I took my first Virgin America flight. I had heard people brag about their in-flight WiFi and had my expectations set accordingly in terms of being able to watch TV from my seat.
And yet, they still surprised me. Numerous times. While I was checking in, a gate agent offered to help me from his terminal even though I wasn’t in his line.If you’ve stood in lines, you know how helpful that can be. Then I asked to go standby on an earlier flight. Petrified of a huge fare increase, I was told it was free as long as there was room. Nice.
When I got to the gate, I was told that I would be called once they released the available seats. I was dreading having to pack up my computer just for that 30 feet jaunt to the podium and back, but I never heard my name called. Why? Because there were only a few standby passengers so the gate agent walked my ticket over to where I was sitting and personally handed it to me. Nice.
I only had my computer bag for this trip, so it was nice to be allowed to board early because of that, something Virgin claims they do “a little differently.” Nice.All the lights above the seats defaulted to on when I boarded so I didn’t have to do my obligatory stretch to turn on my reading light. Nice. Onboard, I was famished, having not eaten earlier – so expecting peanuts, I was drooling at the onscreen menu for ordering snacks and promptly ordered my mini-Pringles with my Diet Coke along with my “no ice” preference. All online, and the credit card swipe for the Pringles worked just fine. And because so few of my fellow passengers seemed to get the online ordering thing, I was brought out my chips and soda before they went around asking for orders. Nice.
So despite years and years of travel and tons of competition, I managed to be repeatedly surprised on my short $39 flight from SFO to Las Vegas. Here’s the question: Are you going to be just another airline, or what can you do to make your service special?
Setting up a new computer? Why use the default graphic for the desktop. How about finding the customer’s Flickr account (or ask them for access to their Picasa or iPhoto collection)
Configuring an icon for the login screen to their account? Why not pick one that matches their personality? Windows 7 golf theme, anyone?
Setting up their web browser? How about putting some great shortcuts or folder collections of bookmarks based on their interests? Or set up a useful start page rather than just the default one that ships with the software?
Might they be interested in local information? Set up widgets for weather, traffic, and other local tools like restaurants without them having to ask.
Email – do they have an HTML signature set up for their outgoing email? Do they have multiple accounts you can configure for a single point of access?
Are they over the age of 55? Perhaps setting a minimum font size (or screen resolution) will be a nice touch so they don’t complain about miniscule fonts in their applications.
Are they a sports fan? How about adding a calendar subscription in iCal or Outlook that displays their favorite team’s schedule automatically?
Have they expressed concern over a connection process, such as corporate VPN? How about capturing a screen recording and putting it on their desktop so they can get to it in the future without having to panic (or call you)? Guess how long a 3 minute tutorial video takes to record? You got it: 3 minutes. You have the time.
Backup – offer to set up a cloud-based backup for the customer – why give them an option on something that will only serve to frustrate them if they choose poorly? (Get their permission before doing any backup configuration, of course)
Word processing – set up a template for all new business documents to automatically include their address information and company logo. Make it a default choice in the templates area so they don’t have to open previous documents each time they work.
Lots of online accounts? Set up 1Password or similar service – show them how to use this. They will use it EVERY SINGLE DAY and appreciate it continually. Do the same thing for their credit cards, 1Password will store this information for easy recall later.
The airline industry had years to improve its service, but it took ingenuity, creative planning and great hiring for Virgin to make a splash with its entrance into the business. Your business can either be blindsided by a competitor that brings this fresh thinking to customers, or you can do it. Ask the airlines: it costs peanuts.