On the plane ride back from Thailand, I started reading Branded Customer Service by Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart. Although I still have a good portion of the book before me, it has led me to look at things with a different viewpoint.
My primary criticism thus far is the feeling that I get from the authors that a well planned marketing effort tightly integrated with a customer service approach can offset a poor product. I think this depends on the industry. In some industries such as clothing and fashion this may be true, but in the technology sector a poor product will sink any marketing effort.
While reading the book, I thought of the two airlines that I travelled during the trip. The first was EVA Air, who we used to fly from Seattle to Bangkok via Taipei. I must admit, given their advertising it was quite difficult to determine what their brand is actually promising. From looking at their web site I could not find a strong message on what they aim to be. This was actually revealing in a way, as I can now see that in the absence of a strong message on what your brand promises, customers will create a message themselves commesurate with your competitors - which is bad because you have now become a commodity.
From my experience, EVA Air had mostly bad points. On the bad side, they are completely disorganized. Announcements were made by a representative yelling at SeaTac, when it would have been much more convenient to use the loud speaker. Boarding itself was not by rows, but more of a cattle herd approach.
One thing that was apparent to me, was you are considered an inferior person if you fly economy with EVA. Never before have I felt so diminished. Airline attendants were few and far between for economy - we really only saw them when they delivered meals and drinks. leaving the aircraft, an attendant blocks all economy passengers until every single first class/business class passenger has left, no matter how much time they need. On other airlines, first class and deluxe passengers disembark first because they are at the front of the plane, but if they take too much time they can be passed by the economy passengers. This was not the case at EVA.
The attendants was very rude and impolite. Heaven help you if your shoulder leaned into the path of the drinks cart, which they moved with tremendous speed at times. No exceptions were given when buckling children. Our two year old was asleep during landing once and one attendant insisted that he be removed from our lap, buckled, and sit upright (which of course woke him up and he was NOT happy). We tried to compromise by buckling him on our lap but to no avail.
The next contrast was Bangkok Airlines. Bangkok Air advertises itself as the "Asia's Boutique Airline". At first I laughed when seeing this, as generally a boutique is high end while Bangkok Air's prices were very cheap. I must say though, that the airline met the claims it advertises.
To start, all passengers waiting for a flight can rest at Bangkok Air's lounge at the Bangkok Airport. Even at Ko Samui airport, snacks and drinks were provided for free to those waiting for a plane. Comfortable chairs were also provided and small padded benches where one can take a nap.
Boarding is in no particular order but is pleasantly announced through a loud speaker. Upon boarding the plane, you are greeted halfway to your seat by an attendant doing the traditional Thai wai and saying "sawat dii ka". The planes are modern and well equipped and even though our flights with them ranged from one hour to one and a half ours, we were given full meals on all flights.
Interestingly, when confronted with the same problem that EVA Air had to deal with - my son fell asleep while laying on my wife, Bangkok Air used the novel approach of wrapping a small seatbelt around him with a clip on the back that attached to my wife's seat belt. This allowed him to stay asleep and safe and they did this without asking.
When I think about it, my feelings towards Bangkok Air were reinforced by the fact that they delivered as promised. In some respects, EVA air delivered too because they promised nothing, but in the absence of advertising their is the actual experience.
So how can this be applied to Microsoft? It is about time to end for today so I'll leave that to tomorrow's blog.