As Summer Heats Up, Airline Brands are Taking Heat from Customers

The spring buds had barely broken into leaf when United Airlines (UA) set into motion what is becoming a summer of brand destroying idiocies. The airline industry, not always praised for their customer centric approach to operations management, decided moving a few of their employees to another location was more important than several passengers who had paid for their passage and were boarded and preparing for departure. The flight was scheduled to depart O’Hare International Airport in Chicago for Louisville, Ky., at 5:40 p.m. but hundreds of other passengers were delayed two hours while UA flight attendants and crew members summoned some strong arms of the private law and forcibly assaulted and dragged an offending passenger off the plane.

Later into the season an IT outage at British Airways (BA) caused thousands of flights to be cancelled impacting more than 75,000 customers travel plans. Glitches and Murphy’s Law has been known to throw an unintended wrench into even the most well-executed software program before, but BA’s poor communication and resulting response was so inept that many passengers have vowed to boycott the airline.

Carmen Courchesne, a 74-year-old passenger was supposed to be flying from Massachusetts to Florida with help from JetBlue’s (JB) wheelchair assistance program when something went wrong at Logan International Airport. The grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, was left unattended at a gate in Boston for several hours before her family, who were waiting at the airport in Florida, became concerned and sought her whereabouts. Turned out many hours later she was still sitting, abandoned and unattended at Logan Airport.

These and numerous other industry-actors customer relations missteps has made the summer of 2017 a time of mind-blowing, brand busting odyssey. And if the actual incidences where not sufficient enough to anger and alienate their customers and severely injure their brand’s value, the reaction from the airlines employees and management in response to the problems left nothing on the table to cast doubt on where these airlines position their customers in their operations hierarchy. Initially, UA responded to their passenger assault by attempting to explain why overbooking flights and reallocating human resources topped passenger service when it came to the company’s bottom line. BA’s response gave a; so what, these things happen, we’ll do better next time public impression. JB’s seaming flippant response to botching their passengers with disability customer service did very little to appease the concerns for the family of the disabled grandmother, much less add value to the company’s brand or reputation.

Customers have long been told that they’re never wrong, that customer sovereignty trumps all things when it comes to making connections with a responsible marketer, even when a consumers behavior spills out of the envelop of common decency. In reality, “Customers are not always right, but they are always the customer”.

Is it possible that the answer to theses errant reactions lies at the foot of another business management mantra, “What gets measured gets done”? In today’s high-tech, data harvesting, benchmarking, number crunching world, it is becoming clear to airline consumers that airline employees’ performance evaluation matrix does not include so much of a bullet when it comes to the art and science of customer centricity. Either that, or a whole lot of company associates failed to get the memo.

Regardless of the specific reasons, the summer of the “War on the passengers” is an indication of a systematic problem, perpetuated and promoted by those at the very top of the corporate labor chain. Expectations and examples all start at the top and at the top of every subsequent management level. It then matriculates down to where the end user meets with the company’s product or service. And while no associate can completely be held accountable for the poor and despicable actions of a few consumers, each of us who make our life’s work from connecting with consumers must put the misbehavior in perspective and context of the whole of the experience. A company’s brand value and each of our personal values are ultimately on the line and on display for all to see.

Forming a Start-up & Compelling Exit Strategy at the Same Time

At first consideration it seems to be counter intuitive. Formulating a plan to exit a new start-up business before the start-up of the new business? For the true entrepreneur, the experience of a new start-up is exciting, exhilarating and even intoxicating. For most, it’s what they do, who they are and is much more a result of DNA than MBA. Why, at a time when the focus is on planning the complexities of development and launch, should we consider a strategy for selling out or diluting our future participation? Why should we spend time and effort now on the end game?

A failure to see it coming. – Making assumptions about future unknowns is a common element of planning and forecasting. A well-developed and implemented business strategy is a key to determining success or failure of even the most modest of visions. In the event that original assumptions fail to generate the anticipated outcome, the process of getting out and successfully surviving for another opportunity will be measured by a predetermined plan that includes a contingency for exiting the situation. An effective exit strategy should be planned for every positive and negative contingency.

Making a transition. – The operational skill sets required to initiate and launch a new venture is markedly different than those required to successfully guide and maintain a business through subsequent stages in the businesses life-cycle. Entrepreneurs love the experience of the start. But the job requirements of management change overtime.  Attracting talent or investors with specific skills and experience needed to move the operation into the next segment is critical to making a successful transition to the next stage in the cycle. Often it will be necessary for the dreamer, the creator or the artist to give-up all or part of their responsibilities or participation in day-to-day management in order to attract the new talent. Preplanning for this inevitability can assure a more successful, efficient and timely transition for the venture.

