January 19, 2018

What Can Airlines Learn From the 3Ps of Services

The airline industry consistently ranks as one of the most disliked industries in the United States, along with health care, the postal service and telco providers.  But does it really have to be that way.   Are there some simple things the airlines can do to improve on this status?  Let me relate a story that show how a simple application of the 3Ps of service (the new 3Ps in addition to the traditional 4Ps) might make a difference.

If you’re not familiar with the Ps of marketing, the traditional Ps of marketing are product, price, place (distribution channels) and promotions.   With the increase in service oriented products being offered, there are 3 new Ps that have grown in importance – People, Process and Physical Evidence.

Several years ago, I was on a flight to Chicago, and toward the end of the flight, I realized that something was different about that flight.  I was experiencing some of the best coach class service that I had experienced in recent years.   And I started to think about why this time was different.  After thinking about it for a few moments, I concluded the following made the difference:

  • In most flights of that length (2 to 3 hours), the flight attendants come through the cabin once to offer a drink, and then they congregate in the back galley to chat or read (and do some of their paperwork).  If you need anything else from them, you have to push the call button or go to the back of the plane.
  • On this flight, the flight attendants passed through the aisle multiple times offering water, not just the once.

When I had a chance, I went back to the flight attendants to compliment them on the excellent service.  They were grateful for the compliment and noted that many flight attendants don’t have the same attitude toward service and do the minimum required.

That got me thinking about how the new 3Ps of marketing applied in this case.  But before I share my thoughts, I want to emphasize a couple of points.

  1. First of all, I don’t want to want to bash flight attendants in general.   I believe the challenge for most flight attendants are problems with the policies of the airline companies and the industry in general.
  2. E.g., when the industry states in their announcements that the flight attendants are there primarily for your safety, that already sets some expectations on service.   I think this statement is primarily a US industry statement, as I find other carriers in other countries have a much stronger orientate toward service.

So let’s apply the 3Ps.

  • Process – I’m going to start with process, as this seems the most relevant.   The airlines definitely have lots of process in place around safety, security and some of the service work.   It can’t be too much more difficult to enhance some of the process around customer service and set expectations around passing through the cabin and offering water on a more regular basis, instead of sitting in the back chatting.
  • People – Some airlines are well known for having hiring practices that make sure they hire people that really enjoy serving and engaging with customers.  I’d like to think that all airlines try to do this, but it’s clear some airlines treat this with a higher importance than others.   But you also have to give the flight attendants the right training to understand and apply the customer service processes and in the importance of doing that.
  • Physical Evidence – In my specific example, the water or selection of drinks would be the physical evidence of the service provided.   So this brings up another interesting point.  On another flight (a 3+ hour flight), I went back to the galley to get some water, and was speaking with the flight attendants about coming through the cabin more often, instead of making us go to the back.   This flight attendant stated that they were supposed to go through the cabin more often, but if they did, they would end up serving more water, and they didn’t have enough water on board the flight.  So they were controlling the consumption by making it a little less convenient to get water.   I don’t know if not enough water was just for this flight, or is a common situation because the airlines are trying to control costs (or possibly weight).

As I think about the application of people and process in this particular example, it has really has almost no cost associated with it, but yet it can reap so many benefits in developing a more positive image around an airline, and the industry.

What are your thoughts about this?

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