A math quiz for my 11 year old son:
It is 419 miles from San Francisco airport to Las Vegas airport. And 2 miles from Las Vegas airport, terminal 2, to your hotel room. If the average speed of a Boeing 737 is 560 mph in cruise, and your average walking speed is 3 mph, how long will the total journey take?
Of course, it’s a trick question. The answer is, ALL NIGHT.
If you could walk from the terminal at Las Vegas to your hotel room, without being roadkill, it would only take you 40 minutes. Of course, you can’t do that. The airport planners, car rental companies and hotels work to ensure that, when Southwest airlines proudly announces that “the safest part of your journey is over” as they land, they could also add “the shortest part of your journey is over”.
Las Vegas, like many airports, has constructed a “consolidated rental car facility” which they proudly announced was “for your convenience”. This is great news, as I had been thinking that having the car rental facility within a short walk of the gate had been very inconvenient in the past. Now it’s located in a neighboring state, Kentucky, and is accessible by a bus ride (see prior postings on airport buses). By the time we arrived, Hertz was doing a cracking trade (at 11:30pm), and required 30 minutes of waiting time before service, during which they processed five other customers at their 3 desks. It’s hard to figure out what people are doing in these situations, but from the safety of the queue a well trained eye can hazard a guess:
The nice elderly couple wearing the “Visit Wisconsin” sweatshirt was negotiating a hostile takeover of Hertz Corporation;
The very young man whose brand of car should have been “Fisher Price” was clearly a mathematics genius building a simulation of his journey to optimize the returned fuel level under multiple traffic scenarios;
The couple at the front of the line was renting a fleet of midsize cars, one at a time. Upholstery choices seemed important to them.
Or something along those lines...
The hotel was not much better. In Vegas, it’s standard practice to provide a DNA scan as part of the check-in procedure, presumably so they can track you down if you dispute the Pringles weight activated sensor in your mini-bar. And yes, I’m still sensitive about the jury’s decision against me on that one last time.
But why is it so hard? What’s slowing us down?
Choice is one factor, information and trust is another.
Southwest Airlines really does understand this. They don’t have complicated offerings. I never have to figure out if I’m flying on a “J” class of ticket so I can understand my upgrade options – although having said that, I don’t even know why I’m asking, I already know the answer. They have a simple solution to a simple problem, moving people safely, cheaply and quickly from one location to another.
I can check in online. Boarding is simple and fast. They will even sell me a place at the front of the line – Business Select, although one such passenger arrived onboard to be shocked by the lack of “first class seats.”
“All seats are First Class” said the flight attendant. Beautiful.
For a de-humanizing process, i.e. flying, Southwest makes it feel, well, almost human and doesn’t make you feel dumb.
Car rental, by comparison, has too much choice, too little information, and too little trust. The eager renter faces difficult options: what class of car do you want? Surely not the same class you selected when you booked online! Is this your current address? Or is, by chance, your address the same address that you entered in your booking under the field “address”? We need to know!
Now for the tricky part. Her face a mask of concern, the agent informs me that I have insurance options. She cryptically adds “in case something goes wrong”. The insurance choices carry names that everyone would instantly recognize if they had a 30-year career in the insurance industry: Loss Damage Waiver for example. And there is a handy, laminated sheet to sub-reference the necessary legal clauses. To reinforce the serious nature of the contract you are entering into, the wall behind the agent has a section devoted to liabilities, and, of course, fuel choices. As usual, I declined the recommendation to take out short term “put” options on an exchange-traded-fund-tracking-light-brent-crude-oil. But keep those Black-Scholes* calculators handy kids!
The plethora of complicated options stems from the complexity of the legal transaction, coupled with the desire of the company to up sell the buyer. But it’s a mess. BMW only offers 2-3 choices of model for a $60k automobile, why do we need to make so many choices for a $100 rental? Choice has value in customer experience, but needs to be handled in a more effective fashion. Simple communication? Online choices to streamline “real time” processes?
Simplicity often wins the customer experience battle. Simple is fast. Simple is clear. Keeping it simple isn’t stupid, it’s hard work, but worth it. Over the last 30 years simple solutions like Southwest, Apple’s iPad, Google or Zappos have been winning the customer experience battle. As consumers, we are trained to believe that complexity is a cover story for bad profits – and often it is.
As I unlocked my rental car, the fellow next to me was taking photos of his rental choice, presumably to document the condition of the car when he took the wheel. He got the message.
*The Black–Scholes model is a mathematical model of a financial market containing certain derivative investment instruments.