The epic failings of Emirates: are brands really trying hard enough when it comes to Customer Experience?


Emirates Epic Failures

As someone who spends his life eating, talking, breathing, writing and generally  living everything to do with Customer Experience, it is inevitable that on occasion I may get tagged as a serial ‘moaner’. It is true to say that I often highlight the less than palatable experiences I encounter. However, I am just as quick to champion exceptional experiences as I am to expose those at the other end of the spectrum.

At the end of the day, the reason I regularly write about experiences of my own is to bring to life the reality that the Customer Experience has on customers, employees and shareholders. The best way to bring to life the consequences of not being customer focused is to share real life stories. In this post I am compelled to share with you the epic failures of one of the world’s ‘leading’ airlines. Whether you still consider them to be ‘leading’ having read this is up to you.

Emirates has built up a very good reputation over the last ten years. They are very quick to promote their approach to Customer Experience online – in fact, these are two of the claims/promises made on their website:

  • The Emirates Experience – Comfort and attention to detail you can rely on every time you travel
  • The Emirates Experience puts you first

I have flown with Emirates on numerous occasions – all of which have been in economy class. Whilst I have found the experience to be acceptable, it falls short (in my opinion) of its major rival Etihad – you can read my comparison between the two airlines here. It was therefore with great anticipation that I learned I was to be able to make a comparison between Emirates and Etihad once more. In February 2015, I was to fly from Manchester to Chennai in India on Emirates and fly back to Manchester from Hyderabad with Etihad – the entire journey was to be in business class. As I sit writing this blog post in Chennai, I have only experienced the Emirates flights – my experience was so unexpected, I have decided to write about it before flying back with Etihad.

In business class you are treated to a wholly different Experience to that in economy. From the free chauffeur service; to dedicated check in desks; to exclusive lounges. The cost of a business class ticket is not insubstantial, but the benefits do seem almost worth it. My journey to Chennai started well. the morning before my flight I received a telephone call from Emirates. They wanted to confirm the details for my chauffeur pick up the following morning. I was impressed.

At 05:45 the next day, as promised, the chauffeur arrived outside my front door. The lovely man delivered me as close to the check in desk as I could have asked. Check in was a breeze and before I knew it I was seated in the luxurious Emirates lounge in Manchester Terminal  1. When I arrived at the lounge, I was advised that my flight to Dubai was delayed. Little did I know at that point the consequences the delay would have on my trip.

We boarded the plane around 45 minutes late. I was slightly nervous that my onward connection to Chennai once arriving in Dubai would be perilously tight. None of the cabin crew seemed concerned, so I settled back to enjoy the flight in the considerable comfort of business class. We landed in Dubai at 20:15 – exactly the time that my flight to Chennai was scheduled to be boarding. Still none of the cabin crew suggested I might have a problem.

On leaving the plane, I was greeted by a member of Emirates ground crew. The lady advised me that we would have to transfer to my Chennai flight as quickly as possible. She advised that it would not be possible to transfer my bag in time – I was given the option to wait for the later flight, or travel onwards without my bag.

You may be reading this thinking: ‘what is the problem with that?’ In principle you are right – no airline can completely eliminate delays – yet they can work hard to ensure that customers are treated well and fairly if they are subjected to one. The later flight would have seen me arrive in Chennai too late – too late to start the delivery of a workshop for my client. Leaving on the later flight was therefore not an option. However, the materials I use for my workshops were in my bag – the bag they were advising could not be transferred to my Chennai flight.

It took about 30 minutes to get from my Manchester flight to the Chennai flight. Once I had boarded the plane, it did not move for at least 30 minutes. Why 60 minutes was not enough time to transfer my bag is not clear – I personally think that Emirates did not try hard enough to complete the task – they could have got it on that flight if they had really wanted to. I asked the ground crew in Dubai to ensure that their counterparts in Dubai knew what was going on. I wanted to ensure that not only could someone help me with my delayed bag, but that they would also ensure that the chauffeur scheduled to take me to my hotel in Chennai would wait for me.

