VOICE OF CUSTOMER
Airlines are good at communicating illusory prices. I guess we have all been burnt at some point by unfulfilled fare promises advertised by low cost airlines.
Things improved a bit after the European Union and some other countries passed legislation that forced airlines to publish only fares including all charges, surcharges, taxes and fees. At least this brought the ridiculous permanent “fuel surcharge” to an end. Nevertheless, airlines are still creative when it comes to introducing new “surprices” during the booking process.
You thought that payment was an indivisible part of the general ticketing service fee imposed a couple of years ago?
Airlines discovered that this process could also be unbundled into two, obviously not optional, components: now they charge you for issuing the e-ticket PLUS another charge for paying for it. Smart, isn’t it?
OK, those old-school cost oriented airline marketers who consider the credit card commission a cost item which must be passed on to the customer may not be the most creative guys, but they have a point. Although charging 4,50€ for paying a 35€ ticket sounds like a pretty bad negotiation with payment processors – perhaps someone at the airline should be fired over that 12,8% commission!
One more time, Ryanair insists on not playing never ever nice with customers. At least in Spain you need to get an obscure prepaid credit card to be able to “pay for free” your tickets. OK, no problem, that’s consistent positioning and expectation management.
What about the others? Spanair, the Star Alliance carrier, was particularly smart at inventing methods to keep its customers busy. If you want to avoid a payment-processing fee you have to print out a bar code, find a branch of a certain savings bank featuring a certain time of ATM which is able to read bar codes and accept cash.
The first and only time I tried this, the ATM did not read the bar code. Spanair’s call center acknowledged that the original printout was too small for the reader, suggesting that I should paste a copy of the payment voucher into Word, drag on the corners of the image and print an amplified copy (no joke!).
As I love to bring those surrealistic customer experience stories to an end, I followed their advice, but it still didn’t work. When the call center wanted to send me to another, pretty distant ATM, I asked for a supervisor.
Surprise! At the end I was allowed to do telephonic payment with my beloved Amex card (beloved because is the most hassle-free financial institution I have ever dealt with) at no extra charge to get the ticket issued after several hours of fruitless barcode reader orientation and desktop publishing lessons.
This is where Customer Experience Leadership kicks in. Accountants will write 20 page memos to defend the payment-processing fee.
Come on guys! Is customer psychology such a complex science? Is it so difficult to guess how customers feel for getting charged for paying?
Yes, I said “feel”. Feelings are decisive when taking buying decision. The last minute penalty for using a credit card leaves a bad memory of an otherwise great online experience.
And – did you ever analyse how many customer abort the buying process when they are confronted with this last unexpected “surprice”? One airline manager admitted that the value of “interrupted business” nearly equalled the income generated by these charges.
Don’t forget – this is also a “branded service” when the transaction takes place at your website.
Usually I am no friend of giving direct advice – but this is an obvious one: rebundle your cheaper payment options into the airfare or the ticket-issuing fee. Give people a convenient way to buy your tickets at no visible extra charge, such as with debit cards.
This even will help you to protect your ancillary income from insurance sales because it will make debit card payments more attractive, preventing people from feeling protected already by the automatic travel insurance already included with their credit card.