Let me start off by apologizing for the size of this article. I usually try to keep my articles much shorter, but this one really explains what not to do, and shows opportunities to excel. It is worth the time if you have it. If not you can skip to the bottom and read the points I make about this experience and still gain some value from this article. I have left out the real company’s name on purpose. I don’t need any lawsuits…lol. But for those of you who travel often, I am sure you will know exactly who I am referring to in this article.
I had a peer group meeting in Austin, Texas last week and when making travel arrangements my executive assistant informed me there was a direct flight out of the St. Pete airport. Not only was the St. Pete airport much closer to my home than TIA, but the flight was also less money than my usual carrier of choice. Considering it was a direct flight, rather than having an hour and a half layover which would save me productive time, plus the fact that the flight was cheaper, it seemed like a no-brainer. Little did I know what a horrible experience I would have over the next two flights.
It started with checking in at the airport. When I arrived and went to the check-in kiosk, the lady behind the counter was very unfriendly, and I literally felt like I was bothering her by checking-in. She started off by asking me if I already had my boarding pass. When I said “no” she rolled her eyes and said that I needed to download the company’s app to my phone. Otherwise, she would have to charge me to print the boarding pass. So she had me stand there holding up the line while I tried to download the application. After the fourth attempt of trying to download the application it finally did install properly without any errors, only to find out my flight wouldn’t pull up, and I couldn’t enter my personal information because the app kept freezing. So after about 20 minutes she finally said she would have to print the boarding pass, which is what I recommended from the start. She then informed me that it would be two dollars! Seriously? I just lost 20 minutes of my life over two dollars?
Next, she asked me to load my bag on the scale. Every other carrier has a limit of 50 lbs., but not this company. Their max is 40 lbs. without extra fees. So fifty plus dollars later, I was finally able to move on to get through security and to my gate. Once I arrived, I couldn’t help but notice several people that were complaining to the representative at the gate counter because they were stopped before being allowed to board and told they had to pay for their carry-on bags. They were upset that no one had told them they had to pay for carry-on bags until they were at the gate and ready to board the plane. While the rest of the experience that day was not good, it wasn’t bad enough to make this article.
When I arrived in Austin Texas, we landed at the “South Terminal.” Which basically is a landing strip in a cow field, (I am barely exaggerating for effect here). Once I got off the plane, I walked about 20 feet to the baggage claim. There I stood with everyone else from my plane waiting for over 45 minutes before they finally started sending the baggage through. Once I got my bag, I had to board a shuttle to go to the main terminal. Another 45 minutes would pass as we traveled to the main terminal where I had to go to get my rental car. So when all was said and done, it took me the same amount of time to get from St. Pete to my rental car, as if I had taken my normal carrier with the layover.
Now at this point most of you are probably saying, yeah we have all had some bad flight experiences. While this is true, wait, it gets worse.
Before I had to take my flight home, I made sure I worked on getting all my personal information into the app on my phone so I could check-in, pay for my bags, and get info on the flight before arriving at the airport. Nothing worked correctly so I really needed some help from customer service or at least some Frequently Asked Questions! This was very difficult since there is nowhere on the company’s web page for you to call customer service. Yes, that’s right there is no 1-800 number to call customer service, you have to email them and hope someone gets back to you.
So for my trip home, I was able to check in the day before my flight, choose a better seat, and pay for my bags. Note, I had to do it on the website; there was no way to pay from the application unless you already entered your credit card on their website. So I can’t see any reason for the app other than to have your boarding pass. But I did feel like at least it was going to be an easier trip home. Boy was I wrong!
From the time I checked in the day before, I received several reminders from the app on my phone to be sure I arrive at the airport at least two hours before my flight to ensure enough time. Since I already knew I had to drop off the rental car at the main terminal, I was planning on leaving early. I tried calling the company to see if I needed to check my bag at the main terminal, or if check-in was at the south terminal since it wasn’t clear and there were no instructions on the app or my itinerary. As I said before, there is no way to contact them other than email, so I called the airport and got their customer service right away. They were extremely helpful and let me know, not only that the check in was at the South terminal but that the South terminal was at least 30 mins away depending on traffic.
So the following morning I left at 9:30 AM for a flight that wasn’t going to leave until 1:47 PM. But I didn’t want to take a chance of missing my flight home. I hit some bad traffic getting to the main terminal, but was able to drop off the rental car without any issues and then hopped on the shuttle to take me to the South terminal. I arrived at the South terminal at approximately 10:45 AM. There were only three kiosks at the South terminal, and there was no one there at all. There was no information counter, nothing. Literally like a ghost town other than some TSA officials at the security point. I tried asking them some questions, but the only thing they could tell me was that I couldn’t go through security until I dropped off my bag. So I went over to the roped off line for the three counters to wait. Once I got to the front, since I was the only person there, I saw a sign that said “All counters will not open until 35 minutes before your scheduled departure time. If you have already printed your boarding pass, you can proceed through security to the terminal.”
