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

What happens if your company overreacts? Your customers exert unnecessary effort!


Overreaction

Last week I had the pleasure of writing a Customer Experience Review on low cost airline Norwegian. I intentionally say ‘the pleasure’ as I was pleasantly surprised by the experience – not a common feeling I have in my experiences with airlines.

I wrote the review after my outbound flight with them to Oslo. If I had written the review after my return flight to London Gatwick, the result may have been very different. Whilst the Norwegian ‘everything is working as it should do’ experience was surprisingly good, the ‘what do we do if something goes wrong’ experience was far less acceptable.

What happened to me and my fellow passengers on the afternoon of the 12th December 2014 serves as a brilliant example of how NOT to deal with an exceptional event – when something goes wrong. I would like to share the story with you.

I was due to fly from Oslo to Gatwick on the last Norwwegian flight of the day – the 18:10. I arrived at the airport in plenty of time and settled myself in a cafe near to the departure gate. I opened my laptop in anticipation of catching up on emails. I often have a quick check of the news – on this particular occasion it proved to be a useful move. I discovered at around 16:30 that there was a problem with the air traffic control systems in and around London.

My instant reaction was to check the departure boards in the terminal building. I wanted to know if London bound flights were going to be affected. The BA flight bound for London Heathrow was already showing a delay. My Gatwick flight was still unaffected. That was about to change…..

Flight cancelled

Just past 17:00, the departure screens showed that the London Gatwick flight with Norwegian had been cancelled! Cancelled! I was slightly shocked. No other London bound flight had been cancelled, but within thirty minutes of the problem being announced, Norwegian decided the flight could not depart. Now I must clarify some things here. The air traffic control issue was in no way connected to any airline. It was therefore not Norwegian’s fault. However, how Norwegian dealt with the issue is very much in their control and what happened next did not get anywhere near meeting my expectation.

Having seen the cancellation on the screen, I hunted out a Norwegian member of staff. I found a lady at a departure gate. She was not able to give me any information other than to ‘hang around and listen to the announcements’. At this stage I had no idea if I would be getting home for the weekend. As other confused passengers started to arrive at the gate, a different member of staff arrived and announced something in Norwegian. She had to be asked to repeat what she said in English.

We were told that due to the issues in London, the flight had been cancelled. We would need to return to arrivals, find the ticket desk and they would ‘sort things out for us’. That was it – no more, no less. So 15 minutes later, we were escorted back to the corridor leading back to passport control for arriving passengers. The airport in Oslo is extremely long – we had to traipse the entire length of it. Having got through passport control, the absence of any Norwegian members of staff was notable. Where were we supposed to go?

With no assistance at all, the group of passengers I was huddled with eventually found the ticket desk – already besieged by concerned passengers. Fortunately everyone was extremely calm – and patient. The fact that Norwegian had a ticketing system in place helped matters. I prepared myself for a long wait. Whilst waiting, no member of Norwegian staff came to speak to us. There is no seating anywhere near the ticket desk – it is really not a pleasant experience.

Another fifteen minutes later and the situation took yet another turn. A senior member of staff arrived behind the ticket desk and gestured to all waiting passengers. We moved in as close to the desks as possible. The lady made an announcement in Norwegian this was met by audible sighs and cheers from 50% of the passengers. The other 50% had to demand that she repeat her announcement in English.

Norwegian had decided to ‘un-cancel’ the flight – it would be leaving after all – at 19:30!! I have never heard of a flight being cancelled and then un-cancelled. My relief (at knowing I would get home) was replaced with intense frustration. This meant that all passengers would have to completely repeat the airport departure process – starting with airport security all over again. We burned a few calories on Friday night I can tell you.

The moral of this story is as per the title of this blog post. If a company overreacts to a problem, it is very likely to cause its customers unnecessary customer effort. When Norwegian cancelled the Gatwick flight on Friday afternoon, it did so far to quickly and readily. It was the last flight of the day – it would have done no harm delaying it until they were certain that the problems in London were going to be prolonged. In acting too soon, they created a bigger problem than was necessary.

