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“No, Bill. You don’t want wider seats.”

Jim Tincher Jim Tincher 02/20/2014

At a recent dinner party I explained what I do for a living. One attendee responded, “Well, then can you please call Delta, and tell them I want wider seats?”

I responded, “Actually, you don’t.  People say they want wider seats, but their behavior says that they really don’t.”

“Oh, you mean the hypothetical general public doesn’t want wider seats?”

“No, Bill.”  I responded. “I mean that you specifically don’t want wider seats.”


Surveys Don’t Tell the Full Story

The problem with many customer experience surveys is that they recommend the equivalent of “make my seats wider.” It’s a common practice to ask customers to rate importance for different factors, then compare that to satisfaction. But it just doesn’t work.  Since you measure each item in isolation, everything is free.  And so there’s nothing to ensure that respondents’ answers match their actual behaviors. Expensive things like wider seats have just as much weight as free peanuts.

To show what I mean, let’s play this out.  I call Delta and somehow find the magical IVR prompts to reach the right person. She hears my plea and responds, “My goodness – you’re right!  We’ve been looking at this wrong! We’ll fix that immediately.”  So they remove one chair from each row to allow for wider seats.  What will happen? Will travelers flock to Delta to take advantage of the space?

Well, probably not. To make up the revenue shortfall, Delta now needs to charge 20% more.  Rather than driving more business, they chase away more customers than they attract.*

Let the Data Do the Talking

Asking customers to rate importance feels intuitively like a good idea. And sometimes it’s your only option.  But there are usually alternatives. By analyzing stated  importance, you don’t get a balanced viewpoint. It’s better to forego asking importance altogether and instead use business metrics to derive importance.  Don’t ask how important things are, bring in sales or usage data and use that to find out what actually drives your customer loyalty.

If you’re Delta, link satisfaction scores with revenue, and use this to derive true importance.  If increases in satisfaction with seat width correlates with increased spending and loyalty, then you start tearing out seats – at least as a test. But, more likely you will find that increases in seat-size-satisfaction have little link to loyalty. When you see that, you know that you need to focus elsewhere. If revenue isn’t available, then at least link it to your high-level relationship scores, such as NPS or satisfaction, then find what factors drive these scores.

This isn’t just a B2C issue. In fact, I find it even easier to do this analysis for B2B customer measurements.

In my review of the 2012 Temkin Award winners I found that most of the winners incorporate business metrics with their customer experience measurements. For example, JetBlue has linked on-time departure to NPS. By understanding this linkage, they were able to better allocate staff at airport. And while Oracle did not give any detail, they apparently link drivers not only to their NPS scores, but also to financial results.

Unfortunately, most of us are using the easy and intuitive approach of assuming that ranked importance matches behavior. And it often isn’t true.

Your turn.  Are you taking the time to determine whether your metrics actually matter? Or are you telling your teams to create wider seats?


*No, I’m not saying that a company cannot be successful with a premium offering.  Simply that this offer does not match Delta’s value proposition, so will be unsuccessful for them.

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