I was flabbergasted. So if I have a bag, I have to sit here waiting until a ticket agent decides to show up? I received multiple notices to arrive at least two hours early, but you are not going to open the counters until 35 minutes before the flight takes off? According to my boarding pass, the plane starts boarding at 1:02 PM. So the plane will start boarding before the check-in counter opens? You have to be kidding me! So I immediately went back to the company’s website looking for any way to contact someone. The only option was an email. So I decided since I was going to be standing here in line for the next two hours or more, I would write an email to them letting them know how upset I was. There were no options on the drop-down menus for complaints. It was like they had designed their entire system to avoid allowing people to complain or let them know how they are doing. So even more upset at this point I went to Facebook. I looked up their site and left the scathing letter on their Facebook page deterring anyone from being lured into their cheap prices.
The next thing I know, they quickly responded to the Facebook post with a phone number I could call. By this time there were several others in line with me, and all were as upset as I was about the circumstances. I let them know I finally got a phone number and was calling them now. As I dialed the number, I was thinking about what I was going to say and trying to calm down so as not to completely go off on the person who answered the phone.
When the phone connected, I got a recording with a bunch of numbers to choose from depending on why I was calling. Surprise, surprise there was no option for complaints or to talk to an operator. I tried just pushing zero (sometimes that works), but the system didn’t recognize that option. Extremely frustrated I finally chose the option for filing a claim for a lost bag in hopes I would get through to someone. Then I got another recording saying that my call will be taken in the order it was received and the minimum, yes minimum, wait time would be 45 minutes! Again, I can’t help but feel this was yet another tactic to get me to hang up and for The Company to avoid listening to any complaints. Little did they know, I am not the person you want to upset, and I had nothing better to do for the next few hours but wait. So I put it on speaker and waited. All the time I had more and more people gathering around me, all of them just as upset as I was, and all of us beside ourselves with how a company in today’s connected world could be so disinterested in what their customers have to say.
Finally, after about an hour someone answered the phone, obviously from an outsourced call center. I explained everything, with the crowd chiming in like an angry mob. The only response we received was that this was a small airport and that it would only take minutes to walk through security and onto the plane. They gave me the opportunity to file a claim, but I had no loss other than time, so that was as useless as the other information.
It was true that once the ticket agents finally arrived and I checked my bag, it was probably only 50 steps through security and to the actual gate. But none of us knew that at the time, nor would anyone expect that to be the case at an airport, especially after the multitude of messages warning that I arrive two hours early.
I tell this story because it is an example of what not to do if you want to offer good customer service. The company had multiple opportunities to provide good customer service by simply just providing good communication. But beyond that, let's look at a few things pointed out in this experience.
- 1. The company requires you to have their app installed on your phone, or there will be additional fees. It is the company’s responsibility to let their customers know of anything that may be required, especially if it falls outside the industry standard. When booking a flight, they should have pop up windows, or options right then to notify the customer and allow them to resolve these requirements right at that time.
- 2. The company charges for printing a boarding pass. If your fee for an extra is so low, such as the printing fee for a boarding pass ($2.00), just include it in the costs of the ticket. Charging such a small amount sends a poor message to your customer that you are nickel and diming them to death. It will almost guarantee a bad customer experience.
- 3. The company’s baggage weight limit is 40lbs. You need to know the industry standards. If all other carriers are at 50lbs, then you should also use that same weight rather than using it as a way to charge your customers extra. All these extra fees make you look dishonest. Everyone has heard of the bait and switch, and no one is doing it better than this company.
- 4. This company has purposefully set up their lines of communication to keep customers from being allowed to make contact and express themselves. This is a horrible way to set up your company. If you don’t know what pains your customers are experiencing, then you have no chance of providing a great customer experience. The easier you make it for your customers to communicate with you, the more opportunities you will have to turn them into raving fans.
- 5. This company didn’t want to have people at a counter for hours before a flight to try and save money. By not providing the proper agents, this company caused many unhappy customers. The cost of an unhappy customer will always outweigh the cost of keeping a few people available to ensure your customers are happy.
We can actually look even deeper. If this company allowed their customers to openly communicate the pain of waiting for an agent to show up to check bags, they might be able to come up with alternatives. I don’t know anything about airlines, but it seems to me that they could have a self-check process for bags. You already have the app on the phone with your boarding pass, all they need is an automated kiosk to allow you to set your bag on the scale, scan your boarding pass, and it spits out the tag. You could then apply it yourself and then set your bag on an automated conveyor. This would do away with even needing a person, which would improve the customer experience while saving the company money.
I could keep going with more examples from this experience, but I think I made my point.
The key points of this article are simple:
- 1. Make sure you over communicate to your customers, this will help manage their expectations.
- 2. Allow your customers to easily let you know how you are doing. You will learn more than you ever thought possible to improve the overall customer experience.
- 3. Use all the information you receive from your customers to come up with new and innovative ways to improve the customer experience.
I picked on the Airline Industry this week, but for a good reason. I think this is an opportunity for a company to really make a difference. I do a lot of flying and so do most of my colleagues. Everyone I speak with talks about how unpleasant the flying experience is, from the TSA to cramped spaces and being herded like cattle. Someone, someday, will take the time to make sure that their customers enjoy the flying experience. Whomever that is, will revolutionize the industry and own the air transportation market.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out my blog for many other great articles at https://glenluckydrake.blogspot.com/