Sunday, 16 February 2014

Sitting down is not so easy, Jet-set Mike Robinson shares complexities with Royal Holloway MBAs

Never thought too hard about sitting down before ? Royal Holloway MBA students were taken to another level recently by aviation industry consultant Mike Robinson, who jetted in from Geneva to give a master class on how consumers cope with complexity and particularly choice.  

Royal Holloway MBAs pondering customer behaviour complexity in seat selection

First up really was; Where to sit ?  The traditional rows of desks and chairs were replaced by an aircraft simulating 3x3 seating plan, with a single, central aisle.  MBA Director, Justin O'Brien, predicted correctly that the front row would be the least popular area and the cool crowd would fill up the back row.  Unlike a plane, where seats 1A and 1H are much sought after and there is a general preference for the front rows over those down the back.  

Ever wondered why you end up driving around an empty car park, not quite able to decide which space to take.  Which is really the perfect one ?     My wife certainly finds this behaviour very difficult to comprehend.  But multi-storey car parking has become a bit of a taboo subject in our house, so best to leave this one alone.  Mike suggests it is a function of too much choice and cites a variety of examples that indicates that giving too many options can enhance customer choice satisfaction, but decrease actual purchasing behaviour.  Great data, wrong question, just like new Coke - one to chew over with colleague Sameer next week ! To example this assertion Mike highlighted the huge product range offered by leading supermarkets, but the much narrower, one choice per category offered by discounters like Aldi and Lidl.  

15E the least chosen seat ?

Sharing key insights from his time heading up the commercial arm of the management consultancy practice at IATA (the de facto global airline membership body) in Switzerland and drawing on a wide experience on projects undertaken around the globe, Mike encouraged the Royal Holloway MBA group to attach great importance to customer insight and devoting material time and resources to ensure that real behaviours of real customers is integral to all commercial decision making.

Mike highlighted, by way of case study example, the entrepreneurial 50+ strong retail chain that sells healthy soup targeting the needs of one particular group of Japanese customers, women who like nutritious soups and want to feel safe eating alone in a smoke free environment.  
Mike Robinson at Royal Holloway

Research for a leading European point-to-point airline identified the importance of toilets in the decision making of female and older customers, young people it seems have strong bladders.  Proximity to or access to facilities being a key seat choice factor, and its importance growing with increasing flight duration.

Travellers were also prepared to pay a significant premium for pre-allocated seating in the front of the aircraft and most were happy to pay a notional figure to allow choice at the point of booking and avoid the rugby scrum melee that can occur during a free boarding process.  Crucially the charging framework under investigation failed to optimise the full value of additional fees travellers would have been prepared to pay, underscoring Mike's key tenet that more focus on customer insight is often needed and it can drive the bottom line. 

During the Q&A Mike Robinson explained to the engaged and curious Royal Holloway MBA group that the front of an aircraft was a more popular choice for a variety of reasons including; speed of entry/exit access, lower engine noise and a smoother ride.  

And the answer to life, universe and everything is 15E, the seat most likely to be vacant on a typical short haul aircraft, so choose D or F in that row to optimise your own elbow room.