When I arrived in Chennai, I was pointed in the direction of ground crew – they were not Emirates staff. They did not treat me any differently to any other passenger arriving in Chennai – they made me wait until almost all the passengers had disembarked the aircraft. I was eventually  led to a counter in the baggage hall. I completed numerous forms – all hand written. I was assured that my bag would arrive on the later flight into Chennai and that Emirates would deliver the bag to my hotel. The entire process did not fill me with any confidence whatsoever. However my lack of confidence was soon to turn to despair and anger.

Firstly, I was offered no apology – by anyone – Emirates or otherwise, for the fact that my bag was not transferred. It was not my fault that one of the flights was delayed. It was not my fault that the gap between the two flights was so insufficient for them to transfer the bag. More importantly I was also offered nothing to help me in my current state – I had been travelling for 13 hours wearing the clothes I stood in. I had no change of clothes and no toiletries. It was 2:45 in the morning and I had four hours before a car was picking me up from my hotel to take me to my client. It would have been nice to be given a toothbrush if nothing else! Remember – this is the airline that claims the following

  • The Emirates Experience puts you first

I did not think it could get any worse – but it did. Epic fail number two occurred when I departed the terminal. Not only is it very unclear as to where to go to pick up your scheduled chauffeur at Chennai airport, when I did eventually find the location, there was no-one there to greet me. Not a soul. It was now 3:00 am. I was tired, sweaty and very angry. To make matters even worse, I had no idea what to do about it. If you have not been to Chennai airport before, I must point out that it is not a great place to be in the dead of night. The only people who would talk to me were taxi drivers trying to harass me into their cars – they are very unpleasant. A taxi was not an option anyway as I had no cash and there were no ATM machines with any cash in them for me to access.

There was not a single Emirates member of staff to be found – anywhere – inside or outside of the terminal building. To cut a long story short, I spent a thoroughly unpleasant TWO HOURS trying to find someone to help me. At the two-hour mark, a man in casual clothes suddenly appeared asking me if I was the man looking for the Emirates chauffeur. I did not know whether to hug him or throttle him!! Once again, no apology, no explanation – my flight arrived in Chennai at 2:15 in the morning. I finally arrived at my hotel 16km away at 05:00. I managed just under 90 minutes sleep before I had to get in the taxi to my client. Remember this debacle was caused by the airline who claims the following:

  • The Emirates Experience – Comfort and attention to detail you can rely on every time you travel

I finally received my bag at 3pm  the following afternoon. I had to deliver the first day of my workshop wearing the clothes I had traveled in for over 13 hours – clothes intended for the British winter – not the Indian east coast. I had to improvise with the materials I used. On receiving my bag back (which my client had to retrieve from the hotel – Emirates would only deliver it there), I reflected on the entire experience.

Reunited with my bag!
Reunited with my bag!

Emirates had failed me ‘epically’. A large sum of money had been paid for me to travel with them in business class – what they delivered was so far from ‘putting me first’ that it has left a very sour taste in my mouth. I want an apology from Emirates. However, more than an apology, I want them to acknowledge that they understand the consequences their actions (or non actions) have on customers. What does it feel like arriving at your location without your luggage? What does it feel like to arrive in a new country with the person scheduled to meet you not being there? What does it feel like to have no-one from your brand being present to help a customer in need? If Emirates understood the consequences, they would be actively working to improve the customer journey – a journey that right now is inadequate. Emirates would also be working very hard to recover the situation – two days after the event, I am still waiting to hear from them.

I have had it with Emirates. I will not be flying with them again. I have other options I can replace them with. I will also ensure that many people hear about my experience with them. Not only are they likely to fail their customers, they DO NOT TRY HARD ENOUGH when it comes to Customer Experience – saying it on their website is not enough.


