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Posts from the ‘customer experiences’ Category


Buyer Beware! Airlines might be the devil

Ya blew it!

Ya blew it!

And no matter how many sweet old ladies they put at the check in counter, it cannot by any means come close to countering their terrible customer experience.

Allow me to spin a quick yarn of one of my recent flight experiences. Being originally from the west coast, I make quite a few flights back and forth across the country. And most of the time, I tend to fly a particular airline because of the lower fares and availability of flights directly in to Cha0rlottesville. Since I respect anonymity we’ll hid the brand’s identity. Let’s call them United Airplane Flying Company (United for short).

Well, the last time I flew United from California to Virginia, I had a stop over in DC, normal for cross country flights. Unfortunately there was a mechanical error in my plane, so United was kind enough to put me in to a cab to Charlottesville. Time passes and my opinion of United had increased to slightly bearable, all else (five or six delayed flights in the past few months) aside.

So when I planned to return to California for this Spring Break, ever as ever to see the sunshine, I strode in to CHO airport with bags packed expecting like any normal person to get on my flight home. But see, that’s where I went wrong. I expected United was aware enough about what they were doing that they would still have a ticket with my name on it.

What reality told me at 4:30am that day was that I did indeed purchase a return flight to San Diego. However, since I did not board the flight out of Washington-Dulles to Charlottesville back in January, I was considered a no show, and the rest of my trip had been cancelled.

Take a moment to comprehend that. I was booted off of a flight because I was a no show on a flight that didn’t exist. Even with years of background in philosophy and logical modelling, I honestly still cannot wrap my head around this.

So I booked another flight on the spot in order to get back home before next Wednesday. This of course necessitated I (1) rent a car, and then (2) drive up to Reagan International in DC. And once I arrived in DC expecting a direct flight, the selfish five year-olds that run the airline tapped me on the shoulder. Not only did I have a layover (which under normal circumstances are definitely bearable), but I had (3) two layovers. One in Philadelphia and one in Phoenix. That’s three strikes United. Now I may not be getting my M.S. in Geography, but Philadelphia does seem to be a little bit in… how do we say it… the opposite direction of my destination?

And so ended my horror story once I showed up in San Diego, a full twelve hours after I was slated to arrive. And I still haven’t gotten the money back for the flight I purchased on the spot.

The one bright spot in this entire situation was that all of the staff I interacted with were very compassionate and empathetic, and tried their very very best to get me where I needed to go. I mentioned earlier my flight from DC to CHO was cancelled for mechanical errors. Well another UVA student had her flight cancelled for weather conditions, which, for some reason, does not get you a taxi ride to your final destination (maybe the bad weather was her fault?). The woman at the customer service desk very sympathetically turned a blind eye to me offering the other stranded student a ride down to Charlottesville, even though it was very strictly against company policy.

But even the best employees in the world can only do so much for your company if the processes that it is comprised of are absolute garbage. A company is a network, and like all chains and connections, they’re only as strong as their weakest link.


Lemongrass Experience

Let me rant for a moment about the portion control at Lemongrass, a local Viet/Thai restaurant we have at the Corner.

Needless to say, the food at this restaurant is pretty good and I go there often for both lunch and dinner. My personal opinion is that this place offers the best tasting Asian cuisine at the Corner, but every time I go, I’m always disappointed by the portions I receive.

2013-03-06 21.07.59

Not long ago, I went to Lemongrass for dinner with several friends. The place is quite small, so our table right in the center of the restaurant is only a foot away from the table next to us. When our entrees arrived, my friend was dismayed to find that her Pad See Ew (stir fried broad noodles with soy sauce, egg, Chinese broccoli, and sliced meat) was much smaller in portion compared to the other times we ordered it. My own Thai Spicy Beef and side jasmine rice were also lacking in portion. An extra serving of rice costs $1.50, so they always have a tiny serving of jasmine rice in a small square plate. If you want value for your dollar, Gingko’s (the Chinese restaurant next door) gives you all the rice you want as well as large dish portions.

