You might not know Pharrell Williams’ name but you’re very likely to have heard his song ‘Happy’ which is the most played song on the radio for 2014 so far.
It has proved so universally catchy that the United Nations made it the theme tune for their International Day of Happiness this year, while in Iran several young people were jailed for posting a YouTube video showing them dancing to the song.
Achieving a state of happiness is so fundamental to what it means to be a human being (never mind a customer) that America’s founding fathers included the ‘pursuit of happiness’ as one of three inalienable rights in the US Declaration of Independence.
As service experts, we know that making customers happy is the right thing to do and we know that making sure that we consistently achieve this goal makes good business sense. There are a myriad of ways of checking on how well we are doing but one of the most unusual solutions has to be the ‘Happiness Blanket’
recently introduced by a major airline.
The Happiness Blanket is described as a revolutionary device that visually shows the wellbeing of a passenger in real time by means of a special fibre-optic blanket which changes colour to reflect a passenger’s mood while on-board.
A headband measures tiny electrical fluctuations in the neurons of the brain and sends the information wirelessly to fibre optic lights woven into each 'Happiness Blanket'. If the blanket is red, the wearer is stressed and if it is blue, the passenger is relaxed. It was trialled on seven passengers on a flight from London to New York, including some on cheaper tickets and some in First Class.
The point of the exercise was to allow the airline to measure the effects of its service refinements in all cabins. No doubt it was also handy for cabin crew wondering whether to approach a weary-looking passenger mid-flight or wait until the red lights change to blue.
Unfortunately publicity about the blanket coincided with baggage chaos for many of the airline’s passengers following an IT problem in the baggage processing facility at Heathrow. Regardless of who is ultimately responsible (whether the airport or the baggage handling company rather than the airline itself), the passenger will still hold the airline to account if the luggage they handed over at check-in fails to make it to their destination on time. Failure to live up to a brand promise, for whatever reason, has the potential to seriously damage a brand’s reputation.
The flaw in the ‘Happiness Blanket’ approach is that it measures only a finite aspect of the customer’s journey, which in reality begins with booking a ticket and ends on disembarkation and baggage collection.
CCA Industry Council and Customer Experience Network have repeatedly led calls for more joined-up thinking on the end-to-end customer journey and some organisations are getting good at it. However, too often, silo-ed structures and processes result in blinkered views of the total customer journey, making it harder to ensure customers really are happy with their experience.
Legacy businesses, whether they are in the travel, retail or financial sectors, are less likely to have a lateral approach to customer happiness, and also far less likely to have a mission to make customers happy contained in the company’s DNA.
Apple and online shoe retailer Zappos are good examples of ‘modern’ business successes which place a high value on customer happiness. Apple’s retail promise is ‘to surprise and delight every customer’ while Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh takes a leaf out of Thomas Jefferson’s book and cites happiness as one of his three top passions for the company, alongside customer service and corporate culture.
Focusing on customer happiness is always a good thing, but as the airline learned with its ‘Happiness Blanket’ experience, it takes joined-up thinking and also streamlined connected operations to deliver complete customer happiness day in and day out.
Finally, for Pharrell Williams fans, and for any of you who still have no idea of what ‘Happy’ sounds like, click here
and have a ‘Happy Weekend.’