Colleen Barrett and photos from my time working with Southwest Airlines

Me, the C and ‘micro moments’

In the old days, when Customer service ruled, travelers in a pinch could call their travel agents and problems worked out in ten minutes — that’s simply not the case today

A few days ago I posted my first blog on Medium about travel agents and the evolution of the airline industry. In case you missed that post, click here to catch up.

One of the first travel companies I had the pleasure of working with as a user experience consultant and designer was Southwest Airlines. While working for the creative agency Razorfish, I spent nearly two years in the mid 2000’s immersing myself in everything that is Southwest and helping them define their digital vision and strategy. Our team worked tirelessly and very closely with the Southwest team based in Dallas, and during this time I learned something that has shaped my career to this day. What was it? I learned the true meaning of “Customer experience.” As a result, I always capitalize the C in Customer in my writing today as it emphasizes the focus on the Customer, something I gleaned from Colleen’s Bible at Southwest, and which truly embodies what makes them special.

One of the many designs our Razorfish team worked on for Southwest Airlines back in 2008

Without taking a deep dive into everything I love about the Southwest culture and their focus on the Customer, lets just say that putting the Customer first is a fiber that is woven throughout the entire company — not an after thought or an idea to aspire to. I remember someone saying, “Southwest is a Customer service company that just happens to provide seats on a plane,” or something to that effect. The Southwest approach changed my thinking about not only Customer experience, but also user experience and how a digital experience should be crafted.

Visual Design Concepts with Interaction Notes from 2007

Through my research at Southwest, a pattern started to emerge when talking to Customers and conducting user experience testing. Even though Customers liked the idea of being able to quickly search for prices and availability of flights, they were also starting to suffer from early stages of ‘travel search’ fatigue. Customers were overwhelmed with the amount of websites offering travel content, reviews, pricing, and booking services and began to mention their desire for a more helpful, personalized, concierge like travel planning experience. Customers still wanted to be able to search and book on their own (self service), but in key places throughout the Customer journey they desired more proactive help with their travel planning and management.

Airlines and online travel agents (OTAs) have since made decent strides to improve the overall user experience of their websites, but most were not prepared for the explosive popularity of the smart phone and still struggle with maintaining a quality mobile presence, much less creating a cohesive user experience across all digital channels. The OTAs are way ahead of most airlines in terms of breadth of functionality, cohesion, and overall user experience, but even they lack that “concierge” like experience that research has found travelers still desire.

Smart phones have complicated the travel planning experience considerably. What can be an already overwhelming and time consuming experience on a desktop screen, becomes even more cumbersome and complex on a smaller mobile screen. But despite the challenges that planning a trip on a mobile device presents, because of the convenience factor, Customers are turning to their mobile devices more than ever to plan or research travel in what Google Think calls, “micro moments” those brief, but open windows on their daily calendar, such as when waiting in line for the bus, or during a coffee break. These micro-moments really define what we do with our ‘off-time’ as consumers, and that’s where we the travel industry needs to break out those old posters, in a digital sense.

The biggest opportunity missed by most airlines and OTAs is in developing relationships with their mobile Customers before and after the flight is booked. Sure, I can check in online via my mobile device and display my mobile boarding pass to security, but those are simply extensions from the larger booking experience. Can I engage customer service reps on my Orbitz mobile app if, for some reason, my hotel in Kansas City doesn’t have my reservation? And if I could, would it even help solve my problem? In the old days consumers could call their travel agents and have it all worked out in ten minutes. Now, getting the problem rectified could take hours. And that’s a serious problem.

Presenting Higgy

And just one of many reasons why my team is launching Higgy. He is going to bring the sexy back to travel by merging all of our brilliant technological innovation with actual humans. Higgy, short for Higgins, will launch in alpha mode in the next few months and will soon be at your service. Please check out our Kickstarter page to learn how you can help us get Higgy through his development cycle. It takes a community to raise an app!

Here’s a short video for your perusal. We are always looking for user feedback, so don’t hesitate to comment or get in touch with us.

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