Twenty minutes later, as we sit happily chatting away, the three girls at the table next to ours also received their orders of Pad See Ew. Glancing over briefly, I gasped out loud in shock at the enormous portions they received. Their plates contained almost 3 times the amount on my friend’s plate.

Although this experience made us unhappy customers, we did not complain (as usual) and will probably soon return to Lemongrass again for more Pad See Ew. The food is reasonably good and the location is good, so the restaurant will probably not have many problems even if they give irregular portions.

2013-03-06 21.07.16


Online or Offline?

Some companies couldn’t decide which  should be their prior focus to improve customer value: online shopping experience or in-store shopping experience. Online shopping provides convinience while many customers still prefer to shop in physical store where they can actually “feel” the products. I personally believe in-store experience drives online revenue. If customer had a very good experience shopping in store and confirmed the good quality the store provides, they may be more likely to shop again online and becomes loyal to the retailer. However, in the article “Which Is Better For Retail Sales, Online Or Offline Customer Engagement?” published on, Lisa Arthur thinks it all depends on data. Sometimes I feel that companies rely too much on customer data and might miss some valuable and critical customer insights. However, Lisa has her point. A weighted mix of online and offline marketing spending is neccesary. Here is Lisa’s point of view on this issue:

As she said, “Leverage your data so you know your customers. Track your progress. Analyze your results. Successful marketing is well-planned marketing, and more and more these days, good planning requires optimizing a mix of online and offline tactics.”


Shady Airlines and Shady Pricing Strategies

Recently, while booking my flights to GIE, I was transferred from directly to  As a rather apprehensive online shopper (I am only slightly paranoid about the security of online transactions and getting my identity stolen….), the thought of purchasing an expensive item (flight ticket) from a little known, foreign website and airline which I had never previously heard of made me feel very uneasy. However, being that all of my other options for one-way tickets from Thailand to Singapore were from equally obscure airlines (i.e. Tiger Airways and Scoot), I decided to take my chances.


As a very cautious online shopper, the first red flag came up when a message popped up while being transferred to, stating that my flight fare would be quoted in THB (Thai Baht). Not that there’s anything wrong with that (I must sound like an arrogant American), but purchasing flights online in a completely unfamiliar currency made words like “sketchy” and “shady” come to mind, words that I wouldn’t want to associate with my purchase experience of an expensive item (expensive for me is >$100). Good thing that nowadays it only takes two seconds to Google “2999 THB to USD.”


Anyways, after selecting my desired flight itinerary, I proceeded along with the purchase process through to entering passenger information. So far, so good. That was, until I hit the baggage check section, which allowed me to choose from an array of different baggage fees, depending on the weight of my checked baggage. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very used to having to pay extra fees for checked bags. However messages such as “Charges will apply for excess or oversized carry-on baggage at the airport” (with the italicized words in red) and “Adding checked baggage after booking costs a lot more” (with italicized words in bold), as common sense as they are, made me feel as if I was being forced to check my bags now. Not knowing what weight my baggage was going to be (and not being too comfortable with measurements in kg), and faced with options that jumped 400 THB per additional 5kg, I just randomly picked one, hoping that I wasn’t being swindled. Red flag #2.


I continued along to the next section– seat selection. Here’s where the third red flag came. I had the choice of paying an additional fee to reserve/preselect a seat. That’s fine, but closer examination of the fine print showed me that paying this additional fee didn’t even guarantee that I would receive my selected preference.  In Jetstar’s words, “Jetstar will attempt to accommodate your seat preference, however due to operational considerations cannot guarantee that your seat allocation will be as your selected preference.” So if I paid an extra fee, I could reserve a seat, but it wouldn’t be guaranteed. If I didn’t pay a fee, I would be randomly assigned to whatever seats were still available at check-in. What a headache.


