Service Design: Concepts for a Gogo partnership with American Express

The Business Problem
In the last two years, airlines have started taking away the American Express Platinum Cardmember privilege of free airport lounge access. From the outside this appears to be a huge blow to the Card -- all you have to do is look at the comments on's Platinum Card page to see how people feel, and how many people openly say they will be downgrading or outright canceling (1,068 comments when I was looking in Dec '13).

As a result, Am Ex was looking to offer services to its Cardmembers that would have the same level of value, and approached Gogo as a potential partner.

The People Problem
When people are afraid, they can only function in the "what can we do right this minute" place, instead of seeing a possible (and completely doable even within constraints) future.  

The Approach
I was told by executives to "think way outside the box" and not consider any constraints; to come up with something great and we'd do what we needed to do to make it happen. I asked if they were sure an annoying number of times. Because when you put me on a pitch like this, I'm going to do my homework, but I'm also going to go further than people generally expect.  (<--That was foreshadowing.)

I lasso the moon, then I'm happy when I finish with a few stars.

I started here: figure out why Am Ex would approach Gogo by doing some research on who else they were working with and how they were talking about their services in the media. I found interviews, press releases, articles on innovation and then some. When I looked into the app, I noticed they were using Passbook in iPhones, but not because it provided a receipt or ticketing functionality. They were using Passbook for access to the geolocation of a device and to allow for push notifications to be sent because of a device/person's current location. And then I looked at their Concierge services and thought about how they might be used during a flight. 

Then I started thinking about how I, as a Cardmember, might want to have my travel experience as a Cardmember extend into the cabin of the aircraft I was in -- planning extravagant evenings of entertainment from the comfort of your first class or private jet seat, and how that might look in a commercial of theirs.

It was as clear as day: Am Ex is trying to build a connected, seamless travel experience that only Cardmembers have access to -- something so clearly valuable that people want the card for the services they get, not just because it's a "Card." That's why they need to replace the lounge access with services that have just as much perceived value.

Because, after all, we know that being a Cardmember has its privileges, and that turns out to still be extremely important to the brand.

Also -- this was a portable design for other partners that didn't put a ton of technical work on Gogo's plate. We just had to decide to do it.

The Deliverable
I created conversation starters. Ways to think outside the box with a partner. To see a world of possibility for their Cardmembers.

Concretely, it was a deck with some possible futures for the sales team to lift and drop into their meeting materials. From my point of view, with a potential partner like Am Ex, we needed to blow them away -- suggest a number of possibilities and talk about partnering in ways they might not even have considered when they reached out to us.

The Effect
Sadly, the team at Gogo was made extremely nervous by the ideas I put forward, even though I did my homework on their feasibility and desirability. In the end, a more modest, short-sighted proposal was pitched. From there the deal became something that interrupts the purchasing flow for all passengers trying to purchase Gogo. <sad trombone>

Some slides from that deck are below.