Great service creates desirable cognitive patterns

August 16, 2012

Today is a travel day and the longest leg of my journey will be starting soon.  In about an hour I will be aboard the Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong.  The final leg is a short 3 hrs from Hong Kong to Singapore however including the HKG layover I'm 17 hours away from that final short flight! &nbsnbsp;The aircraft I will be flying is my favourite plane at the moment… Boeing's 777.

Now the the title of this post is linking what I observed today in contrast to some challenges in the past with Air Canada.  The photo is of a group of staff at Air Canada that are part of their Concierge service team that provides personal services to frequent fliers who have earned the top level in that program.  It is a great service to have and it has helped me a few times when I needed some assistance while traveling.  Today one of the team members ran an errand for me outside of security so that I did not have to clear customs and security to get back in time for the Hong Kong flight.  Unrelated to this service earlier I witnessed an AC representative apologize to some customers for mis-handling an oversold domestic flight.  Now this other situation was not necessarily great service to applaud however it is an example of a representative of the airline taking responsibility and acknowledging errors made in how customers were handled in a tough situation.  I'm sure some of the customers are not necessarily happy however by overhearing that situation I gained greater respect for the airline.  We all need to remember its the people at the front lines of organizations that have direct influence on shaping the cognitive patterns and perceptions that customers have of a company.  In contrast to this for example is reading the fancy well scripted annual report of a company or hearing a CEO speak about a company's values and customer-centric focus.

I guess the key point here is to recognize that front-line staff are entrusted to carry a corporations identity and they do this with their everyday interactions with the customers.  They will no doubt make mistakes and mishandle challenging situations.  Just a couple weeks ago my family and I witnessed some very angry customers voice their displeasure with how Air Canada handled travel delays due to weather issues.  The problem was with how the customer felt they were treated.  In this case this person did receive some empathy from others in the terminal hall however I must say without knowing what happened to him I was feeling more empathy for the Air Canada staff.  I believe my reaction was because my balance of experience patterns are skewed to the desirable versus the undesirable.

So when you think of traditional survey's, questionnaires, and even focus groups you have to ask yourself if you are getting sufficient insights to understanding the cognitive patterns and filters at play with your customers.  The fluidity of such patterns and shifts requires a different approach to understanding the complexity of such perceptions across a large sample of customers.  

So to end this post I just want to say thanks to the Air Canada for both the service both received and witnessed today at YVR.  The icing on the cake is getting an upgrade to business class on the 13 hr flight I'm about to board… now upgrades definitely have a strong reinforcing effect on desirable cognitive patterns! 


Note: image is compliments of

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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