I made a commitment to my sons that I would pick them up from their first day of school this week. I scheduled my return flight extra early to avoid the potential delay that is common out of Chicago airports. In fact, I gave myself a 5-hour cushion, but that wasn’t enough on this sunny day. They boarded all passengers and minutes later had us all exit the plane because it was “due for scheduled maintenance.” Scheduled maintenance? We were notified moments later that our new flight would not leave for another 6 hours. Yes, 6 hours. I refused to be stopped in my mission, and I escaped by taxi across town to O’Hare Airport in attempt to fly on a different airline.
By this point, you can probably guess what happened next. My new flight was delayed 1.5 hours. Why? No one ever told us. In the end I paid for two flights, both with inadequate customer service. I paid them for a flight from a specific location to specific destination at an agreed upon time. The airlines fell short. Of course, they had no issue with keeping my money despite the failures on their part. Neither airline sent so much as an apology; however, I did get an auto-generated email from the original airline telling me that I failed to catch the flight that ultimately left 8 hours late.
Somehow, I was under the impression that if a traveler purchases an airline ticket then the airline carrier has responsibility to honor the transaction by keeping that ticketed passenger on schedule, outside of uncontrollable weather or unexpected mechanical issues. The first plane I boarded that day was at its airline hub: If customers were their primary focus they would have boarded us on another plane in their large fleet. We all know that customer-centric marketing rules the day, but does actual customer-centric service? Not so much. There seems to be no consequences for failed service, no performance accountability, and no acknowledgement of my negative customer experience. Sounds like healthcare in some regards, doesn’t it?
The Patient Experience movement in healthcare is chipping away at the barriers to provider accountability, but significant room for improvement remains. Like at the airport, many patients check-in (to hospital, physician office, etc.) with expectations of a certain result (surgical intervention, therapy, etc.) only to leave too often with a sub-optimal outcome. Worse yet, their feedback during this journey isn’t captured or used to improve care. Paying for a service should result in direct performance accountability for the provider whether the provider is an airline, a physician, or a hospital system. Passengers on airlines and patients in healthcare can improve the respective industries if their feedback directly impacts the consequences assigned to failed provider performance. Turns out these two enormous industries are suffering from the same ailment – APATHY. The irony here is that this apathy is extremely contagious to customers and patients. Ultimately, brands get destroyed when people don’t believe in the service a provider offers anymore. If you convey that you don’t care about your customers and patients, they will return the favor. Sometimes even ten-fold!
I made it to school to pick up my boys. I was 30 minutes late, and I had to arrange for my wife to go to the school to sit with them until I arrived. It was painful to imagine them watching all the other fathers arrive on time while I was missing in action. My sons are in kindergarten and second grade so airline reputations aren’t on their radar. Now they both know of “two planes we don’t like.” My apathy toward airline providers has since turned to proactive and strategic story sharing. It is somewhat therapeutic to me and hopefully meaningful to airline executives or even healthcare executives who read my story. As I look to other industries for best practices to improve healthcare, I will officially scratch airlines off the list. I go back to Amazon: home of product and service reviews, star metrics and performance accountability!