Monthly Archives: January 2014

Airline humour

Air travel seems to provide rich material and fuel the laughter for many comical sketches. I guess this is largely down to the fact that flying still (despite some carriers providing what can seem like a bus service) feels strange and unnatural with so much potential for things to go wrong. The idea of being in a metal tube 40,000 feet in the air for several hours can be quite hard to contemplate – for me at least anyway. If we were meant to fly, surely we’d have been made with wings? Nevertheless that doesn’t stop me from going anywhere and trying my best to forget my fears and enjoy the experience of flying.

Bad and bizarre customer experience is often at the heart of any comedian’s work. I am a big fan of anything ‘comedy’ related so I was quite excited to discover a comedienne over the weekend (who has apparently been around for years) who goes by the name of Pam Ann. As you can probably tell, her sketches focus specifically on the flying experience, bringing to life the varied perceptions people have of different airlines in an amusing yet graphic way. Much of it is of course deeply exaggerated, but there are still some interesting underlying messages in her work around how people are made to feel by staff, based on her observations as a passenger.

Check out the following (though best not to if you are easily offended):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAgQR8Z_-KQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JgKWguQ4P4

If you like what you see here is the link to her website to find tour dates. It looks like she’s going to be in London at the end of March…! http://pamann.com/

Another great pair of comedians who have also used the theme of flying and the unique customer experience we can encounter whilst in airports and on board as comedy fuel is David Walliams and Matt Lucas. Despite first hitting our screens a few years ago, their series Come Fly With Me will never get old, especially with episodes currently being re-aired on Sky and Netflix.

A couple of my favourite sketches:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOrhMcqx6vw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIJzfrrpyUQ

Enjoy and remember to keep your eye out for real life comedy gold whilst you’re travelling!

The Curious Incident of the dog on the tube

Something special happened on my commute home this evening. Something involving a dog in my tube carriage. I will come on to this shortly.

Firstly, over the past few weeks I have dedicated quite a lot of thinking time to the impact that other customers have on our experiences, especially when we are travelling.

It seems there have been an increasing number of articles in the press recently where people have claimed to suffer at the hands of others whilst on their travels. Take the recent incident of blogger Rich Wisken for example, who saw his angry post about having to sit next to someone who he described as an ‘infant hippopotamus’ on a four hour flight go viral. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/01/01/rich-wisken-writes-incred_n_4527086.html Whether we agree with his views or not, the simple fact is that this story was shared by thousands of people across the globe and therefore exemplifies something that people clearly relate to… a travel situation which has been negatively affected by another traveller.

Moments like this can be encountered in many ways, shapes and forms. Whether it’s the prospect of someone coughing and spluttering over you, talking loudly about things you couldn’t care less about or invading your personal space as you try to get from A to B, the reality is that despite wanting to give you the best experience possible, travel companies will always struggle to control the role their ‘other customers’ play in your journey. Yes they are certainly aware of these situations and we can see examples of where they are trying to accommodate different needs…such as quiet carriages on the train. But as much as someone like Richard Wisken might like the idea of an ‘obese only’ airline, we all know that’s never going to happen! And in the meantime the likes of Mr Wisken will continue to place blame on and demand compensation from the travel company (in this case Jetstar) who he deems should take full responsibility for his ‘physical pain and mental suffering’. This means that, with the sheer power of social media in mind and the potential damage it can cause, airlines such as Jetstar and other transport companies will need to think carefully about the implications ‘other customers’ can have on overall customer satisfaction.

On the other hand, there are examples of where ‘other customers’ can have a really positive affect on experiences when it comes to travel. I have been in situations recently where I’ve argued with staff at airports over inconsistent information and then been backed up by the people in the queue behind me. That felt good! I also spent a day going to see the Blue Mountains whilst in Sydney a couple of weeks ago and paid what felt like quite a lot of money to see quite a lot of nothing – yes the hubby and I happened to pick the one rare day where the Blue Mountains were completely covered in fog! However, what started as a miserable day filled with resent and bitterness towards the heavens turned into one of the most enjoyable and entertaining days of our trip and that was largely down to the other tourists who had made the same unpredictable error as us. We met some really interesting people from all over the world and at some points got so lost in laughter and conversation that we forgot the actual reason we were on the trip in the first place.