Aside from the unnecessary physical effort exerted by passengers, we must not ignore the psychological effect the Norwegian overreaction had. Many of the passengers were returning home to friends and family. Cancelled flights do not just inconvenience, they also cause distress. Cancellations are an event that drive an emotional reaction in customers – it is therefore critical that the event is dealt with clearly and empathetically – in my opinion, Norwegian failed on both fronts.

If something goes wrong in your customer experience (which it inevitably will on occasion), it is vital to consider the following steps:

  1. Are you in possession of the full facts? Do not make any decisions until you are certain of the situation
  2. Keep your customers informed at all times – customers will understandably be anxious. To assure them that you are in control of the situation, provide them with information on a regular basis
  3. Cancel the product or service as a LAST RESORT – if at all possible, delay making the decision until there is no other option
  4. Provide customers with face to face support throughout the experience – have members of staff in situ to talk, reassure and help customers. If customers need to move to a different location, ensure that you have sufficient members of staff in place to clearly direct them
  5. Demonstrate to customers that you empathise with them – things will go wrong most humans acknowledge that, but if staff act as though it is just ‘part of the job’, it will only serve to irritate and frustrate

Norwegian failed to follow these steps. As a result, their overreaction to a problem and lack of support throughout the experience left a sour taste in the mouths of most customers concerned. Fortunately this type of thing does not happen on a regular basis – it is therefore unlikely to have a detrimental effect on customer loyalty toward the airline.

However, I very much hope that Norwegian (and other airlines for that matter) read this post – and the review I wrote the day before this event occurred. In that review I make it clear that whilst they are doing well in the delivering the experience they do, they must as a business be conscious of the complete ‘end to end customer journey’ – failures like this, whilst an exception, are part of that end to end journey.

It will not take much for them to improve the experience for the next set of passengers that find themselves on the receiving end of a cancelled flight. I only hope they can acknowledge that the way they approached the problem on Friday 12th December is requires improvement!

Norwegian – Customer Experience Review


CX Reviews - Norwegian

Airlines of Europe beware!! There is  a ‘new kid on the block’ – one that could potentially change the face of air travel. If you have not heard of Norwegian, it will not be long before the name of the Nordic airline is as common in ‘budget’ air travel as Ryanair or Easyjet. I flew with Norwegian for the first time this week. I have heard many things about them from friends and colleagues and was keen to test the experience for myself.

Over the last few weeks I have done more European travel than usual. Having flown with a variety of airlines, I wanted to know if Norwegian ‘felt’ like any other airline or if it really did deliver an experience that I would actually remember for positive reasons – how would it compare with others? Let the review commence!

Date Review Conducted 11th December 2014
Flights Experienced London Gatwick to Oslo
CX Review Total Score 41/50
Stars Awarded 4/5

Norwegian is an airline that has been in existence since 1993. It was not until 2008 that is started to make waves in the airline industry with the delivery of a new fleet of aircraft. By 2013 Norwegian had started to receive awards for the best European low-cost carrier – a trend that has continued into 2014. So are the plaudits that Norwegian is receiving reflective of the experience?

Norwegian’s website offers a wealth of insight into the strategy and culture of the business. They publicly share their vision:

Norwegian’s vision is “Everyone should afford to fly”.  The business idea of Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA is to give everybody the opportunity to travel by air, attracting customers by offering competitive, low fares and a high-quality travel experience based on operational excellence and helpful, friendly service.

You can see how this links to their values and business strategy here. As I always remind readers of my reviews, a public statement like this constitutes a promise or promises to customers. If you are telling us that you are offering low fares with a high-quality travel experience, you have set my expectation as such. The question is – did Norwegian meet the expectation?

Accessibility – CX Review Score 7/10

In my review process, the definition of accessibility is ‘how easy was it for me to do what I wanted to do’ with the organisation I am transacting with. Norwegian score 7 out of 10 for this category.

Let me start with the online experience. Norwegian’s website is ok – not great, but ok. It does what it needs to do, but does not offer the most intuitive of online user experiences. For example, online check in is not that easy to figure out. It took me a while to realise that I had to hunt for online check in through the ‘my reservations’ link at the top of the home page. Even then, it was not obvious what I had to do to actually check in and receive my boarding pass. There are definitely improvements Norwegian need to make before this part of the customer journey can be considered a ‘high-quality’ travel experience.

