In Service Innovation, Sometimes Less is More

Photo by: S B

Photo by: S B

I need to begin with a little self-confession. I fly frequently and have flown enough miles to be one of the privileged few that gets to board before everyone else most of the time.

I recently decided to extend my vacation a couple of days and, as a result, I needed a new ticket home. Rationalizing that flying Spirit could not be any worse than my recent experience of winter camping when it was 20 below zero, I chose the significantly cheaper Spirit flight over my preferred status airline. How bad could it be?

Unexpectedly, Spirit Airlines, the airline with the slogan “Less Money. More Go” taught me a valuable lesson about satisfying customers. It was the most enjoyable flight I have taken in the last five years and that includes the ones where I was bumped up to first class.

Spirit charges for carry-on bags. So, as you might suspect, the overhead bins were mostly empty. The unexpected joy was that there was no ticket agent pleading with passengers to check their bags at the gate, there was no lurking zone-three flyers desperately trying win the overhead bin lottery, and there was no exasperated flight attendant explaining for the hundredth time that the wheels need to go to the outside. Rather, it was just people quietly walking to their seat and sitting down. Less luggage options resulted in more satisfaction.

Spirit has seats that do not recline and have less padding than many airline seats I have used in the past. The unexpected joy was that I did not have a seat in front of me reclining into my personal space and that having to sit upright for three hours was less aggravating for my back and butt. A seat with less functionality resulted in more satisfaction.

Spirit makes its customers pay for their sodas. The unexpected joy was that there was no flight attendant blocking the aisle, there were no incessant requests for trash, and most importantly, there was no lurking flight attendant trying increase my satisfaction. Less food and drink resulted in more satisfaction. 

In short, Spirit taught me that sometimes less is more. In the service sector, we sometimes strive to satisfy our consumers by providing world-class attention and amenities. Obviously, there are times and situations were lavishing attention and providing a multitude of options results in more customer satisfaction and loyalty.

But Spirit taught me that we can also increase satisfaction by doing less. Paradoxically, our desire to satisfy customers can result in less satisfaction. When providing the freedom of choice for the individual, we run the risk of making the group less functional. When provide amenities for everyone, we may reduce the satisfaction of the individuals choosing to not participate. When we increase functionality, we can decrease performance for some.

Balancing individual satisfaction and group dynamics is tricky business. But, Spirit taught me that there are situations where group dynamics can trump individual satisfaction.

When has a service experience exceeded your expectation? Leave a comment below. 

Editor's note: Steve Fahrenholtz spent over a decade as head of the General Mills i-Squad, their front-end exploration unit for high-potential concepts. He's an innovation Yoda, a walking encyclopedia of food science, social science, organizational leadership, and Hey, I Wonder. His favorite responses are, "Tell me more," followed by, "I like that."