If you have two minutes, please take the time to complete my 2 question survey to find out your personal #1 brand for delivering consistently good customer experiences. I also want to know what makes the brand your #1! The research will be used for an upcoming blog post – many thanks for your time!

You can complete the survey by clicking here

Opinion or Reality? Does Customer Experience really make a difference?


CX opinion or reality

I am unlikely to be the first person to write an article focusing on whether or not the Customer Experience really makes a difference. I am also unlikely to be the last. On a weekly basis, Customer Experience Professionals all over the world are being challenged to demonstrate the ‘tangible’ value focusing on the Customer Experience really delivers. Often tasked by individuals in businesses who demand to see an immediate financial return for any investment made, it is extremely easy to dismiss the need for being a more Customer Centric organisation as just the ‘opinion’ of one person versus another.

In other words, some do not believe a greater focus on ‘the customer’ will actually make any difference to the financial performance of a company whilst some do. It is the prerogative of any human to have an opinion – it is also completely acceptable for one human to disagree with another humans point of view. I have recently been engaged with a debate that highlights just such a scenario. It was suggested that I spend too much time quoting theory and opinion when it comes to the subject of Customer Experience and not enough time sharing reality. It is therefore with this in mind that I have chosen to write this post.

The debate I refer to came about as one opinion (mine) suggested that negative Customer Experiences have a detrimental effect on an organisations sustainability – in the short, medium and long term. Whilst an organisation may not cease to exist as a result of delivering consistently poor (or just inconsistent) experiences, it is extremely unlikely that a business operating in such a way will be able to predict growth – certainly not sustainable growth.

The opinion on the other side of the debate suggested that this is largely nonsense – the ‘speak of Customer Experience folk’. The debater argues that if the opinions of the Customer Experience community were true, then businesses would be ‘bleeding revenues’ and ‘the management would be kicked out’. The very well read and respected professional on this side of the debate continued as follows:

Almost every business is doing well enough by doing well enough for most customers most of the time. And this works well enough for customers at the level of behaviour – irrespective of what they say. Complaining is a favourite human past time in modern society. It is like going to the movies. Then the movie is over, and folks go back to life as usual.

So this valid opinion made me seriously question the very profession I work so passionately to represent. Does Customer Experience really make a difference? Is the reality that whilst it is ‘nice’ to talk about the principles of being more Customer Centric, the reality is that a business more focused on the customer will fare no differently to one that does not?

Those of you that ‘believe’ that focusing on the Customer Experience absolutely does make a difference will be pleased to know that  agree with you! My ‘opinion’ has not changed as a result of the challenge from an alternative perspective. Allow me to explain why. The debater set me a very valid challenge as follows:

Now please explain to me how it is that the almost every single business is doing just fine: customers continue to shop, companies continue to make sufficient revenues, and profits. The only ‘thing’ that gets cut is the employees – including those who directly serve customers – and replaced by one form or another of self-service. Let’s deal with this through numbers. Name the companies that have gone bust? Name me companies other than Ryanair and Tesco that are struggling because they have leaked customers like a sieve?

This was my response:

Please allow me to remind you of the following company names:

Woolworths; Comet; Land of Leather; Borders; JJB Sports; Zavvi; HMV; MFI; Jessops; Focus DIY; Habitat; Threshers; Dreams; Clinton Cards; Peacocks; Past Times; Barratts; Phones4U; TJ Hughes; Ethel Austin; Oddbins; Adams (childrenswear); Allied Carpets; I could go on…… and bear in mind that I am only quoting names of UK companies who have either entered administration or ceased to exist altogether in the last seven years.

Yes these failures occurred during a financial crisis. However, the crisis only served to push companies over the edge – companies who were already teetering at the top of a cliff. In almost all cases, these brands had lost touch with the evolving needs of their customers and the world around them. Failing to adapt their propositions resulted in customers voting with their feet – the predominant reason why a business ultimately will cease to exist.