Checking in at London Gatwick was also an interesting experience. If you want to check in from scratch or simply drop a bag, it is all done via self service terminals. In principle I have no problem with this, if the process is simple for the passenger to conduct by themselves. It was not obvious to me what I had to do as a customer conducting a ‘bag drop’. I ended up having a member of staff do everything for me – from entering the details on screen, to attaching my baggage label. It made me wonder why the process is self service – it would have been so much easier and quicker if I could have walked up to a desk and have a member of staff do it the ‘old fashioned way’!! I am all for innovation, but if the innovation does not make the experience better, then why do it?!

It is for both of these reasons that Norwegian only scores 7 out of 10 for accessibility. This is a shame, because there are other things that Norwegian really do excel at. Offering free WiFi on most flights is one of them. I had great fun ‘tweeting’ from 30 thousand feet – it really did add to the experience. Jerry Angrave, a good friend of mine pointed out:

“rail operators should not be surprised that their customers’ expectations are not met when they can’t get reliable w-fi, or even some wi-fi, at just 3 feet in the air”

Experiencing free Wi-Fi on Norwegian makes you question why no-one else does it and why it is so difficult for other industries to do it – especially rail operators! Maybe it is only a matter of time before they do, but until then, Norwegian have a serious differentiator. Norwegian also offer in flight TV rental on its Wi-Fi enabled aircraft – very cool.

Tweeting at 30 thousand feet!
Tweeting at 30 thousand feet!

It is important that Norwegian recognise the importance of the ‘end to end customer journey’ – only when everything we experience can be considered high quality will Norwegian be meeting the expectations set out in their vision.

Range/Choice – CX Review Score 8/10

Norwegian is the second largest airline in Scandinavia and the third largest low-cost airline in Europe.Norwegian operates 416 routes to 126 destinations in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Thailand and the US.

Choice of flights and their prices is very good and clearly displayed online. You can also select three different fare types according to your requirements:

Norwegian fare types

Despite this, I personally was not able to get flights that met my needs. Living in the North West of England, I would have ideally been able to get a flight from Liverpool or Manchester. I could have flown from Manchester, but the limited choice of flights offered by Norwegian did not work for me. I therefore had to drive to London Gatwick instead.

Norwegian may not quite have the reach or frequency of its better known competitors, but I suspect it will not be long before it is able to offer as many routes and options as any other airline in Europe.

People – CX Review Score 9/10

Norwegian score 9 out of 10 for the people category. I was very impressed with the crew on my flight. I would describe them as relaxed, friendly and polite. They were not too formal or stuffy, but were very attentive to the needs of all passengers.

What I found interesting about them is that even though they were performing the same tasks as millions of cabin crew on airlines around the world, they did not seem to do so in the ‘stiff’ or ‘forced’ way that many make it feel. It is almost as though they have been trained to ‘chill out’ and have fun. It was nice. I would also say that they were the least ‘pushy’ cabin crew I have experienced in recent times. They did not try and SELL SELL SELL at every opportunity. They quietly and unobtrusively glided through the cabin with food, drink and gifts.

From my recent experiences, Ryanair could learn a lot from the crew of Norwegian!

Value – CX Review Score 8/10

Whilst the cost of flights is generally good, I do not think that they can be considered as ‘low cost’ as their better known competitors at the moment. My flights were not that cheap (£300) although this price was competitive with other carriers – this therefore does meet the expectation set out in their vision.

However, despite this, I do feel that Norwegian offer good value for money. It is amazing what good service and free Wi-Fi can do! The funny thing is, I was not bothered about not having a free cup of tea or a dry sandwich – what some airlines consider to be ‘added value’ does not have much effect on me. I would much prefer the service to be high quality with a few unexpected moments where my expectations are exceeded – such as free Wi-Fi.

I have therefore awarded Norwegian a score of 8 out of 10 for Value – not as high as I awarded Ryanair, but not far off.

How did it make me feel? CX Review Score 9/10

My first ever flight with Norwegian left me feeling pleasantly surprised. Having flown a lot recently, I have become used to feeling ambivalent and uninspired by my airline experiences. If flying with airlines were to be compared with a blind food taste test, I would say that they all taste exactly the same!!

