessities retailers, and yes, government agencies and authorities, could be candidates for CX Nihilism.

There is little that can be done to change the fundamental product, service, environment, cost, and demand and supply factors that significantly impact the total CX.

But there are CX-enhancing steps companies must take to lessen the customer (and employee) stress and misery:

--Accept that this is the new normal.  Create processes aimed at reducing the stress levels. Identify and remove low-benefit but customer and employee-annoying practices.

--Take every step, and then some, to anticipate problems, and avoid them or prepare to handle them.

--Avoid PR missteps.  If you think you may have put your foot in it you are too late; it is already on social media.

--Go the extra distance to educate, inform, and update customers and employees. Frost & Sullivan research covers the latest developments in customer contact applications, and which businesses are providing them, such as in this hosted contact center Buyer’s Guide.

--Select and train staff for their ability to work under today’s conditions.

--Employees are the companies’ bonds with customers.  Customers need to feel that “we’re all in this together.” Empower staff with the ability to help customers as much as is practical, and take steps to lessen any friction with other staff and departments.

Bottom line: making the right moves like this in a CX Nihilistic environment will avoid the costly brand damage that results from making preventable mistakes.  While improvements like the above do not change the underlying conditions that lead to general customer (and also employee) dissatisfaction and misery, they may make them more tolerable.

And that, by itself, is CX progress. 

Category : Customer Contact

Brendan Read


Brendan Read is Senior Industry Analyst with over 25 years’ experience covering business, communications, staffing, and technology. He has worked in, prepared reports, and blogged on a wide range of topics including customer contact, CX, CRM, IoT, social media, supply chain, and BC/DR. He also has backgrounds in construction, manufacturing, materials, resource extraction, site selection, and transportation. He examines the broad economic, environmental, innovation, political, and social mega trends, and their impacts on businesses, markets, and society.

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