Flight Attendants as Salespeople

By 24 February, 2014Personal Blog

The role of the flight attendant is changing. Airlines are unbundling services – moving from the days of all-inclusive flight, luggage, food and entertainment to making all except the flight itself optional (and therefore paid) extras. This achieves two things: reduce the “headline price” of the flight to the bare minimum (which in turn can be used to confuse the market and make it more difficult for customers to compare offerings), and allow customers who don’t need or see value in the extras to not pay for them.

So instead of a single point-of-purchase before the flight, there are now purchase opportunities at almost every stage of the flight experience. You can buy luggage or a special seat at check-in, food and entertainment on the flight itself. This means that the customer-facing staff must evolve from their traditional role of just providing a service to salespeople.
I was just on a flight when I heard the attendant ask “Would you like some food-for-purchase?” and the expression struck me as interesting. Normally, they might ask “Would you like to purchase some food?” In that case, it’s very clear what I’m doing – I’m buying something and the decision before me is whether or not to buy.
But the other question is a bit more subtle. It asks if I’d like something – food, specifically a type of food called “food-for-purchase”. The decision for the customer shifts to whether or not they want food (which is like asking the very innocuous question “are you hungry?”) and if they do want food, then the secondary decision is whether or not they want to pay for it, as the food on offer is “food.-for-purchase”.

There is a very clever piece of persuasion at work here. Not only does it soften the approach to the customer from a sales approach to a customer service approach, but it also make it easier for the flight attendant, who may not be so comfortable with the notion of selling. This is an important consideration when attempting to add a cross-selling function to staff who signed up because they liked helping people but never wanted to be in a sales role.

I asked the flight attendant if she was trained to ask in the specific way, and she said she wasn’t. Well, that was a disappointment! Was really hoping that there was some evil persuasion professional deep in the bowels of the airline marketing department who was conspiring to break down my aversion to paying for food on a flight. It could still be that she preferred the less overt phrasing, or that the marketing people chose the label “food-for-purchase” for the reasons I’ve said.

Like it or not, we continue to be bombarded with more and more marketing messages everywhere we turn, and when we least expect (or notice) them. Whether you’re a marketer or a consumer (or both), it’s good to have a greater awareness of them and how they work.

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