Flying with Norwegian did feel different though. The modern planes are very light and airy – the decor is excellent and lighting very good. When I compare the Norwegian cabin with the oppressive yellow and blue of Ryanair, it does make me realise how important the environment we travel in actually is.

The friendly, relaxed crew made me feel as though I was on my way to a fortnight in the Canaries, rather than a couple of working days in Norway. Then I come back again to the free Wi-Fi. It is often the simple things that make experiences better…..different. I felt like a little kid being able to tweet and post pictures on Facebook whilst flying overhead. I guess the excitement will wear off eventually, but for now, this element of the Norwegian experience is incredibly memorable.

All in all, I would say that Norwegian are creating positive, memorable experiences – something their competitors are finding difficult to do. For this reason, I have scored Norwegian 9 out of 10 for how they made me feel.

Would I use them again? Yes

An easy question to answer – a big fat YES! I was impressed with Norwegian – I have not been impressed with a short haul airline for many years. In fact, Norwegians total score for this review – 41 – is the same I awarded to Etihad. This score is higher than I awarded to Emirates, British Airways and Ryanair. If you have not flown with them, you must give Norwegian a go. I think that their competitors should be very afraid of what they are offering.

There are still improvements that they need to make to the experience for it to genuinely be ‘high quality’ throughout. However right now, Norwegian are offering something slightly different in an industry where differentiation is not very common. I will be flying Norwegian again – very soon!


My reviews are based on a format I created to assess experiences I have with a variety organisations. They are intended to act as a demonstration of how Customer Experiences affect the customer in a number of ways. The reviews are based on my opinion as a Customer Experience Specialist – an opinion that readers are perfectly welcome to disagree with!! I always welcome others perspectives and would love to know what you think of the companies I do review.

You can read all of my reviews here.

 

Explaining the power of customer expectation: stories of splashing sinks, free tea and broken curtains!


0 expectation

Last week was as manic as they get for me. Prague, Oxford, London and Copenhagen were all on my itinerary in a mad, exciting and fruitful five days. Despite all the travelling I do these days, I am still someone who gets excited about travelling to places I have never been before. I often do not get much chance to see the sights and experience the culture, but I do get the opportunity to eat nice food, stay in good hotels and travel with well known operators. In my experience, the prospect of travel creates a nice equation – especially when put in the context of customer experience – the equation is as follows:

EXCITEMENT & ANTICIPATION = EXPECTATION 

Even when travelling for the purposes of work, we all feel that sense of excitement and anticipation. Both of these emotions build a level of expectation that presents a challenge for the organisations we interact with – the challenge being that it is their role to try to meet it!

Last week I had very high expectations of three particular organisations – the W Hotel in Leicester Square; Scandinavian Airlines (SAS); and the Admiral Hotel Copenhagen. The question is, would they be able to meet my expectations or not? If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will be aware that I do have high expectations. I do not consider my expectations to be too high – rather I feel that my expectations represent the minimum that customers SHOULD expect as given.

Let me start with the W Hotel in Leicester Square. If you have not heard of W Hotels before, they are part of the Starwood Hotels empire. Starwood boast the Sheraton and Le Meridien brands among their portfolio and are well known for delivering very good customer experiences. W Hotels are intended to provide customers with ‘iconic design and contemporary luxury to set the stage for exclusive and extraordinary experiences’. Sounds good does it not?! Here is the full blurb (promise) from their website:

Escape to where iconic design and contemporary luxury set the stage for exclusive and extraordinary experiences at W Hotels® Worldwide. Retreat to surprising, sensory environments where amplified entertainment, vibrant lounges, modern guestrooms and innovative cocktails and cuisine create more than just a hotel experience, but a luxury lifestyle destination.

Having browsed their website, my expectation equation kicked in to gear. My levels of excitement and anticipation were pretty high. It is not surprising when you consider what I had read and seen on the website. As I approached the brilliantly located hotel on the corner of the genuinely iconic Leicester Square in London, I could not wait to see what lay in store.

