It has been a long time since I have flown on any airline that is not Virgin or Lufthansa. I love the “friendly skies” of Virgin and love the quiet (German) efficiency of Lufthansa, especially on the international routes. Today, I am flying on America Airlines and then Air Berlin to Berlin. It has been less than two hours and I can already tell the gulf between Virgin and American.
The comparison is apt – after all both companies are in the same business. They essentially offer the same thing. Both are in somewhat precarious financial situation. The only thing which separates them are my perception of the two companies and it is shaped by my (user) experience.
Why do I fly Virgin? Simple: flying is a nerve racking experience and Virgin brings a service attitude and a user experience that is meant to puts you at ease and make sure your enjoy the journey in a germ-filled metallic tube at ungodly speeds, high up in the skies. [That tells you how I really feel about flying.]
And you can see it from the minute you get on a Virgin plane. Next time you are on one, try and notice that there are very few people with frayed tempers. The Virgin staff is constantly helping you secure seats, find you overhead bin space for your bags. They even take your bags incase there is no room for them online. And they do all that — smiling and in good cheer. The routine announcements – seat belts, turn off devices and what not are made in a calm, friendly and casual manner.
The friendliness of the Virgin brand is reflected in those announcements, not only the words, but how they are made, just as it is in the cool interiors, the colorful/fun logo and ease with which you can manage your itinerary (though lately that is a game in its own right #sarcasm.) You can hear the wink-and-nod in the no-smoking and turn off devices announcements. Flying Virgin is an immersive experience into the brand.
I compared this to American flight this morning. Maybe it is the ungodly early flight, but I didn’t see very cheerful staff. There were some annoyed people trying to find space for their bags. There were others who were scrambling to check-in their bags, in the process slowing down the boarding process. The announcements and the signage inside the plane have a bossy tone of big-brother. In other words, the user experience that is exact opposite of Virgin.
The comparison between the two flying experiences crystallized one thing for me: user experience is not pretty logos, lovely web design or rounded corners. A smile is a user experience and so is an honest and candid reply to a tweet. Experience is not just physical. It is delivering happiness across as many touch points as often and as frequently as possible, is the ultimate user experience. Apple and Virgin are good examples of that whole experience package.