Quality always means satisfying clients, and usually implies meeting expectations. You could argue that going beyond satisfaction and exceeding expectations would be too expensive. After all, if you spend on one thing, you may have to sacrifice something else that’s essential. On the other hand, if you are in a service business, exceeding expectations - extra attention to detail, a word at the right time, a sympathetic ear, the ‘moment of truth’ - may be the right way to stay in business.
One airline’s notorious chief executive insults customers, makes them pay for extras, and denies them free access for calls of nature, but gets a payback in publicity. Another company knows that to give a glass of best champagne to a business class passenger at the end of a busy day can make all the difference between ‘ordinary’ and ‘distinguished’. And the tourist class passenger getting the same champagne has a warm feeling of value for money. But, it’s not the ‘cru’ or the brand of the champagne that costs the airline; it’s the weight. And luckily, there’s a curtain between business class and tourist class.
The partitions themselves, between sections in an airline used to be fixed. Allowing a moveable partition increases value to the airline and actually reduces cost for the manufacturer. But first you have to appreciate that the aircraft flies on different routes at weekends. When a Dutch airline asked for higher doors inside the planes, the manufacturer did a double take. “Well, that will be half a million dollars per item. And why would you want that?” You have to see things from the customer’s (tall) perspective.
Toilets may not seem too important in the design of a plane, but they cause major upsets. A plane en route from Europe to the Far East was forced to land in Karachi with all its facilities blocked. The next time the operations director talked to his counterpart at the manufacturer, toilets were top of the agenda, even ahead of cockpits. Development expenditure could be re-aligned with customer expectations.
Even a smile from a member of the cabin crew can exceed expectations. But, how do you build that into the business model? Airlines know that they can be cheap and cheery, or cheap and classy, as well as cheap and boorish. They can influence expectations; they can choose to meet or exceed expectations. And they must satisfy customers if they want a slice of repeat business.