There is no denying that the hotel is very different. It looks and feels more like a nightclub than a hotel. The word I would use to describe it is ‘cool’. Cool does not come cheap however – and as I checked in, my excitement and anticipation monitors remained high. I found my bedroom down a very dark (or seductively lit) corridor. Outside my bedroom I found a tray with a used glass on it. Not what I expected to greet me in the coolest of cool hotels. The fact it was still there four hours later was disappointing.

The seductively dark (and dingy) corridors at the W Hotel
The seductively dark (and dingy) corridors at the W Hotel
Whose glass is this?
Whose glass is this?

Inside the bedroom I was greeted by more cool…….and a sink in the middle of the room! Yes, at the W Hotel, the sink(basin) is on an island that doubles up as a desk in the middle of the room. The toilet and shower are both hidden behind mirrored doors. The design of the room was excellent and very very cool. A huge kingsize bed sat on a shag pile rug in front of a large plasma screen TV. Peeking out of the window I could just see Leicester Square itself – not bad. However, cool does not necessarily mean that this room met my expectation.

Turning on the tap (faucet) to wash my hands, my anticipation and excitement monitors started to decline. Whilst the sink and tap combo look great, it is doubtful whoever designed it, or anyone in management from W Hotels has ever tried to use it. I was immediately covered in water. However hard or soft I turned the tap, you could not use the sink without getting covered in splashing water. This meant that the floor of the bedroom was also soaking wet. Not good design.

The offending (but cool) W Hotel sink
The offending (but cool) W Hotel sink

There were other design issues. The shower was in an enclosed cubicle – I could not put the shower mat outside the door as I was then unable to open the door. I could not put it inside the cubicle or it would get soaking wet. This may seem like a pretty minor issue to you, but to me it is an outcome of poor design. Once again, the floor of my bedroom was wet.

When I add in the fact that free Wi-Fi was limited to two hours and that I was asked for ID (my passport or driving licence) on arrival (something that I have not been asked for in a UK hotel for the last three years), the W Hotel had eroded a significant chunk of my anticipation and excitement monitors. The reality is that all I will remember from this cool hotel is that it was a very expensive way to get a wet suit. Its coolness was not enough to meet my basic expectations. It fell a long way short of exceeding them. The ultimate result is that I will not stay in a W Hotel again.

W Hotels were not the only brand to fail to meet my expectation last week. I was excited to fly to Copenhagen with Scandinavian Airlines (SAS). Having heard and read a lot about them over the years, I was anticipating and excited to see what they had on offer. I expected it to feel a somewhat better experience than other airlines. To cut a long story short, I should have known better. A couple of weeks ago, I asked a room full of European air travellers if any of them had felt ‘good’ about their flight in the last 24 hours. Not a single person put their hand up! The reason for this is that few (if any) airlines are able to offer an experience that is better than anyone else.

My flights with SAS felt just the same as any other short haul airline – no better and no worse. However, the fact that my flights were in excess of £500 meant that the experience actually felt far worse. Even free coffee and tea (excitedly promoted by the cabin crew) was not enough to leave me feeling disappointed. The result – why travel with SAS when I could have flown with Easyjet at a fraction of the price.

A free cup of tea is not enough to save SAS from failing to meet my expectations
A free cup of tea is not enough to save SAS from failing to meet my expectations

Although my flight to Copenhagen was not as good as I expected, I was anticipating a recovery on arrival at my hotel – the Admiral Hotel Copenhage. Having reviewed the website, I was excited about staying in the stunning and beautifully restored 18th century warehouse on the waterfront in the heart of the city. Again, the price led me to set my expectation in the very high category.

Once again I was disappointed. Although the design of the hotel was good, the design of the rooms was less so. My room was split level – the bedroom nestled on a mezzanine floor above a lounge area. It looked nice, but was not very functional. The stairs were precarious – fortunately I did not need the loo in the middle of the night – I would be amazed if previous guests have not injured themselves. The desk was situated so close to the stairs that I could not pull the chair out properly to sit behind it. I ended up sitting at an angle. Additionally, the plug sockets by my bed did not work and one set of curtain blinds were broken. When you add in the fact that breakfast was not included in the already high price of my room, my excitement and anticipation had ended in disappointment. Once again, the result is that I will be finding alternative accommodation the next time I visit Copenhagen.

The Admiral Hotel Copenhagen - looks nice, but beware the stairs!
The Admiral Hotel Copenhagen – looks nice, but beware the stairs!

