American Airlines Kodak Moment

I’m not referring to their wildly successful tag-line, but to their fall and demise. In their bestselling book, Bold, authors Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler outline the rise and fall of Instagram and Kodak. Kodak went bankrupt, Instagram, a company in operation for all of 18 months, with 13 employees, was acquired for a billion dollars 2 months later.

More than a single moment, it started at the gate at Charlotte. The agent announced we would begin boarding the flight to San Antonio. Except we were all headed for San Diego. Once we were all on board, the cabin crew thanked us for “flying American… I mean US Airways”. I felt a bit better, because US Airlines was printed on my ticket. At least I knew were I was and where I was headed, event if they didn’t.

They went on to share with us the safety features of our AirBus 321. Even the industry admits we are flying around in a bus up in the air. All of this was just a prelude, setting up the shot, adjusting the focus, checking the exposure. Then, finally, the moment arrived.

I asked Jesus, our flight attendant, if I could have another Diet Serra Mist, my favorite on-board beverage. Jesus spoke, and said, “I don’t have one on this cart, but you can get up, go to the back and they will find one for you.”

Kodak moment.

I didn’t jump right up and serve myself. I pondered my situation for a while. Then I got a sign from the drink napkin on my tray table, “Like us on Facebook”. Although I didn’t say anything to Jesus, my immediate response was, “Not only no, but hell no.”

What makes this more than just another rant about crappy customer service is what it means for your company. American/US Air is having a brand crisis, their loyal hardworking team members can’t keep up, and most importantly, their customers have lost faith.

An engineer at Kodak invented digital photography, but the brass thought they were in the film and printing business (they forgot their marketing tag-line). For the airlines, the attack on 9/11 gave us locked cockpit doors, forever dividing the flight and cabin crews. Pilots think they are flying a plane, flight attendants think they’re babysitting, leadership thinks they are making a killing and customers no longer care about the journey.

I got up, went to the back, made my request and received my beloved Serra Mist. Then I requested a comment card. “Gosh, we don’t have them on-board. You should go to the website.” Twice in one night American team members had told me where to go, somewhere else, anywhere but here. (they no longer print comment cards.) Sorry, I can’t think of a funny punch line for the revelation.

The executive team is correct, they are making a killing. They are killing the company. I don’t expect American to solve this problem. I’m not going to visit their site. Neither am I going to like them on Facebook. Besides, I think there is more profit in the opportunity.

My Kodak Moment

Public global corporations are never going to get the idea that telling customers where to go, or even pointing the way doesn’t work. They must lead the way. Neither is launching a start-up like Instagram. Startups take too much work and deliver just the promise of ROI. The sweet spot for my money is the closely held, successful small business. You can always tell. It’s the company where rolling up your sleeves is more than a political photo op. Where customer visits are part of everyone’s job.

If that’s your sweet spot, here’s some tips to help you avoid a Kodak Moment at your firm:

  • If you want customers to like you on Facebook or during the customer experience, first give them a reason, next give them directions and finally, don’t invite them until they have Internet access.
  • The most important word associated with Mobile-friendly is immediacy (Google the term, it’s huge) Deal with customer’s issues now, before it escalates into a blog post.
  • Use your technology to build bridges instead of walls. Caller ID has devolved into a customer avoidance strategy.

Creating digital leverage is the only why you’ll ever see the ROI from your technology investment. Closely held companies are the only organizations nimble enough to capitalize on this opportunity.

Can’t wait until I can place my bet on AirlineBnB.