Companies struggle to survive on a regular basis – again this is largely down to the fact that their product, service or experience is no longer aligned to the needs of their customers. Look at Nokia, Kodak, Radio Shack – this is not just a UK phenomena.

In fact I would like to remind you of the most clear cut example of all – JC Penney. In 2011, as the new CEO of one of the largest department stores in the US, Ron Johnson (once of Apple) made a number of strategic decisions without the benefit of either employee or customer insight. Johnson decided to change the established logo, change the pricing policy (including the halting of sales and the elimination of coupons). He also changed the layout of the stores. A very traditional business with an extremely loyal customer base, the decisions were catastrophic. This is an excerpt from his profile on Wikipedia:

Many initiatives that made the Apple Store successful, for instance the “thought that people would show up in stores because they were fun places to hang out, and that they would buy things listed at full-but-fair price” did not work for the J.C. Penney brand and ended up alienating its aging customers who were used to heavy discounting. By eliminating the thrill of pursuing markdowns, the “fair and square every day” pricing strategy disenfranchised JC Penney’s traditional customer base.Johnson himself was said “to have a disdain for JC Penney’s traditional customer base. When shoppers weren’t reacting positively to the disappearance of coupons and sales, Johnson didn’t blame the new policies. Instead, he offered the assessment that customers needed to be “educated” as to how the new pricing strategy worked. He also likened the coupons beloved by so many core shoppers as drugs that customers needed to be weaned off.”

By the time he was fired in 2013, JC Penney had lost over $4 billion during Johnson’s tenure. Having fired him, they launched a nationwide TV advertising campaign apologising to customers and ‘begging’ them to come back.

JC Penney apology

This is the reality of what could happen if you do not listen to your customers or employees. Just because a company still exists, it does not mean it successful at delivering consistently good customer experiences. The challenge is for business to achieve sustainable growth – all good things come to an end eventually if you do not remain focused on both commercial goals AND customer needs. You can read more about the JC Penney story in this Forbes article.

The reality is that nothing lasts forever. Organisations thrive, whilst others struggle. Businesses cease to exist on a daily basis. The larger the organisation, the more unlikely it is to fail altogether – but it is not impossible. As we have seen with the likes of Tesco and Marks and Spencer in recent times – failure to continually adapt your proposition to align to the changing needs of your customers will likely result in financial struggle.

The reality is that even already financially prosperous companies have realised how important the Customer Experience is to their future sustainability. I have had a number of conversations with board members of very large UK companies since January – these are companies whose financial fortunes have IMPROVED consistently since 2008. However these companies have openly acknowledged that unless they put the Customer Experience at the top of their priorities NOW, the future will not be as rosy.

This is not opinion. This is fact. This is reality. Does Customer Experience really make a difference? I will leave it for you to form your own opinion.

Leveraging the soft and fluffy: how important are soft skills in delivering Customer Experiences?


Fluffy Dog

Yesterday I had the enormous pleasure of co-chairing the first ever Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) Members Insight Exchange to be held outside of the US. The gathering of Customer Experience Professionals (CXPs) from across Europe was as inspiring an occasion as I hoped it would be. I have always said that when you put a group of CXPs in a room it acts as a mass counselling session – the Member 2 Member principle that underpins the CXPAs approach enabled everyone present to learn from each other in a wonderful collaborative environment.

What struck me throughout the day was the clearly evident ability of almost everyone present to communicate and integrate together in friendly, engaging and warm conversation. It is not often you put practitioners and vendors in a room together, many of whom are technically competitors of each other, only for them all to act as extended members of family!! The CXPA is all about learning from each other (as I have already said), but it is one thing stating the ambition and a completely different thing seeing it actually work in practice.

It was therefore fascinating for me to reflect on the day by connecting some of the thoughts from the very first speaker with everything else that followed. We were honoured yesterday to be addressed by a business that has incredibly successfully re-invented itself in the UK over the last few years. Unlike it’s US parent, McDonald’s UK has managed to maintain a very firm place in the heart of millions of UK consumers. Jack Upton, UK Director for Training, Education & Customer Services shared his thoughts on what lies behind their success – ‘blending the employee and customer experience’.

