How honest should you be with your customers?
Should you tell them the real reason you do things? Or should you focus on making them as happy as possible? Especially if it’s as imperfect as air travel?
I only ask because of a fascinating interview with American Airlines CEO just published by The Points Guy.
In it, he discussed many issues, including the survival of his airline and its accelerated enthusiasm for packing as many people onto its planes as it can.
Yet one element especially struck me.
He was asked about providing customers with seatback screens and streaming wi-fi. American has been at the forefront of ripping all of the seatback screens out of its narrow-body planes and replacing them with a little holder where you can put your phone, your iPad, or perhaps a picture of your loved ones and stream away.
Parker declared: “I think everyone — given the choice — would prefer to have a seatback screen and streaming wi-fi.”
Then he explained why he wasn’t prepared to give customers the choice. Apparently giving them both involve a level of effort which “doesn’t warrant it.”
This may, to some, smack of something being “not worth it.” Which may, to some, smack of “there’s no profit in that, so give me a break.”
But Parker insisted: “We absolutely believe that giving customers the ability to use their personal devices in flight — just like you can when you’re sitting in your living room — is what they prefer over having stored content in the screen in front of them.”
It’s a perfectly fair business calculation. But how fair is it to families who may have many children and not so many personal devices? They may be especially important as business travel continues to flounder, while personal travel — say, from Texas to Cancún — is seeing brisker activity.
Moreover, how fair is it to business travelers who might prefer to work on their laptops while looking up occasionally at a screen they didn’t have to bring with them? (Phones, even bigger ones, don’t make for ideal movie-watching on planes.)
Parker, though, believes this is the way it’s going to be on all airlines in the future.
Which may be news for Delta. Last month, the airline’s managing director of inflight entertainment and Wi-Fi Glenn Latta offered an alternative perspective.
Announcing a new deal with Viasat, Latta said: “We now have the additional capability and next-gen technology to make sure you have a faster and more consistent connection to your favorite sites, including the ability to stream the entertainment of your choice on your flight. It also lays the groundwork for future enhancements and personalization with the seatback screen that customers will love.”
Some believe one of the more profound reasons for airlines like American to remove seatback screens is to save money on maintenance and make the plane a tiny bit lighter, hence saving a tiny bit on fuel costs.
Perhaps Parker is right. Perhaps we are so attached to our devices that we’ll be happy enough on a plane — as in the rest of our lives — by burying ourselves in those devices and demanding perfect wi-fi.
Yet when you tell customers that it’s really not worth giving them what (you know) they’d really prefer and your current corporate tagline is “You Are Why We Fly,” it might leave a tinge of discomfort ringing in at least a few customers’ ears.