Services that fix services and the inverse experience umbrella

by Andy Polaine on February 17, 2014

in General

I often use air travel as the archetypal example of a multi-channel service that unfolds over time. Modern air travel consists of lots of minor annoyances that aggregate to a massive pain in the arse. When analysed individually, each of these annoyances can be dismissed as something not so bad that customers should be willing to put up, but it is the totally of the experience than counts.

Airport security is an area that is particularly awful and that people are resigned to. Much as the economy trumps social or environmental concerns, security trumps any kind of care for paying passengers’ experiences. That is unless you go through Sweden’s Göteborg Landvetter Airport, in which case security feels like an IKEA showroom.

I was intrigued to hear about Global Entry on John August’s Scriptnotes podcast as Craig Mazin’s One Cool Thing. By now it is common knowledge that the TSA is a disaster and swamp of scandals. Entering the U.S. feels like Kafka’s The Trial—a miserable, disorienting experience of being barked at by half-witted officials. Global Entry is a program that pre-approves people and offers them this service:

At airports, program participants proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingertips on the scanner for fingerprint verification, and make a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit.

In other words, exactly the smooth, hassle (and being hassled) free experience it should already be. It’s a paid-for service to fix another one that doesn’t work and an admission that the normal system is simply broken. At the moment it’s only or U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, Dutch citizens (oddly—why only the Dutch from Europe?), South Korean citizens and Mexican nationals.

Aboalarm, a German app and service that I’ve written about before does something similar, allowing people to easily remember to quit their phone and utility contracts and even helping them send a signed fax to the customer service centres. It works seamlessly, but should be what customers are offering their customers to do instead of deliberately making it hard for them to leave. There is always a market opportunity for services that fix other poor services.

The Inverse Experience Umbrella

A price umbrella is where an expensive product, such as the iPhone, leaves room in a market for a competitor to offer something cheaper. That competitor can eventually grown and start taking the market share of the company that originally created the umbrella.

Something similar can happen with customer experiences. Services that have awful touchpoints that become the norm leave a kind of inverse experience umbrella in which a competitor just needs to take a touchpoint experience that is universally accepted as being poor, but that is also the standard expectation, and turn it around to be a positive experience. It is precisely because the expectations are so low in the first place and that customers are resigned to it that the positive experience carries such weight.

Staying with the airline theme, one of the most recent examples of turning a universally ignored touchpoint was Virgin America’s Safety Video. The assumption of competitors appears to be that nobody ever pays attention to them, so why bother spending much money on them? The twist of deciding not to film it inside an aircraft cabin freed them up to create something that not only does not get ignored, but even got a glowing review in The New Yorker.

The challenge is to meet the expectations that have been set by the video across all the other touchpoints. One commenter on the New Yorker article wrote, “After watching the video I spent the rest of my flight searching in vain for something on Virgin’s in-flight entertainment programming that was half as much fun.”

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