Jack Upton addressing the CXPA UK Members Insight Exchange
Jack Upton addressing the CXPA UK Members Insight Exchange

Jack shared many valuable insights – from their use of the ‘people-profit chain’, to the increase in importance of ’emotional engagement’ between employees and customers, to the principle of ‘fusion’ – the better the delivery of customer experience at McDonald’s, the greater the value for the employee. Yet it is when Jack started to talk about ‘soft skills’ that my ears pricked up. Yes…..soft skills.

I, like many CXPs am often accused of talking only about the ‘soft and fluffy’. In fact I have used the image of the lovely cute dog at the head of this post in many presentations I have made to senior leaders over the last few years. Whilst I take the ‘soft and fluffy’ accusation in my stride, it is important to consider whether there is actually anything wrong with talking about the soft and fluffy!! Jack’s insight into the importance of soft skills to the McDonald’s business helps to explain why.

Before I expand on Jack’s thoughts, let me clarify what is meant by the term ‘soft skills’. I shall do this by quoting the modern ‘font of all knowledge’ – Wikipedia:

Soft skills is a term often associated with a person’s “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.

McDonald’s is one of the biggest employers of young people in the UK. The development of soft skills in these young people is core to their approach. In fact the development of people is one of the cornerstones of the success of McDonald’s this side of the Atlantic. I have seen this in evidence with my very own eyes – McDonald’s training facilities are quite simply fantastic.

Research led by McDonald’s and backed by other organisations including the CBI, Barclays and learndirect, as well as entrepreneur James Caan has identified that Soft skills such as communication, teamwork and time management contribute £88 billion to the UK economy! You can read more about the research in an article published in HR Magazine in January 2015 – in it Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills said:

“Business is clear that developing the right attitudes and attributes in people – such as resilience, respect, enthusiasm and creativity – is just as important as academic or technical skills.”

I could not agree more. In fact some of the best examples of genuinely Customer Centric organisations are those who solely recruit based on the ‘soft skills’ elements of Neil’s statement. Zappos, the online retailer now owned by Amazon, is perhaps the most famous example of all. Jack confirmed that this approach is just as important to McDonald’s. Soft skills alone do not guarantee the consistent delivery of great experiences, but if you are able to leverage the power of these skills, the behaviour of your people will go a huge way to developing unbreakable emotional bonds between employees and customers.

With this fresh in my mind, it was therefore no wonder that a room full of CXPs was able to engage with each other so successfully. CXPs do not just possess a collective obsession and passion for all things customer experience. They are also living, breathing examples of people with highly developed ’emotional intelligence’. CXPs understand the importance of a strong work ethic; having an unbreakable positive attitude; great communication skills; good time management; the ability to solve problems; working as a team; accepting and learning from criticism; flexibility; adaptability; working well under pressure; and doing the right thing. These are the attributes of brilliant CXPs – these attributes are known as ‘soft skills’

Maybe the soft and fluffy is not such a bad thing after all. I have met many leaders in my time who do not understand the importance of ‘soft and fluffy’. These leaders do not possess an abundance of emotional intelligence. One of these so-called leaders once called me ’emotionally immature’ – I will never forget it – although it is one of the many things I have learned from in my career.

I believe that the more you can leverage the soft skills within your organisation, the more your organisation will want to engage emotionally with your customers. Emotional engagement and empathy generate advocacy. Advocacy leads to loyalty. Loyalty leads to sustainable growth. Makes perfect sense to me……what about you?


If you have two minutes, please take the time to complete my 2 question survey to find out your personal #1 brand for delivering consistently good customer experiences. I also want to know what makes the brand your #1! The research will be used for an upcoming blog post – many thanks for your time!

You can complete the survey by clicking here