The moral of all of these stories is simple. If you fail to meet the expectation(s) of your customers you risk never seeing them again. If you set an expectation that is high – you need to be able to live up to your promises. Luxury hotels like Claridges have the authority to use the word luxury because they excel at delivering experiences to their customers that address every minute attention to detail. Their customers would expect no less. This principle is exactly the same for any brand – luxury or not.

So if you want to assess what the expectation of your customer experience is, consider your own personal levels of anticipation and excitement when interacting with a company. How do you feel when you order a new pair of shoes online?; or a new smartphone?; or presents for the kids?; how do you feel if what you receive is not quite what you expected – either the product or the service? Failure to meet customer expectation can be fatal.

Ryanair – the brand we can now learn to love


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I have always described Ryanair as ‘the brand we love to hate’. Famed for its ‘no frills’ approach, for years, millions of consumers decided that despite the appealing cost, the un-acceptability of the Ryanair experience was a big turn off. Equally as many millions of consumers were prepared to put up with the ‘no service’ proposition and until recently, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary revelled in the financial returns that this strategy delivered.

Michael O’Leary became as famous for his ability to deliver remarkably positive financial returns for his company, as he did for his public disdain for the customer. These are just some of the things he has said about customers in the past:

“If drink sales are falling off, we get the pilots to engineer a bit of turbulence. That usually spikes sales.”

On passengers who forget to print their boarding passes: “We think they should pay €60 for being so stupid.”

“Anyone who thinks Ryanair flights are some sort of bastion of sanctity where you can contemplate your navel is wrong. We already bombard you with as many in-flight announcements and trolleys as we can. Anyone who looks like sleeping, we wake them up to sell them things.”

“MBA students come out with: ‘My staff is my most important asset.’ Bullshit. Staff is usually your biggest cost. We all employ some lazy bastards who needs a kick up the backside, but no one can bring themselves to admit it.”

If you can believe it, there are even worse examples than this with even fruitier language. The reason why the airline became the one that most loved to hate is not very difficult to understand. However, as a passionate defender of all things Customer Experience, I am about to write a sentence that I NEVER in a million years imagined I ever would…… brace yourselves…..

Michael O’Leary is the new HERO of Customer Experience!

Whilst I will never accept or codone the things Mr O’Leary has said and done in the past when it comes to his customers, I am absolutely accepting of a leader who is prepared to admit he is in the wrong. Too many business leaders do not have the humility to admit failure – those that do should be commended for having the balls to do so. Michael O’Leary has become one of those leaders.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, let me share with you this ‘up to date’ quote of Michael O’Leary’s following their latest round of financial results:

‘If I had known being nicer to our customers was going to work so well I would have done it years ago.’

Do not adjust your screens – you did just read that correctly. Michael O’Leary has finally acknowledged that improving the customer experience has had a POSITIVE effect on the financial performance of his business. He has admitted that he was wrong not to change the way the airline treated customers much sooner and is committed to making the Ryanair Customer Experience even better.

If I were any other airline in the industry, I would be very afraid. Ryanair’s co-founder, the late Tony Ryan, was desperate to make Ryanair the best-loved airline in Europe. Michael O’Leary vehemently disagreed with him and insisted that they should focus on being the lowest cost. They were actually both on to something – creating Europe’s lowest cost AND most loved airline  would be quite some proposition. This is now the proposition that Michael O’Leary is trying to fulfil.

Customer Experience Professionals all over the world are often challenged by business leaders as to the real benefits of Customer Experience. We are challenged with talking about ‘fluff’ rather than substance. Does it really make a difference? Well if you do not believe me, then speak to the new Customer Experience HERO – Michael O’Leary. For the greatest customer experience sceptic on earth to ‘see the light’, there is no better way of demonstrating to any business the potential reward for putting customers on the strategic map.

Over the last few weeks, since Michael O’Leary shared his epiphany with the world, I have discussed his new conclusions about the benefits of Customer Experience with many people. A significant proportion of those people have suggested they will now give Ryanair ‘another chance’. Improving the Customer Experience really does work. Ryanair could become the ‘brand we can now learn to love’. There is still a lot of work for them to do – to continue to improve the full ‘end to end’ experience, whilst convincing us that he will maintain and sustain his focus on Customer Experience indefinitely.

