Case Study: American Airlines

I tried taking American Airlines for a business trip. Ridiculous things happened. So I decided to channel my annoyance with missing some pretty cool research interviews  by creating recommendations for AA to improve their “post purchase” (or “out of the box”) experience. I bet their own UX team has already done this, but if not… might as well borrow this. In short summary:

– Flights were severely delayed

– I missed two important business-related research interview opportunities in the midwest

– American Airlines lied to me about refunding my tickets; they sent me vouchers instead.

– AA also said they would provide a voucher for ground transport (eg taxi) back to my place – but the taxis do not accept vouchers


Recommendation 1: Don’t lie.
Examples: A ticket refund became a voucher, a taxi voucher was not accepted, and… I would have never made my flight, and you knew it!

  • This inevitably breaks down customer trust and creates negative brand perception. I had no real awareness of what the AA brand meant, but after this experience, my personal one is that AA is unreliable, rude to customers, and is a massively silo-ed organization with limited ability and desire to help customers solve their travel issues. Terrible, right? When I was telling a few co-workers this story, a few immediately asked if I had attempted flying AA. It’s not just me – fellow travelers are aware of your pain points, too.

Recommendation 2: Recognize the industry you’re in.

  • I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the highlights of Southby 2012 was Jennifer Hyman’s talk on the experience economy. At one point in her speech, she talked about the role timing and timeliness played in her business. By her account, it was one of the biggest elements of Rent the Runway; since customers are spending money in order to receive something they’re most likely going to wear at a special event, Hyman’s company has to deliver on time. The prom dress that comes two days late is no use at all. Similarly, American Airlines is also in the experience economy. We travel to get to or take part of an event, and timing matters immensely. I missed business-related work because of flight delays, and I saw the man in front of me in line nearly have a breakdown because he would not be getting to London in time for an event.
  • When timing issues occur, and I’m sure they do for every industry, then respond appropriately. Customer reps who act like severe plane delays are no big deal don’t help matters. They are! And I’m not really talking about delays in any certain minute or hour range; it’s recognizing that these delays have a chain reaction and helping your customer figure out the next steps. Those next steps should not involve your customer calling customer service after a refund has been turned into a voucher, only to be redirected to online customer service.


Sequence and flow models below



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