Customer centric products flying under the radar

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Ready for a very middle class rant about customer centric companies?  It’s the sort of rant which makes any decent member of the proletariat rage with despair and immediately saddened by the decline of social responsibility among their near peers.  Here we go then.


Customer centric product development, flying Emirates

Flying business class on Emirates is a wonderful experience.  Sitting among the wood panelling or at the bar on the plane complete with waitress ready to serve you, or lying on the truly flat seat-beds, it’s more like flying in a hotel than a plane.

But before you even get to any of those airborne luxuries, one sits in a sumptuous lounge with an elegant waterfall centrepiece.  The Victorians reputedly considered waterfalls decedent (though given how many they built, this seems unlikely).  In any event, not so Emirates airlines, and for the better.

Once you’re filled with food and drink and firmly ensconced in plane seat, with a little table and bar next you, you contemplate your next move.  What’s the tablet next to me for?  Should I have the Icelandic mineral water or one of the sodas.  Or perhaps I should go to the bar for something stronger?

Then a stewardess comes up and the conversation goes like this:

“Would you like anything to drink sir?”

Looking around at who the ‘sir’ is, “what, er, erm, what do you have?”

“Anything” comes the reply.

Well, that’s it, ‘anything’.  That’s the easiest way to make the mind go blank.


Not flying Emirates

Not much of a rant so far.  Be patient, we’ll get there.

Let’s make a comparison to another airline’s business class, it almost doesn’t matter which.  The plane is pleasant; the seat is comfortable, spacious enough, with no room wasted.  The screen is quite far away, how is one meant to reach forward to change the movie?  Oh, it’s not touch screen, it’s that old fashioned gizmo with the controls on one side and a phone on the other.  (Has anyone ever used that to actually call someone?)

“Would you like a drink sir?”

“What do you have?”

“Here’s a menu.”

“I’d like an [fill in some slightly expensive drink which you wouldn’t ever buy at home, or even want to drink]”.

A minute later the stewardess comes back, drink in hand.  “It’s usually only for first class passengers sir, but I’ve managed to get you some” [broad smile].

There you go, I don’t feel special.


(Extra) Ordinary

What makes Emirates so great about customer centric design is all the stuff you don’t need and didn’t know that you want.  If we were sitting in both an Emirates seat and also in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we’d be off the top of Maslow’s triangle already.

As a customer, Emirates go above board and then start their thinking in terms of going way above that high level too.  As a product, one feels that they didn’t so much look at what their competitors were doing wrong, nor what customers said they wanted.

I’d imagine the competitor’s customer research conversations went something like this:

Customer – “I’d like more leg room” (airline, ‘check’).  Or,

“The screens are too small, and I want to be able to sleep better.”

You can imagine a million different statements like this from customers.  The other airlines duly listened.  What more could anyone do but listen to their customers?

The good people in the non-Emirates airlines probably put these as stories on their development board, solving each one in turn and patting themselves on the back at the end of each fortnight.

And what they’ve come up with is ‘nice’.  The only trouble is, I’m not sure I want to pay five times more for something because it’s ‘nice’.


Market economics

Yet, looking around the plane, munching on some not too bad plane food, stainless steel fork in hand, it’s easy to see that the business class section is full.  There’s not one seat to spare.  First class also seems pretty full from the front seat of business.

Surely market economics should dictate that where someone provides an extraordinary service, above that of their competitors, they’re rewarded and their competitors are punished.  Eventually, in a drive to regain commercial advantage, the competitors should be forced to up their game.

This is market economics.

This is what makes us not baulk at the lack of competition in so many markets.  This is what makes countries join together to form commercial conglomerates like the EU, the EEC or a dozen others around the globe.

So why am I leaning on a plastic armrest without an internet connection (internet is charged at an exorbitant additional sum per every half hour of usage), while someone else, somewhere else is enjoying free internet access while they sip Sangria and eat tacos at the bar.

Why is almost every other airline allowed to get away with average?


Back to customer centricity

I don’t think Emirates looked at what people wanted, despite their customer centric approach.  I think they looked at what was the best service they could give at the price point people were willing to pay.

As a result, many people travel for hours out of their way to land in Dubai for a brief stop-over before heading in totally the opposite direction.  Unfortunately, there are not enough of these brave souls to warrant re-balancing those market economics and forcing other airlines to up their game.

It seems to me like Emirates said to themselves ‘ignore the things people say, we’ll get to those.  When someone’s paying five times as much for a flight, they don’t just want a comfortable seat and a bit of leg room.

No, what they want, at the core of what they want, is to feel special, as though the plane is flying just for them.  And while they’re at it, often flying away from family and friends, they want to be able to enjoy the flight and have fun doing it.  They want to look forward to the ride home not just because they’re getting home.  This is the need.

All that other junk about leg room and bigger screens are just the symptoms of this need.  Being customer centric, they’re symptoms which, of course, need to be alleviated, sure, but only symptoms nonetheless.


MVP, Minimum, Viable, Pointless.

Perhaps then, this teaches us all a lesson.  If we’re going to part with our money, or ask others to do so, we should settle for nothing less than perfection.

It doesn’t seem like Emirates said ‘let’s MVP this (minimum viable product), what’s the least we can get away with’.  It feels like they said ‘what’s the most we can do for a customer centric experience?’  It’s a bit like the failing fast mantra which companies seem to take on and then completely misunderstand.

Perhaps we should talk less of MVP then.  Don’t deliver features for the hell of it.  Don’t develop features which no one wants and no one needs.  Whatever you do deliver though, deliver it to perfection.

Then maybe one day you too will be flying Emirates business class.


[P.S. No, this blog wasn’t sponsored by Emirates].

Thus plush image of some great customer centric design is currently unavailable