Where are you going anyway? – A map without a destination is not a plan for a successful journey. It’s a plan to wander around.  A business which is wandering around in a competitive and dynamic business environment is likely to arrive at failure, not success. A transition that involves selling to new investors through an IPO, selling to existing employees or stakeholders, preserving the organization as a family heirloom or taking an IPO path requires various routes to achievement, each unique but each requiring decisions to be made from the outset of the new start up. For emerging businesses it is important to link the marketing strategy and the exit strategy in one cohesive plan.

Alignment of business strategy is critical to investors. Aligning the exit plan with the overall business development plan is significant because the choice of exit plan can influence business development choices from the outset. The desirability of each choice is dependent on the initial form of ownership, the original intent of the business, market conditions and company performance. The exit strategy is also very important to investors.  “An exit strategy isn’t just relevant, it’s essential. One of the biggest worries of angel investors is ending up with a minority share in a company that doesn’t want to exit. In that scenario you can end up with your money stuck forever as stock that will never be traded, never be liquid, and therefore will never be a return on investment,” said Tim Barry, Founder of Palo Alto Software.  “What you want is as much evidence as possible that you understand the importance of the exit, the factors that make the exit more or less likely, and the vital link between the exit and the investors’ making a return on their money.”

The answer can be quite simple. The exit is, in reality, the goal. Aligning an exit strategy cohesively with an overall business and marketing strategy is critical to achieving the ultimate objective. The very best reason for an exit strategy “is to plan how to optimize a good situation, rather than get out of a bad one.” An exit strategy allows a startup to focus efforts on things that make it more appealing and compelling to future acquisition.

“When working with start-up companies on business plans and growth strategies, we always start by asking what the business looks like today; what the goal is for the business in 3 years; and what is the exit strategy,” comments Julie Gareleck, Junction Creative. “Our clients always seemed surprised that we ask about the exit at the beginning.  We’ve successfully navigating our clients from Start Up to Exit – and achieved the very goals and objectives we set at the very beginning.”

As entrepreneurs, it’s ok to love the process and relish in the rise of success. However, never lose sight of the exit.

To learn more about Junction’s success stories, contact!

The Importance of Understanding Your Customers

More than ever before, to be successful in launching or growing a business, success rests on the ability to understand consumer behavior, their needs, wants and beliefs. Customer behavior is changing almost daily as technology, advancing its influence over how consumers make their buying decisions. Fully understanding these shifts in consumer behaviors and beliefs will help you unlock fresh insights to drive your business forward. The traditional marketing and sales approach to creating “target audiences” of creating a profile based on gender, age, demographic, and geographic data alone is an approach that will cripple your ability to reach target audiences in an effective way.

Personal factors such as individual interests and opinions are influenced by demographic data such as age, gender, culture, profession and background, but psychological factors like perceptions and attitudes can play an even more important role in a consumer’s ability to process and comprehend information. Extensive social media interactions and personal relationships with family and friends is an increasingly significant influencer on customers purchasing decisions. Identifying and understanding the most critical factors and influences that affect your target audiences’ buying decision is essential to making a successful connection. How does your customer consume information and what sources do they get it from?

Just as technology has changed human behavior, entrepreneurs and business owners must adapt to the new approach to marketing and sales strategy. Consumers have unprecedented access to information from multiple and more mobile sources than ever before. The speed of change and the rapid introduction of newer technologies are impacting consumer behavior more quickly and some businesses are unable to adapt to the frenzied pace. Those who are too deliberate in recognizing and responding effectively, run the risk of being left behind in the marketplace. Brian Vellmure, in his article “How Technology Is Reshaping Human Behavior (And What You Should Do About It)” said, “As I look around, I see too many companies still wrestling with solving yesterday’s problems, woefully doing their best to survive, while the speed of technology renders their efforts irrelevant.”

Whether direct to consumer or B2B; online or brick and mortar; today’s consumers are better educated and technological savvy, and freely utilize multiple mobile devices to demand improved purchasing interactions with their product and service providers. Dave Parro, partner and vice president at Walker Sands, says, “The priority for retailers no longer lies in increasing the number of consumers who shop online, but rather improving their experience—whether it is online, in store or across different product categories,”

In order to respond to this rapid disruption to traditional purchasing processes, it is advantageous for businesses and entrepreneurs to gather important insights and perspectives  by aligning with strategic partners who understand the evolving dynamics of consumer behavior – – not just in your industry – – but across industry.  “The insights and data should drive your overarching strategy. This is critical to not only increasing awareness for your business or the product and services you provide, but also identifying those that are in the market for your products and services”, says Julie Gareleck, founder and CEO of Junction Creative Solutions.  “This can significantly impact the length of the sales cycle and can reduce costs and time spent on securing these customers.”

Are you effectively reaching your target customers?