Friday, June 30, 2023

Leg room has no legs

The airline that rethinks leg room on long haul flights could have a leg up on its competition.

In starting this article, I got distracted and tried to see how many times I could use the word ‘leg’ or legs’ in the title and sub-title, much like how airlines are obsessed with extra leg room to differentiate their brand.

Long haul flights quite often resemble traveling by bus in rural India. “That’s why they have Airbus,” quipped a fellow passenger when I made the observation as we calmly watched the gate agent in New York’s JFK airport coping with passengers jostling to board the flight and stay crumpled in uncomfortable positions for hours at a stretch.

While airlines flaunt the extra inches they offer you in leg room, others design products to make long haul flights in cramped seats less unbearable – from special neck pillows to compression socks for the elders. Some passengers show up for long haul flights dressed in their pajamas with a pillow tucked under the arm, ready to sleep. In coach or economy class, the lucky few win the coveted three-seater or four-seater lottery where they get to stretch out and actually sleep flat if their neighboring seats are unoccupied.

Besides the discomfort, not only for the passengers, but also for the crew on long haul flights (they take turns sleeping inside tiny box-shaped cells in 4-hour spells), the health risks of sitting in flights for long stretches of time can be serious. Cases of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) affecting even young and athletic passengers aren’t unheard of.

Any airline that is serious about standing out from the crowd has an opportunity lurking within this problem. Aircraft manufacturers and airlines could reimagine aircraft interiors from scratch and think of how best to use the space inside an airplane for giving long haul passengers the most comfort with the least health risk.

Aviation could draw lessons from the rail transportation and the furniture industry.

Aircraft manufacturers could hold a contest for industrial design students and professionals to rethink aircraft seats. Long haul air travel probably needs a transformer seat, one that transforms into some sort of a bunk bed.

Perhaps they can they draw inspiration from sleeper cars of long-distance trains of the Indian Railways. Their 3-tier sleeper cars have seats where both, a bench’s backrest and its canopy, get repurposed using a simple chain and hook to make three tiers, each with a flat bed. The overhead bins will need to be reconfigured. Seat belts, safety regulations and instructions will have to be redesigned for the sleeping position.

Business and first class could still stay differentiated with options of privacy and elbow room.

Long haul flights where all passengers enjoy the choice of being seated or lying flat during flight could mean higher revenues per passenger for the airline, and fewer sleepy faces for the immigration cameras.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

The Cinderella Customer

Resorts that use the fear of missing out to sell memberships must fear missing out on digital age customers.

The resort was a marvelous machine that hummed day and night. I had recently watched a documentary called ‘Secrets of the Mega Resort’, so I simply had to slip away from a family event to understand the sales and marketing at such a resort.

The booking desk for the ‘presentation’ promised me a 90-minute process. I had my timer ready, but they told me I had to go through two registration desks before I could start the timer. I tried to nudge them along, but they insisted on printing out the forms. It turns out that the back of the printouts become part of the working papers they use to explain complex pricing by masterfully writing numbers upside down when seated across. After being passed on from desk to desk, the fourth person I met was the 'tour guide'. She wanted to drag out the process by including a lunch hour, but my timer was on.

I took the liberty of rearranging their sales workflow.

I asked to first see their best room, then talk to a customer, followed by pricing. I was driven in their ‘Cinderella carriage’ (a better golf cart) to a faraway section of the resort to see a luxury suite with a stunning view of the ocean, chef included. On my way out, I stopped a passerby who turned out to be a ‘member’ who loved his scheduled vacations and in there was a compelling testimonial from one workaholic to another. For pricing it was another building. We crossed a massive hall buzzing with salespeople pitching prospective customers. I was soon handed off to another impressive salesperson who didn’t care for my compliments about their sales machinery but was focused on assessing my purchasing power, inclination and impulse to buy. I was upfront that I do not make impulse purchases. Then another handler appeared and advised me curtly that I will never be returning and won’t get their special deal again. He pointed me to the final handler symbolically positioned near the toilet for my dismissal.

Resorts can do better with their marketing:

  • Wallpapers in other rooms showing the best views from member suites to encourage inbound inquiries.
  • Account managers, not handlers. Train all staffers to subtly weave sales pitches within conversations.
  • Use the time with a prospect to open up a lead pipeline to their contacts.
  • Compress the tour and complement with direct email marketing.
  • Make prospects your brand evangelists even if they don’t buy immediately.
  • Celebrate your members, publicly, with their permission.
  • Build a community of your members.
  • Bundle products like event services, insurance, air-tickets and ride-share.
  • Straightforward pricing like Costco to prevent buyers’ remorse.

My time was up. I was their Cinderella customer. My carriage disappeared as my timer chimed. I was left to find my way back from the far end of the resort but left wiser.