I for one am very grateful. Grateful for his admission. Grateful to have an amazing advocate of the financial benefits of improving Customer Experience. Grateful for any past, present or future customer of Ryanair. Long may we hear the Ryanair ‘trumpet’!

 

Emirates Vs Etihad – Customer Experience Review


0 cx review Emirates V Etihad2

Many dinner table conversations about customer experience will end up talking about the airline industry. It is almost impossible to find a human who does not have an airline ‘story’ – and most of the time the stories are not particularly positive. An industry that appears to be amongst the most glamorous has consistently struggled over the years to deliver consistently good experiences. Some of the biggest customer experience horror stories have been served up by airlines. I have already subjected two heavyweight brands in the industry to my Customer Experience Review process – you can read how British Airways and Ryanair fared should you be interested in doing so!

This review is a first for me – rather than reviewing one brand, I am reviewing two at the same time – I see it almost as a two for the price of one offer!! I am very fortunate to travel a great deal as I help and guide organisations on their customer centric journeys. Last week I had the pleasure of travelling to Kuala Lumpur. Due to a complicated schedule, I ended up travelling out to Kuala Lumpur with Emirates and home again with Etihad. It has given me the perfect opportunity to directly compare two brands delivering a similar experience – the results may (or may not) surprise you.

Before I get started, I must reiterate (as I always do with every review) – this process is one that I have developed personally. It is entirely subjective, based solely on my opinion as a seasoned customer experience specialist having one experience with a brand at a moment in time. However, I am confident that the method I adopt can help both the brands involved and others learn about the significance of the end to end Customer Experience. You can read all of my Customer Experience Reviews here.

Date Review Conducted 24th September 2014
Flight Details EmiratesDublin to Kuala Lumpur (via Dubai)Etihad – Kuala Lumpur to Manchester (via Abu Dhabi)
CX Review Total Score Emirates 35/50Etihad 41/50
Stars Awarded Emirates 3.5/5Etihad 4/5

So let’s get started! In the last two years, I have travelled to the Far East with three different companies – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. I have never been too concerned about the choice of airline – my primary focus has been on selecting the airline that offers the most effective timings to align to my travel plans. Living in the North West of England, my options are more limited than if I were based in London. I have always thought the experiences I have had with the three airlines to be broadly similar, but it is only now that I have made the conscious decision to formally review my interactions with two of them.

Whilst I usually travel out and back with the same airline, due to me having to start my journey in Dublin and finish in Manchester, I ended up going out to Malaysia with Emirates and back to Manchester with Etihad. Many people think that international travel on business is incredibly glamorous – it may be for the lucky few who end up in business class! I am one of the many who must experience the delights of being a second class citizen (as that is how the airlines often make it feel) in good old economy! To give you the context – in both directions I had to experience two 6.5 to 7.5 hour flights with a layover in Dubai (on the way out) and Abu Dhabi (on the way back). All in all I experienced approximately 30 hours of flights over a four day period – more than enough for me to form an opinion.

I often refer to the airline industry as a great example of the importance of differentiation – when every company in one industry uses the same aircraft flying to the same airports, there has to be something that makes them different. The reviews that you are about to read hopefully demonstrate that it is the end to end customer experience that may provide the answer! So who comes out on top – Emirates or Etihad?

Accessibility – CX Review Score Emirates 6/10; Etihad 7/10

In my review process, the definition of accessibility is ‘how easy was it for me to do what I wanted to do’ with the organisation I have chosen to transact with? In this category, Etihad takes a slim advantage over its rival. The question is why? When you consider the customer journey for interacting with an airline, the start of the journey is usually the identification of suitable flights. With a variety of online sources available as well as the airlines own websites themselves, identifying flights to Kuala Lumpur is very easy. Finding and booking flights with Emirates and Etihad is very similar – I would argue so similar, that it almost makes no difference to the experience at all.