The cherry on top came on the final stage of the booking process, under the payment section. After entering my credit card information, a new “booking and services fee” was dumped on me (a charge applied to all credit cards except for the Jetstar MasterCard), in addition to a new message:


“The airline does not guarantee it will be able to carry you and your Baggage in accordance with the date and time of the flights specified. Schedules may change and flights may be delayed or cancelled for a range of reasons including but not limited to bad weather, air traffic control delays, strikes, technical disruptions, network changes and late inbound aircraft. Flight times do not form part of your contract of carriage with us. Please ensure accurate passenger details are provided in step 3 of the booking process so any changes can be notified. To the extent permitted by law, the airline excludes liability for any costs, expenses, losses or damages incurred by the Passenger as a result of failure to meet a schedule. Travel insurance is recommended.”


I’m not sure if these terms and conditions are the same or as explicitly stated during the booking process of JetBlue or another American airline, but I was extremely frustrated by this point. I felt as if I had been lured into selecting this airline because of its cheap flight fares, but then had several separate charges and fees dumped onto me that made the end price not so attractive. It’s true that my final flight cost was still pretty decent, compared to what I’d pay for a flight from IAD to JFK, but the purchase process itself made everything seem so sketchy and non-transparent.  As mentioned by one of the HBS articles on pricing strategies, partitioning prices to highlight  benefits can fail miserably when consumers “sense that sellers aren’t being straightforward about the total cost.” Not only that, but partitioning prices to highlight standard features (such as baggage check and use of credit cards for online purchases) rather than competitive advantages really worked against Jetstar.


Conclusion: I purchased my flight, which cost me about 1,300 THB more than the original stated price ($35 USD). While the added fees were by themselves not that much, the purchase experience made me resentful and angry towards Jetstar. My advice to low-cost airlines who want happier consumers? BE UPFRONT ABOUT YOUR COSTS!


Omni-Channel Attribution Technologies

In class, we briefly discussed the challenge of measuring multi-channel attribution, but what are businesses actually doing about it? To quickly review, multi-channel attribution refers generally to the process of parsing out how, and to what extent, different consumer touch points influence consumers’ buying behaviors. However, different stakeholders have concentrated this definition differently. For clarity sake, we can distill these differences into three common focuses: (1) the impact of online communications on offline sales, (2) the consumer experience across multiple devices as it drives toward conversion, and (3) the consumer experience across multiple digital marketing channels as it drives toward conversion.[1]

All such articulations are plagued by the same underlying challenge. Although marketers in today’s omni-channel marketplace must accurately measure the value of different channels to strategically allocate their resources for the highest conversion rates, the cross-channel attribution technologies to do so are both underdeveloped and in short supply. Enter Adometry, a relatively young cross-channel ad attribution firm that has recently raised $8 million in funding to combat these challenges. According to Adometry’s CEO, Paul Pellman, “the company’s technology can track offline conversions and tie those to online ad activities—helping brands figure out the impact and value of multiple media channels.”[2] Similar firms have undoubtedly begun to follow suit and develop their own comprehensive analytics platforms to identify and quantify multi-channel performance drivers. However, as of date, Adometry appears to be ahead of the curve in this markedly immature industry (For more information, refer to the company website: That said, the influx of competition and R&D investment will likely speed the rate of innovation and fuel a more vigorous attribution measurement landscape in the coming years. Thereby, the everyday marketing toolbox will soon include fully-integrated attribution measurement technologies that provide realtime results and clarify the precise interplay and impact of disparate marketing investments.


The Future of Hulu

Today, like most Sundays I turned to Hulu to watch some clips of SNL. While there I checked out a new show that Hulu was plugging called SLiDE an angsty Aussie teen drama. As Netflix well knows the best part of a streaming service is the ability to marathon episodes. I was disappointed to learn that Hulu was only streaming one episode unless I had Hulu +.

