Ice Cream, Airlines and x-VOC: Don’t Settle for So-So Customer Experiences at Touch-Points


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I prefer traveling on Dragonair, a regional airline operating in Greater China and acquired by Cathay Pacific in September 2006. Why? I like the service and the food, especially the memorable cup of Häagen-Dazs I’m served after meals. Ice cream may not be a rational justification for choosing a premium airfare, but it seems I’m not alone. Quite a number of people have told me that the Häagen-Dazs is the highlight of their Dragonair flight experience.

Yet, my recent experiences with Häagen-Dazs and Dragonair highlight three areas where CxOs are struggling with hearing the voice of the customer:

  • Data from customer satisfaction surveys is not improving the customer experience.

  • Severe competition is stretching limited resources at various touch-points, affecting the bottom line.

  • Delivering inconsistent experiences across multiple touch-points is damaging brand equity.

Moon-cakes and sales offices

Being Chinese, I celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon-Cake Festival. Our tradition is to eat moon-cakes with our family while we enjoy the full moon on this holiday autumn evening. Moon-cakes are big business, as most Chinese both consume them and send them as gifts to relatives, friends and business contacts. There are many varieties of moon-cakes. Häagen-Dazs even offers an ice cream moon-cake.

This year, I received a gift voucher for one. The gift voucher redemption process was fast and efficient. But aside from that, the experience was disappointing. The redemption station was a temporary location with no decoration at all; it did not project the deluxe image of Häagen-Dazs shops and advertising.

On the festival evening, my son set up the table and chairs on the balcony and enthusiastically awaited his first bite of an ice cream moon-cake. We brought the frozen moon-cakes to the table and tried to cut one to share. It was too difficult to cut, so I popped the whole moon-cake into my mouth. Not only was this too much moon-cake, but also it was too cold to enjoy and I missed sharing with my wife and son. My wife did manage to cut the next moon-cake into small pieces to share, but it was still too hard and too cold to eat. My family had a very bad experience with Häagen-Dazs on the festival evening. My son told me he doesn’t like Häagen-Dazs, anymore.

I think too highly of Häagen-Dazs to believe it had designed this customer experience, so I looked through the packaging and found serving instructions. The moon-cakes should have been removed from the freezer 20 to 30 minutes before eating, and we should have dipped the knife in hot water for easy slicing. Great information. But the instructions were printed on the bottom of the box in a very small font. Who would notice them?

Not only was this too much moon-cake, but also it was too cold to enjoy .

Häagen-Dazs was not my only disappointing customer experience during the holiday season. A visit to the Dragonair sales office did not live up to my flight-based expectations. While the office was no worse than that of other Chinese airline sales offices, based upon the quality of service on Dragonair flights, I was expecting a much higher level of quality. The genuine Dragonair smile was missing, and the wait time seemed comparable to any other sales office, so the experience fell below my expectations.

Experience-based voice of customer

There are two moments of truth (MOTs): when customers buy a product or service and when they use the product or service. To me, the brand values of Dragonair are quality service, and my cup of Häagen-Dazs and the moments of truth occur when I purchase the ticket, as well as when I fly. The brand value of Häagen-Dazs is in its deluxe image, which I notice at the time I purchase the ice cream and when I eat it.

Even if Häagen-Dazs and Dragonair conducted traditional customer satisfaction surveys on their key touch-points and their brand values, they might not ever discover the types of disappointments I experienced. Conventional satisfaction surveys focus on process and efficiency improvements; they don’t follow the natural sequence of a customer walking through the experience. The surveys tend to be process-centric, not experience-centric.

If I were to evaluate the service and wait time at the Dragonair sales office, I might say I was satisfied. Similarly, I probably would not have complained about the lack of deluxe surroundings at the Häagen-Dazs redemption station. My objective feedback would not align with my subjective emotion, especially if I build “expectation” into the satisfaction formula.

Figure 1 Häagen-Dazs

All companies have limited resources. This may explain why Dragonair does not provide the same level of quality service at the sales office as it does in flight and why Häagen-Dazs provided a poorly decorated redemption center and inadequate instructions for serving the moon-cakes. Yet, with growing competition and more and more touch-points—including blogs, Internet searches and traditional public relations—these types of disappointments can add up, confusing the brand positioning in customers’ minds and damaging their brand equity.

So how can you optimize resources among various touch-points? Consider adopting an experience-based voice of customer (x-VOC) approach.

Enhance the customer experience by mapping the emotions of customers throughout the entire experience at each individual touch-point. Using the emotion curve to identify the feelings of customers at each sub-process (see my previous article on Starbucks’ emotion curve), track emotions in a natural time sequence and in an experience-centric manner. Use the curve to benchmark against competitors and industry best practices; to analyze the gap between ideal and existing performance; and to compare current and past performance. This “experience data” can be used as part of a closed-loop measurement system; to benchmark; to evaluate staff performance; and as a process improvement tool.

Maximize return on resources by optimizing individual touch-points and prioritizing multiple touch-points. Without adding resources, evaluate and reallocate resources to the most important touch-points.

Figure 2 Dragonair

Diagrams 1 and 2 are of my experiences “using” the Häagen-Dazs product and visiting Dragonair’s sales office. If these types of customer experiences are relatively important to your company, then you need to reallocate resources from non-important touch-points to enhance those experiences. The bottom line? Simple: Avoid allowing any touch-point to fall below the unacceptable level!

Deliver a consistent branded experience by managing multiple touch-points under a comprehensive perspective. Because customers usually can recall only the “peak” and “end” experiences at each interaction (see my previous article on Ikea’s branded experience), it’s important to ensure that the most unique brand values are reflected at the pleasure peak and not the pain peak experiences. With multiple touch-point mapping, as in Diagrams 1 and 2, we can identify the un-branded pain peak (or end) experiences and rectify the situation through the reallocation of resources. No great brand is built and sustained with inconsistent customer memories of touch-point experiences.

Without extra resources and spending, you can use x-VOC to enhance the customer “feel good” emotions from the experience-centric perspective and deliver a consistent branded experience across multiple touch-points to improve brand equity.

In the meantime, I’m going to have to wait to enjoy my next Häagen-Dazs on a Dragonair flight.


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