‘Other customers’ can even have an impact on your travel experience without you realising it (unless you’re like me and devote strange amounts of time to thinking about these kinds of things)! For anyone who has been through it, flying from the UK to Australia is the Everest of all flights and it’s essential that you find ways to help you physically and mentally survive. I didn’t realise it at the time, but one of the small interactions I had with a lady in the queue beside me whilst checking in baggage at Heathrow Airport (she made a joke about how much luggage we had) became one of my coping mechanisms. I noticed the same lady again at security where she gave me a nod of acknowledgement and then again at the gate. Whilst in transit at Hong Kong I happened to see her again out of the corner of my eye going into a shop and then started to wonder whether, out of the thousands of people who were present at that time in the busy realms of an international airport, I might see her again… and low and behold I did… five hours later to be precise! Whilst making my way in a zombie state towards the next gate I recognised her in front of me on the moving carpet. Now before you start to think I’m some kind of psycho stalker I guarantee that when facing 28 hours in limbo with minimal sleep your brain will start to fixate on things as a way to help you get through…perhaps you can think of examples of where this has already been the case? For some reason my brain decided to target a random lady who I knew absolutely nothing about and I eventually started finding myself wondering about her life, where she was travelling to and even inventing imaginary relatives that I pictured her going to visit… all because she made that joke about my luggage way back in London. I haven’t quite figured out the reason behind this…there could be many. Perhaps it’s the fact that she was going through the same enduring experience as me and on some level there’s a ‘travel mentality’ where we all feel ‘in it together’ and her little joke at the beginning helped to kick-start that mind-set and trigger a connection…or I just liked her handbag! Either way, I’d like to thank this random customer for helping to somehow positively affect my journey.

And now onto the dog on the tube. So there was a small Dachshund dog in my tube carriage on my commute home this evening. I didn’t notice the dog at first, it was only when some strange noises started erupting from under the seat next to me (which I soon translated into barking) and I think this was the case for the other commuters surrounding me. Admittedly the barking took me by surprise. It’s not every day that you see a dog on the tube, especially a cute one in the aftermath of rush hour where the trains are still relatively busy. What I witnessed next was nothing short of a miracle. I started looking around at fellow passengers and people were smiling. Smiling at the dog. Smiling at the dog’s owner. Even smiling at other passengers as they smiled at the dog! Now for people reading this who aren’t familiar with the unwritten rules of the London Underground system, the manual clearly states as rule number one that eye contact with other passengers is forbidden unless there is an emergency of course. However, what I saw tonight was rule breaking at it’s very best. And all because another customer (in this case the non human form) had provided a disruption to the monotony of the daily commute and changed the way customers interact with each-other, making the journey home a lot more enjoyable than it normally is. So is there a benefit in encouraging more people to take dogs on trains? perhaps (and as a dog lover that would certainly appeal to me!) But I think the dog could be replaced here by many other things…Someone wearing a giant nappy? A B list celebrity? (some friends did once bump into Tom from McFly on the Met line and I have witnessed ‘out of the ordinary’ fancy dress attire which has also triggered a few smiles). Either way… when other customers disrupt an experience and shake up the norms in unique ways (i.e. by not coughing and spluttering all over you) that is where an experience can potentially be changed for the better.

Behind the signs

Customer experience is not just about the interaction between a customer and a customer facing representative of a company. There’s a whole lot of stuff going on in the background which can really affect the experience and impact our decision making process, especially when it comes to travelling and being in new, unfamiliar environments. One key component of this background noise that I have been paying close attention to on my travels over the past few months is signage.

I asked Google the definition of the word ‘signage’ and have been informed that signage is ‘graphic designs, as symbols, emblems, or words, used especially for identification or as a means of giving directions or warning.’ This is certainly true. But what I have come to realise is that signs do way more than this. In many cases they are a window to the world and culture we have entered into. They allow us an insight into the mindset of that culture and the way they think… or the way they want others to think they think.