I’m willing to watch the commercials for the the Hulu service but I wanted another episode now. Luckily, I found it at Netflix.

This article from Mashable doesn’t surprise me, but I hope Hulu can get it right.


Google Retail Stores?

I read an interesting opinion article on how Google should open retail stores in order to successfully sell its hardware products. Here’s the link to the article:

It was interesting how the article claimed that there’s a growing trend of technology companies, such as Microsoft, opening stores in physical locations. This is obviously contrary to what we see today in different industries, where more companies are closing bricks and mortar stores due to competition from online companies such as Amazon. The author claims that Google’s increased involvement in hardware sales means that the company should look into physical locations so that customers can experience products. Through this, it is possible to gain more potential consumers if there are more opportunities to try out products. The author also emphasized how it is important that these physical locations give a good “in store” experience for consumers. And this made me think about today’s lecture and how for Walgreens, it is also important that the in-store experience makes it a differentiating factor for consumers. In regards to today’s lecture, pricing is just one attribute that can make something successful. What’s most important is looking at the bigger picture from the customer’s perspective.  I feel it is really important for physical stores to bring an experience that is not attainable through online shopping. The Apple Experience highlights how Apple retail stores do this successfully. And thus, in order for retailers to successfully compete with online players, it is important to not just delivery immediacy and similar pricing. It’s also important to create an environment that makes it more comfortable and appealing for consumers to stop by brick and mortar stores. This way, a company would be able to optimize its multi-channel retailing strategy, as evidenced through Apple and Microsoft.


Changing the Perceptions of McDonald’s Consumers


After reading the “Making over McDonald’s” article, I wanted to reflect on my own recent experience at C-Ville’s own local McDonald’s in Barracks and its strategy to change consumer perceptions.  Originally, I was drawn in to the recently renovated McDonald’s by the promise of their new product item, Fish McBites which were selling for the special rate of $1 per snack size order (sorry guys, this offer has already expired, if you were wondering).  But as I entered its grand arches, I was surprised by the contemporary interior.  In fact, I thought I had accidentally wondered off into a UVA inspired art museum.  The space was very open, artsy, and dare I admit, clean (well, it was clean until I had tartar sauce spilled all over me and the floor).  It reminded me more of the McDonald’s that I had seen abroad, rather than the ones I was accustomed to here in the states.  In fact, it’s interesting to compare the perceptions of McDonald’s customers abroad with those of domestic customers.  Did you know that McDonald’s even does weddings?  In Hong Kong, the McWedding package has been available to customers October 10, 2010.  According to Chinese anthropologist Gordon Mathews “In the U.S. and other places, middle-class or upper-middle-class people look down on McDonald’s. But Hong Kong is different. A McDonald’s wedding wouldn’t be seen as tacky here.” (read more here:

It seems that McDonald’s has taken some service lessons it has learned from abroad and is beginning to apply them to their domestic stores.  Its redesign efforts focus on adapting its exterior and interior design to local tastes.  President and COO Don Thompson, hit the nail on the head when he said, “People eat with their eyes first.  If you have a restaurant that is appealing, contemporary, and relevant…, the food tastes better” (Paynter, “Making Over McDonald’s”).  And it could not be more true.  Although many of my friends and I had originally gone to McDonald’s for specific purpose of purchasing McFish Bites, many people ended ordering several other food products such as fries, McChicken, Quarter Pounder, and even an order to-go.  I guess happier people do tend to buy more.  Additionally, seeing the pictures of UVA/Charlottesville landmarks really gave me a sense of pride in my community.  I think this type of local adaptation will appeal, not only to the experience of current students (and general UVA community) but also prospective students who may really feel that they are getting the full UVA experience while on their making their pre-college visits.  Even I, a double Hoo, felt the urge to mark my journey to the local McDonald’s with a tourist like picture.


