Going First Class

I’m going to be on an airplane later this week. I used to travel a lot for my job, often going over 100.000 miles a year. I never tallied up the time that took, but the air portion alone was probably the equivalent of 5 or 6 work weeks aloft. Add in getting to and from the airport plus time at the airport itself and travel was a significant part of my life.

JAL

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One great thing happened to my travel life when I made VP. Suddenly I was allowed to book travel in business or first class. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, it was a little bigger seat and some better food. Today, it’s the difference between leaving the plane with sore knees (from the person in front of you hitting your legs) and hungry vs. arriving relatively intact and ready to do business. Still, if you’re paying your own way or traveling on vacation, why fly first class instead of coach? After all, you get to the same place at the same time and the price difference is extremely significant. My answer is something that I think applies everywhere in business.

The airline business has a system now that packs people into planes in a way that maximizes profit. The seats are closer together and an in-flight meal consists of generally unhealthy snacks (stick to the peanuts, kids). You’re charged for everything from bags to blankets. Flying in first is, in short, a much better experience. You’re paying for better care, not for faster or better transportation. Once again, cost vs. value.

Here is the thing. In the course of maximizing profit, the airlines have relegated the comfort and happiness of the majority of their customers to secondary status. I suspect they’re not alone in this. One supermarket will have people walking throughout the store to help you while another will have you walk to the customer service desk if you need help finding something. Yes, the prices may be a bit lower at the latter but isn’t the former a better experience and worth a small premium? First class vs. coach in terms of the experience. Have you ever bought shoes from Zappo’s? They cost about the same as elsewhere but their customer service and support is legendary and a significant point of differentiation. It’s flying in first vs. coach once again.

Customers don’t forget. Think about the grievances you have with most businesses and I’m willing to bet they’re both relatively petty and related to the business choosing profit over customer happiness. Because I refuse to step foot on one of their planes ever again, I will pay a little more this week not to fly an airline that has treated me and many other customers like crap. I’ll also fork over a few bucks to sit in an exit row because it’s a better experience for my legs but I’m not happy about having to do so when there are open seats that in the old days I could have chosen for nothing but now cost more. The real question for your business is how can you provide that first class experience at a coach price even if the bottom line takes a tiny hit?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

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