When Customer Ignorance Is Bliss

Jul 29, 2016


The airline industry is one of my favorites to watch in terms of customer experience innovation. Although I may be biased from years of focus in that space, I feel it represents the single largest opportunity to bridge gaps between customer experiences that are delivered and those that are possible. Where else are customers so directly engaged with a company for several consecutive hours in such a complex, multi-faceted journey? The opportunities for airlines to delight customers are truly endless, as are the potential pitfalls of doing so without meticulous planning around the people, processes, technology, and data that enable us.

A perfect example is real-time baggage tracking; a recent and functionally awesome enhancement intended to bring peace of mind to anxious travelers. Implementing this is far from simple and requires participation from people on both sides of the journey, new processes for scanning luggage, data to integrate scanned bags with customer profiles, and systems and architecture to bring it all together. Multiple U.S. airlines now monitor bag status and proactively contact customers to alert them if their baggage will be delayed, directing them straight to the baggage assistance counter to coordinate delivery of the bag without the otherwise long and anxious wait at baggage claim. (Soon the baggage assistance counter won’t be required at all!)

However, even the best-intentioned CX enhancements are not without their unintended consequences. On my flight home from a customer experience workshop in Boston recently, I checked in on the other side of the terminal from my departure gate since I knew the security lines there move faster. The agent knew what I was doing, applauded my forethought, and slapped a big pink sticker onto the top of my bag to let baggage handlers know it would need to be put on the transfer belt to the other side of the terminal. Fantastic!

Getting onto the plane, however, I grew nervous as I checked the bag tracking app. My bag’s status had not been updated since check-in to reflect the reassuring “Loaded onto plane” notification that I am accustomed to seeing:

When Customer Ignorance Is Bliss_Fig1

As the plane began to roll away, I was convinced that my bag had not made it and began to regret the baggage agent’s over-communication about the mechanics of their process. I spent most of the flight dreading having to deal with a lost bag when I landed at 9pm and nervously refreshing the app to see if the update would eventually change to “loaded onto plane.” It never did; I even texted my wife mid-flight to let her know I’d be home later than expected.

I arrived in Dallas and headed straight for the baggage assistance counter. I stood in line behind a few other people, continuing to refresh, when this most relieving update suddenly appeared to tell me all was well:

When Customer Ignorance Is Bliss_Fig2

That this could happen is not surprising; baggage handlers were probably working quickly to ensure a timely departure and missed scanning a couple bags. But this small break in the process led me to spend my entire flight anxious about whether my bag would arrive with me.

That I even have the ability to attempt to track the progress of my baggage through its journey is an amazing thing, and the airline industry should be commended for its tremendous progress in becoming more customer-centric. But my experience also underscores the importance of the people-processes-technology-data paradigm and should be a reminder of what can go wrong when one piece of the puzzle doesn’t work out as planned. Thinking about the experience now, I’d have been better off not knowing anything about my bag status, having no reason to question whether it had made it onto the plane (as it does 99% of the time), and enjoying my flight without worry. By promising to inform me and then failing to do so, the airline actually made the experience worse; they demonstrated that sometimes, ignorance really is bliss.