Take these signs I saw in Australia, one in a gift shop, one outside a Tourist Information Centre and the other when driving into the Daintree rainforest:

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So it seems that Aussies are not afraid to speak the truth, are perhaps a little bit cynical and definitely know how to make you laugh (well I thought these were funny anyway). Needless to say, I got out of the gift shop pretty sharpish after seeing that sign.

The following sign at the entrance to a hotel I stayed at in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles also made me smile but in a different kind of way, especially after seeing an infomercial for a drug (think it was for hair loss) on TV. The majority of the advert in fact focussed on the risk factors of taking the drug making the idea of going bald seem like the more appealing option by far! If I’d have known this detail about the hotel in advance I may have looked into another option. Note the ‘tombstone’ shape of the sign!

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Another personal favourite from Australia was noted at Cairns airport where signs directing passengers to go to the gate instruct them to ‘relax’ if the gate is not yet ready. Bizarrely, just seeing this sign did actually make me feel slightly more at ease at a time where I am typically frantically clock watching and panicking about not getting to the gate on time:

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Signage when travelling can also be powerful when it comes to influencing our expectations of an experience. Take this sign I saw outside a wine bar in the West Village, New York:

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First and foremost it’s telling me that I’m going to be drinking some nice, good quality wine. Perhaps on another level it’s not even about the wine, but in actual fact it’s telling me that the people who come to a place like this don’t take life too seriously and that I’m going to have a good time. Before I know it, I’ve made a mental note of this bar and put it on the list as a fun, quirky place to visit next time I’m in New York, imagining that I might get to observe or even chat to some interesting characters (unfortunately I was working at the time so wasn’t able to actually go in). That was my thought process anyway!

Signage shapes expectations in many other ways and the next example will be familiar to anyone who travels regularly…the kind of signage that tries to pre-assure (I think I just made up a word!) or reassure us that the decision we are about to make is the right one:

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Seeing information like this at the entrance to a restaurant, café or ‘tourist trap’ essentially gives us permission to enter. It tells us that it’s ok to go in… it’s got the stamp of approval! It also raises a number of questions. Do we automatically like a place like this just because we know other travellers…other people in our situation…like it? To what extent is it creating a sense of false hope…raising our expectations and setting us up for a greater feeling of disappointment at the smallest mishap? And since these signs are now so commonplace, could it raise further questions, even concern around tourist destinations which have not had certification from the likes of Tripadvisor?

And finally, another common type of sign that will be familiar to travellers. Signs where the message has gotten lost in translation – or at least I hope that’s what happened with this sign I saw in Macau, otherwise I’m a little lost for words:

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Next time you’re travelling pay close attention to the signage and how it shapes your experience. At the very least you are guaranteed to find something to make you smile as you recognise differences between the place you are visiting and where you are from. I know I’ll continue to document it so watch this space…

Hotel Secrets

I really enjoyed watching the first episode of Hotel Secrets currently being shown on Sky Atlantic which saw Richard E Grant visit some of the world’s most iconic hotels and meet the people associated with them, from the extravagant guests to the likes of Donald Trump!

grant and trump

Richard is a great interviewer and his witty style gave me an insight into what it’s like to be a guest at one of these places. I was able to imagine what a night’s stay would be like in the world’s most expensive hotel suite, the Ty Warner Penthouse Suite in the Four Seasons New York (which costs more than $40,000 a night and includes free WIFI!!) – what I would do to have a few minutes in there just to see that view alone!

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A particular highlight of this episode was his visit to the Barkley Pet Hotel and Day Spa in Los Angeles which provides 5 star treatment for dogs, cats and beyond. Not sure I’ve quite got my head around the fact that a market exists for people who’s pet customer experience matters to the extent of their beloved dogs requiring a bedtime story read to them and Michelin Star quality steak delivered to their kennel. More money than sense or extreme dog lovers?! Fascinating viewing either way.

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The next episode ‘Living and Dying’ which sees him check into the hotels where the rich and famous have lived, died and fallen in love is being aired at 9pm on Sky Atlantic this Thursday evening.

I can’t help but think Richard E Grant might have had the best job in the world when filming this series!