Customer Experience for Vertical Takeoff

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VTOLs (vertical take-off and landing vehicles) are projected to hit mature industry status in 2035 (Aviation International News). In just over ten years, the entire aviation ecosystem will be radically different than it is today in terms of utilization, opportunity, and customer expectations. We are at an inflection point for the future of VTOL customer experience in the air and on the ground. Airlines will no longer own the skies. Regulations and legislation are undergoing radical change. And experience design stands at the forefront of the future. Who will design customer experiences in this new ecosystem, and how will we keep humanity at the center of those experiences?

A New Dimension

Let’s take a closer look at what these changes mean for travelers and the aviation ecosystem. Traditionally, we have lived and worked in only two dimensions: on the ground and 30,000 feet above, where we fly in commercial planes. In the future, we will quite literally be operating at a new, third altitude of travel and commerce. The expanded air space and value below 30,000 feet will be significant. Not just for VTOLs and flying cars. But for global logistical infrastructure and businesses across industries. Look at aerial ride sharing for commuters from Joby Aviation. Lifesaving medical deliveries made by companies like Zipline. And the enhanced rapid emergency response capabilities initiated by companies like GoAERO. But also, consider the impact of last mile delivery to accelerate consumer satisfaction, improve logistics, and create economic and environmental sustainability opportunities in cities around the world.

Like any major market expansion, technology innovation triggers experience design innovation. In fact, with the onslaught of technological innovations, human-centered experience design becomes more important than ever. Customer experience quality will be the catalyst for mass customer adoption and accelerated maturity of the air mobility market. This holds for the experiences of customers on the ground. And for the trajectory of the industry stakeholders who comprise the ecosystem that serves them.

How are VTOLs changing the Customer Experience in the Air?

For generations, in films, television shows, and comic books, the flying car was the herald of the future. Is it any wonder Back to the Future is making its Broadway debut in New York City this summer? Are they getting us used to the idea of flying cars and vertical takeoff?

Well, the future is now. As I shared in my recent keynote at Aviation Festival Americas, the timeline of how the airspace will open is more accelerated than even aviation insiders realize. Billy Nolen, Acting Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from 2021-2023, forecasted that before VTOLs reach mature industry status, we can expect rapid, significant changes. He predicted VTOLs will hit mass scale by 2030.

To get ready for 2030, the new mobility eco-system that includes aircraft producers, vertiport designers, and all industries in between, must get in early with customer experience design. Start working across stakeholders to define the personas who will be utilizing the new space and new technologies. Uncover customer needs and expectations. To do that, conduct rigorous customer research, now. This will ensure you are ready when the technology is ready for the large-scale deployment of experiences that are as innovative, valuable, and sustainable as the technologies themselves.

Logistics in the New Airspace Ecosystem

The changing airspace ecosystem also means major changes for logistics. That drills down to changes in customer expectations and needs. Transportation for retail and healthcare will feel the impact of these changes. Consumers will increasingly view their last best purchasing experience as the experience to beat. They will no longer differentiate between a retail transaction or a medication purchasing experience.

We see this clearly in the opening of last-mile delivery from major port cities like New York, or the so-called blue highways. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, along with Governor Hochul the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey recently announced a plan to transform the Brooklyn Marine Terminal to support future growth of the “blue highway” infrastructure. Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi points to environmental sustainability gains as well as human experience improvement and opportunities. She says the city’s blue highways (ports along the waterfront) will “tak[e] truck traffic that snarls our streets and chokes our communities off the road” and will “provide respite for New Yorkers and environmental infrastructure for a changing climate.”

The quality of life and human experience benefits from the growth of blue highways cannot be underestimated in terms of their positive impact on city life. And in terms of the level of opportunity they create for maximizing innovative experience design for the variety of individuals who live, work, and play in our cities around the world.

Diversification of last mile logistics will lower traffic and will make our cities more desirable to residents and tourists. Its impact exceeds the economics of logistics. The blue highways help local authorities including PANYNJ (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) meet strategic and sustainability goals, as Joshi notes. These goals include traffic reduction in the metropolitan area’s aging bridge and tunnel infrastructure. Last mile also helps to drive investments in shared green spaces and the experiences that keep people coming back to those spaces and their cities.

Sustainability

When we talk about future technology and future customer experience, we must recognize the importance of sustainability in experience design, technology, and infrastructure. Port Authority program director of innovation Seth Wainer recognizes the future we imagined is here today for port cities around the world. And he connects that to sustainability. Wainer says, “it may seem like something from the Jetsons, but if drone cargo proves viable it may be a low-carbon way to move the most valuable items between New York and New Jersey.”

Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo Cliffton and GoAERO CEO Gwen Lighter shared similar guidance at the Wall Street Journal Future of Everything Festival this May. They advise us to focus on the intention to do good with new technology. Not the fear of being overwhelmed by it. This gives all stakeholders the freedom not to be afraid of the future.

In many ways, this is where we come in with our work as customer experience designers. Our role is to help you become more comfortable with the vertical takeoff ecosystem. And to recognize where you add value. We do that by keeping the human at the center of the experience. Rooting the experience design in this way promotes safety, usability, and consumer confidence. It also provides a necessary North Star for the application of technologies in new areas of consumer experience and strategy.

Ultimately, this helps bring added value to all our lives. Experience design becomes a way to put the love of nature, the love for the skies, and the love for humanity into practice.

Harnessing the Power of Collaboration

The new entrant in the expanded airspace, VTOL,  drives the focus on customer experience as the connector of the aviation ecosystem. Just as airlines no longer own the skies, no individual stakeholder owns the whole experience. End users are buying journeys. And they perceive their interactions with you as journeys. Just as our capacity to meet customer needs has evolved with innovative technologies, our customer, in every scenario, has evolved.

Experiences, not transactions, dictate consumer behavior. We can respond to and motivate those behaviors best when we collaborate with other experience stakeholders. Spoiler alert: everyone in the ecosystem is an experience stakeholder!

Like all major market changes, you can view integrated airspace as a threat or an opportunity. If you embrace the opportunity, it is time to design experiences of the future on par with the technological innovations that are radically changing the space. To capitalize on these opportunities, adopt a collaboration mindset. Engage in partnerships that allow you to explore your niche while supporting development and opportunity across the ecosystem.

Design Thinking

The good news is, you can get help from the ecosystem. Be a player in it and create exceptional experiences. Or ignore that this new ecosystem exists. But understand that refusal to adapt and evolve leads to extinction. Keep in mind, we are not talking about changing merely to reflect the changing times. Rather, we are encouraging you to employ intentional design thinking, supported by collaboration. This includes applying a human-centered design approach that plans for the future of customer needs as they evolve in the changing  landscape. Viewed this way (as it should be), experience design is the catalyst for collaboration.

That means strategic partnerships and collaboration must center on the needs and goals of our customers. Not around the needs and goals of the providers, per se. Again, this is where research-based, informed, and intentional experience design becomes the lynchpin for impactful, innovative experiences that drive profit across partnerships.

To that end, in the next ten years, I project every investment you make, along with every strategic partnership you form, must have your customer in mind. This, of course, necessitates a holistic understanding of the customer journey. As well as where and how to deploy experiences, both technological and human, across that journey.

The Journey

Ultimately, in this new future, the journey is the experience. So, the journey must be designed for the customer’s  needs. To adopt and bring this new technology to maturity, the experience design must feel friendly, safe, and guided. The customer must feel seen, heard, and cared for, especially as s/he navigates new space in new ways.

We know customer priorities include safety, comfort, and convenience. So, the design must align with these needs. We also know that customers expect experiences to be personalized and seamless, no matter the space they are navigating, or the specific objectives they have for their interactions with you.

These experience design objectives are not new. The difference, now, is we are moving to a new altitude. Technology tools, new modes of collaboration, and intentional design will make the integration of the experience across altitudes adaptable and scalable.

Experience Design is Value Creation

Here is where we get down to brass tacks. The purpose of every company is to create value. Value comes from design that links the mobility perspective and the human perspective. Experience designers are the amplifiers of that value. We understand the future is now. The opportunity to amplify the value you create is also now.

As the value chain changes, what does your role in delivering experiences across the journey look like? What gaps can you fill in innovative ways? As an engine of, or a partner in change. Consider, for instance, how to position yourself in the new ecosystem as regulation and legislation change. Think in terms of sustainability, experience mandates, and new infrastructure access.

Regardless of the paths you pursue, or how you shape stakeholder collaboration, always bring it back to the customer who recognizes the journey is the experience. And make sure this perspective guides design.

How to Get Future-Ready

We echo Zipline’s Rinaudo Cliffton in saying we are “earnestly optimistic about the future.” Putting humanity at the center of design and innovation ensures this earnestness. And it starts with listening to our customers, collaborating openly with our partners, and keeping a steady eye on where and how to add real value along the journey.

Reach out to share your ideas and questions about where you fit in the future ecosystem, and how you can create more value across it.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Liliana Petrova
Liliana Petrova CCXP pioneered a new customer-centric culture that energized more than 15,000 JetBlue employees. Future Travel Experience & Popular Science awarded her for her JFK Lobby redesign & facial recognition program. Committed to creating seamless experiences for customers and greater value for brands, she founded The Petrova Experience, an international customer experience consulting firm that helps brands improve CX. To elevate the industry, she launched a membership program to help CX professionals grow their careers. Ms Petrova lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

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