Why is this interesting? The Customer Experience Edition

On brands, COVID, and sea changes in experience

Colin here. One of the marketing trends that’s been impossible to miss during COVID is how traditional things that make a brand cool or sexy have fallen by the wayside in favor of operational acumen. 

While I normally would favor a cool boutique coffee shop, in many current instances Starbucks gets my business because I feel like they have their act together in terms of operations. As Reilly Brennan covered in both the Designing Clean and Masked Road Trip Editions, this comes down to applying a consistent rigorous approach to customer safety across each location along with nailing mobile ordering and pickup. While the fast-food and coffee restaurants lead the pack in this regard, in the world of hospitality it’s worth noting how Four Seasons is flexing their strong operations to both ensure safety and reinforce their brand.. It is impressive to see how a brand with so many moving parts has been able to quickly pivot its customer experiences. Four Seasons has partnered with Johns Hopkins on cleanliness protocols, rolled out lobby-based temperature checks as a layer of precaution, and generally has adapted the difficult task of running a luxury hotel brand without downshifting a ton. It is impressive to see. 

Why is this interesting? 

While some consumer categories—large chain food and coffee, hotels, etc.—are all generally converging on a similar, safe direction in COVID, it has been fascinating to observe how airlines have been diverging in the pandemic. While the crisis is clearly a major economic fork in the road for carriers, it’s also testing the values and operations of each and every one of them. 

Domestically, Delta, Alaska, and Jetblue are blocking middle seats, allowing for enough distance for travellers. When you understand the economics of airlines, this is quite an act of generosity, as you’re effectively cutting out a large portion of your inventory. In my mind, this generosity will likely translate to brand choice in the near-to-medium term as travel continues to be more of a burden than a treat. But it will most definitely hurt the bottom line. 

On the other hand, United and American are still stuffing their cabins. And with lots of direct routes cut, this means there are a ton of planes flying completely full, especially during the summer holidays. It is a stark difference between those who are putting consumers first and those trying to maximize their profit. 

Internationally, there has been a lot of innovation. Flying Emirates now is like checking into a Swiss surgical ward: flight attendants wear special garb, and passengers receive a box filled with gloves, masks, sanitizing gel, and other necessities. 

And, what I find particularly interesting, Emirates were a first mover in terms of offering COVID-related insurance to those needing to travel. In what was a branding and tactical master stroke in one, the carrier offers insurance to every single person that sets foot on an Emirates flight, regardless of class, paid ticket, or mileage redemption. It covers medical insurance up to 150,000 euros for COVID-related illnesses, as well as around 100 Euros a day if you need to quarantine. There was even a funeral provision—which the media tended to blow out of proportion—that rounded off a complete package that took some of the unease and fear out of getting back on a long-haul flight. Emirates saw the nagging worries in the new reality and headed it off at the pass, executing quickly while other carriers were touting PR-friendly tactics like PPE, face shields, and scarves—seemingly stuck in the first wave COVID messaging of “we are here for you.” 

Not surprisingly, Etihad has just done the same, and I would anticipate Qatar and other higher-service, long haul carriers to follow suit once they get the deals done. As people return to flying, having the added peace of mind is a nice perk. The purchase mindset of traveling has changed dramatically and those carriers with the strongest brands, values (and backing)  are trying to address it head on. (CJN)

Share Why is this interesting?

Video of the day: 

It’s worth re-visiting the incredibly powerful video Sigur Ros made for Vaka, off of their () untitled album. Friend of WITI Will Calcutt just unearthed it in a text thread about the fires raging across the US. It is certainly disquieting, but the track is beautiful and worth your time. (CJN

Quick Links: 

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).