In addition to the interior changes, I was also surprised about the changes made to the menu displays.  They now display the calorie count of most, if not all, of their food items!  Although this method may seem counter intuitive (when was the last time you expected to get healthy food at a fast food joint?), it is strategic.  Recently, the U.S. Supreme court has upheld regulations that require restaurant chains with more than 20 locations to post the calorie content of its food products.  (read more here:


Although a timeline of this regulation is still in the works, McDonald’s has countered by adding this nutritional information prior to the official mandate as part of its new better-for- you marketing initiative.  This “voluntary” adhesion pior to the official implementation of the regulation   may help fast food power house seem more sincere and counter its “most wanted” by food-police reputation, as consumers and society, as whole, become more health conscious.

Thus, by adding relevant value to its customers’ experiences, McDonald will be able to continue to compete effectively in these changing times.

~Vic V


“‘Koreatown’ Image Divides a Changing Annandale”


I grew up and live in Annandale, Virginia, which is a town in Northern Virginia that has changed a lot over the last twenty years. My grandma moved to Annandale in 1965 when the majority of the development occurred. During that time, many of the residents were white and most likely all of the businesses were owned by white people. However, by the early ’90s, it had deteriorated.

So what? Well, during the mid- to late ’90s, almost all of the business that developed in Annandale was done so by Koreans. In fact, upon searching “businesses in annandale”, a blog entry entitled “‘Too Many Korean Businesses in Annandale and a Washington Post article called “‘Koreatown’ Image Divides a Changing Annandale” appeared on the first page. So, if it’s unclear, there is an incredible amount of Korean-owned Businesses in my town.

Anyway, yesterday, my mom and I stopped at Wells Fargo to use the ATM. Upon entering the bank, I turned to the left, saw this lovely ad and chuckled. As everyone can see there are some bank-looking men and a boy from the 1800’s in the bottom right and then absurdly enough there is a Korean family (from, presumably, a similar time period) posted in the top left. Why on Earth would there be a 19th century Korean family featured on this ad when there weren’t any Koreans in Annandale at that time? Answer: the bank clearly identified its target market – Korean business owners that operate in Annandale.


Dodge engages customers with a new approach to buying cars

Recently, a TV commercial for a new Dodge sedan caught my eye. I normally don’t pay much attention to car commercials but this one was truly original. The 2013 Dodge Dart commercial suggests a totally new way of buying a car using aspects of a gift registry, called “crowdfunding”. At, anyone over 18 can customize a Dart and collect donations from family and friends to help fund the car. Here’s the commercial that explains the process:

Dodge is targeting a young, not wealthy, social media-savvy segment.  The commercial is fast-paced, uses humor and sarcasm, and encourages the use of social media to share one’s dream Dart and get more donations. This is a really interesting way of engaging potential customers that I’ve never heard of before, and works perfectly considering Dodge’s target market. Most Millenials don’t have a lot of money, but have lots of occasions to receive gifts (the commercial mentions graduations and birthdays) and this “registry” makes gift-giving easy for friends and family. So far, no other cars have taken this approach so this could even be a distinguishing factor that leads a young driver to choose a Dodge Dart as the car they want because of this creative way of funding and its affordability.

There are drawbacks, however. One’s registry can only last for 30, 60, or 90 days (although this might be good in creating a sense of urgency for donations?). Additionally, 9% of the donations are kept as fees. However, I think the idea of a gift registry for multiple people to help fund a car is a great idea and I would love to see these drawbacks improved and perhaps this idea expanded to additional models.

According to the Forbes article “Creative Dodge Dart Ads Tout Crowdfunding as the New Way to Buy a Car”, sales haven’t increased yet, but 998 people joined the registry in the first week. Dodge’s goal may be simply to increase awareness and create a buzz around the Dart, since it’s a new car in a very competitive space. I think this campaign will definitely be successful in increasing awareness – it already sparked my attention – but it will be interesting to see how many cars are eventually successfully funded.

– Kalika N.


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Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things--Theodore Levitt