I eagerly anticipated this Spring's CEdMA Training Leadership Conference, with a theme of "Driving a Learning Journey for the Subscription World." CEdMA is the Computer Education Management Association, "the premier organization for training executives, managers, and professionals on a management path in technology companies." In preparation for attending the conference, I set up notes for each conference session in an Evernote notebook so that I could already have a place to log my thoughts about what I learned. I made arrangements for my schedule to be off for a few days. And I made my travel plans...
As I prepared to leave Dallas for San Francisco the day before the conference, I had an experience that was a perfect example of how the right customer education at the right time can impact a company's bottom line.
I missed my flight. And for a completely preventable reason.
For those of you who don't know, Dallas has two airports. Dallas Love Field has its origins in World War I (around 1917), but starting in 1979, was governed by The Wright Amendment, which limited flights outside Texas. It just wasn't big enough to handle lots of flights. DFW Airport first opened in 1973 and is the hub for American Airlines. How these details relate to my story is that in practice, I'm used to Southwest Airlines (and almost no other airlines) flying out of Love Field, and all other airlines flying from DFW. Even though The Wright Amendment was fully repealed recently, as a Dallasite, that news didn't seep into my consciousness enough to question my assumption that my April flight would leave from DFW.
So I scheduled my shuttle to pick me up at my home and drop me off at DFW. Unfortunately, my Virgin Airlines/Alaska Airlines flight was scheduled from Love Field.
In some ways, I was lucky. Since I'd taken a shuttle, I didn't have to worry about my car. I grabbed a cab and headed straight for Love Field. The traffic gods were smiling on me, and we actually got to Love Field in about 20 minutes. The mistake at this point was a cost I could swallow: a $45 cab fare.
When I checked my bag, the ticket agent informed me that boarding was starting in 5 minutes. "I made it," I thought.
And then I got to the security line. It was not five minutes long.
There were two announcements while I sweated in the security line. "Passengers for flight blah blah blah to San Fransisco should make their way to gate blah blah blah," the announcer said. "Lots of you are missing." I wondered if I should ask to cut in the security line, or if that would just cause problems with TSA. I decided the best plan was to be patient. I watched the clock and the progress of the line. I thought it would be close, but I would be okay.
When I got to the gate, moments after they'd closed the doors, I found out that 13 other people had also missed the flight. (The gate agent had told me that passengers went to the wrong airport EVERY DAY.)
Now, I'm not one to find someone else blame when things go wrong. I take full responsibility for my mistake as my mistake. You know what they say about assumptions. (In case you don't: "It makes an &#! of u and me.") I should not have assumed. But in all fairness, it was a fairly valid assumption.
Everything worked out okay in the long run. I was able to get on a flight early the next morning, which worked, but made for a long first day of the conference (and I missed the first/keynote session). But I had to get ready super early in the morning, without any of the clothes, makeup, etc. that I'd packed for the conference that left without me in the checked bag.
But I also had plenty of time to ruminate on how this could have been prevented. Where in my ticket purchase or even on the check-in email that arrived several hours before my flight could I have challenged the assumption that I was flying from DFW?
I went back and looked at my interactions for the flight purchase. And the only thing I found anywhere was the airport code. Dallas Love Field is DAL, whereas DFW is obviously DFW. I should have seen it and known. I never would have goofed had it been reversed.
But honestly, that's a difference that's easy to miss, and for someone who doesn't know (maybe some of those 13 other people who missed the flight), a pretty subtle distinction to expect travelers to get right.
So where could education play a role in preventing this mistake? Again I'm making an assumption that the airline would want to prevent the mistake: while it was marginally expensive and annoying for me, I'm imagining that several people missing flights on a regular basis (if my experience is common) is less profitable than operating with full flights. Not to mention the indirect costs and potential loss of future sales.
And this is the real lesson from this story. Look at this line in the email I received to check in for my flight FROM Dallas. Pay attention to the part in yellow.
Customer education can be as simple as including one sentence in an email to help make sure that passengers have made the appropriate plans to get to the right airport.
And in one of my favorite sessions from the CEdMA conference, Donna Weber shared her insights on how having the right content is not enough. You need to connect the dots for the customer.
In my next post, I'll be sharing other key takeaways from the CEdMA conference on additional ways that education can play a role in both your customers' success and the company's success.