Airlines say they want happy customers, survey them, and then ignore the data?

Airlines are ignoring industry survey results, are you making the same mistake?Sabre, a travel-reservations-technology company, recently conducted a survey of 90 global airlines and a whopping 86% said that efforts aimed at maintaining and growing customer loyalty had the most positive impact on their business. The survey also found that 58% of airlines are increasing fees on checked bags and peak travel times, among others, to help their bottom line.

See the disconnect? No? Well, JD Power reported in June that customer satisfaction with airlines has dropped - for the third straight year. JD Power cites increased fees and decreased services as a prime reason for the drop and also notes that the low-cost carriers - Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America - have significantly higher satisfaction. They also tend to have far fewer fees.

Everyone knows that airlines are struggling right now, but I bet your business has seen better times as well. Would you ever simultaneously think that customer satisfaction is the most important driver for your business... and then do exactly the thing that depresses that satisfaction the most? The industry has conducted some great research, but the belief that they can somehow do the opposite of what that satisfaction research suggests and still satisfaction in the long term seems tenuous.

But not all airlines are chasing short term revenues as the expense of long term customer loyalty and profits. The New York Times is reporting that some are urging regulation to stop airlines from charging "holiday surcharges" that do not appear as part of the fare, but are added to the price of your ticket later in the purchase process. Who is urging this regulation? Not consumer groups (well, they probably are as well!), but none other than Virgin Group founder and Chairman Richard Branson. Branson says the "fees are not a good idea" and is worried that airlines risk alienating travelers if they add to many after-fare fees

It is good to see that not everyone in the industry is blind to the data - and my personal customer experiences say that Branson is right on the money. I know that I am now far, far less likely to even consider flying on the legacy carriers these days. Why fly United if I'm going to be nickled-and-dimed when I can fly Southwest, JetBlue, or Branson's Virgin America? 

Surveying customers and your target market is only worthwhile if you actually listen to the results and act on them. As the former CEO of Southwest Airlines (a Cvent Web Surveys client!), Herb Kelleher said: "We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things". Survey your market, your customers, and your employees and use the date to enact change. Don't ignore it and hope for the best!

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