Feb. 20, 2023 | Design

What last month’s FAA outage can teach us about service and experience design

What last month’s FAA outage can teach us about service and experience design

For those of you who were more focused on the growing size of the Mega Millions Lottery prize and may have missed the news, there was a major flight disruption last month caused by an FAA system outage. It prompted a nation-wide ground stop, with more than 1,400 flights being canceled—and more than 10,000 delayed—in a single day. The system was back up the following day, but the FAA is still working to understand why the backup systems failed. 

This outage wasn’t isolated to one specific airline or airport—so what impact could a disruption like this have on the perception of airlines? Let’s think about it a different way: If your Amazon package was delayed—not by fault of Amazon but by fault of the manufacturer fulfilling the order—you would still probably have a bone to pick with Amazon, right? Exactly! These passengers left stranded—missing flights back home to their families, work meetings, or the start of their winter vacation—will look at the airline thinking, “I don’t care whose fault this is! I expected more from you!” 

When systemic challenges like this occur, it’s a good reminder: Brands that align their strategy to a holistic view of the customer experience are the ones best positioned to come out on top once the dust settles. Those organizations can better anticipate how disruptions will impact each part of the customer’s journey and respond with empathy and solutions to the most painful areas first.  

How does an organization anticipate a disruption like this in their experience design? By planning how the pieces of the system come together to create value for people and the brand. When West Monroe works with clients on designing a future-state service and experience design strategy, we look at five key factors that all play a critical part in the customer experience:  

  1. People: Who are the actors in the experience and how do they support the customer at each step of the journey? 
  2. Policies: What are the current policies (or policies that are needed to support the future state) in place to provide direction to employees and customers within the customer experience? 
  3. Processes: What are the operational processes within the journey—and how do they tie together to support the overall customer experience? 
  4. Assets: What are the things that employees and/or customers interact with that support customers within their journey (physical and/or digital)?  
  5. Culture: What is our current culture, and how might we shift mindsets, behaviors, and attitudes to provide a better customer—and employee—experience?  

While the airlines couldn’t have predicted this level of disruption on this specific day, those who had an established experience design strategy in place—accounting for the interplay and dependencies of the above factors—were able to react most effectively to minimize pain for customers and limit damage to their brands. Responses and reactions by the airlines to this outage certainly differed; some airlines responded more efficiently than others. The FAA also took action to try and prevent another outage like this in the future. 

At West Monroe, we often reference a quote from Forrester that sums it up simply: “Business success is always defined by the quality of the overall customer experience.” This is true for companies designing the ideal experience as well as for those responding to experience challenges that may be unforeseen and impossible to predict. 

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Anthony Salerno

Anthony is a senior manager in West Monroe’s product experience & engineering practice.

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