In my experience last week, the first advantage went to Emirates. When flying to another country where a stop over is necessary, the length of the stop over can have a significant effect on the overall travel time. In the case of both Dublin and Manchester, the stop over with Etihad is at least two hours longer than the stop over with Etihad. To make matters worse for Etihad, Abu Dhabi airport is currently being reconstructed – the old terminal buildings do not make for a pleasant environment to spend two to four hours of your time. The length of the stop over will have an effect on the perception of the overall experience – especially when there is little difference in price and travel times.

On the next issue, both Emirates and Etihad share a similar problem with other carriers. Neither airline would allow me to print my boarding passes until 24 hours before my flight was due to leave. As a result, on three occasions I had to beg, borrow and steal to arrange for my boarding passes to be printed. I am an individual who does not like to rely on using my phone as a boarding pass – I like the security a paper copy gives me. I am also a person who does not own a portable printer!! Emirates and Etihad are not alone in this – but until the airlines make it easier for passengers to ‘check in’, I will continue to mark them down on the delivery of the experience.

Similarly, ‘baggage drop’ at the airport is another irritation to the overall experience. In both cases, bags are not permitted to be ‘dropped’ in the airport until three hours before the flight is due to depart – and not a second before!! How annoying!! Why not?!! Travelling to different parts of the world takes long enough – why subject poor customers to standing in a queue for an eternity waiting for ground crew to turn on their monitors?! On my return home in Abu Dhabi, I was able to drop off my bag in the centre of Kuala Lumpur…. 5 hours before departure! Emirates offered the same service. So why can it be done in certain circumstances but not others?

Let us move on to the flights themselves. The difference between all four aircraft was so small, that I am tempted to say that the only difference was the colour scheme! However, Etihad gains the advantage over Emirates for some important ‘attention to detail’ points. Firstly the entertainment system – both airlines have them – the entertainment on them is almost identical. The difference I experienced was in the quality of the screens. The Emirates screens were not particularly well defined and very dark – this made it difficult to watch movies and TV programmes. I was fortunate to have empty seats either side of me on both my outbound flights – all the screens were the same. The Etihad screens were much clearer and well defined. Additionally, the Emirates headphones were awful – the fact they were uncomfortable was minor – the fact that four out of five headphones I tried to use did not work properly was major. The headphones on Etihad were a class above – far more comfortable and worked perfectly – it made for a much more enjoyable entertainment experience.

Everything else I experienced was too similar to be any different – from the meals, to seat comfort to disembarkation etc. However, on both of my Emirates flights, I was seated in a row with a broken table – as I have already stated – due to being on aircraft that were half full, this was not an issue. What would have happened if the aircraft had have been full? I do not expect to have anything being broken, damaged or not working on a flight – it surprised me to experience this on two separate flights with Emirates.

So in summary, both airlines have room for improvement in a number of areas when it comes to making the experience as accessible as possible – 6 and 7 out of 10 are low scores for brands of this calibre. However, in my opinion, the Etihad experience shades it – at least everything worked as expected!!

Range/Choice – CX Review Score Emirates 7/10; Etihad 8/10

I thought it would be very difficult to find any differentiation between the two airlines when it came to range and choice. Both have the same ‘classes’ of travel; the same offers; the same sort of loyalty programmes. As I have already said, they both fly the same routes using the same planes using the same airports. Perhaps I am being harsh on Emirates here – they have a more modern fleet than Etihad with the world’s largest stock of the new A380 superjumbo aircraft – but I was a passenger who could not benefit from the double decker plane on the routes I needed to travel.

The reason why Etihad comes out on top here is because the experience they offer recognises the importance of giving customers the option to have flexibility. Travel plans often change – sometimes well ahead of travelling – often at short notice. The peace of mind that we can get from purchasing flexible tickets is reassuring. Emirates do not offer flexible options (at least I could not find them!) – Etihad do – it puts them significantly ahead in this category in my opinion. I have noticed more airlines going this way – Easyjet for example now offer flexible tickets that enable customers to change their flights up to two hours before departure. Emirates need to emulate this if they are to keep pace with their rivals.

Etihad 'branded fares'
Etihad ‘branded fares’

People – CX Review Score Emirates 7/10; Etihad 9/10

It is with their people that I personally recognised the greatest difference in my experiences with the two airlines. I base this statement on having interacted with four different crews on four flights. Emirates have always been heralded for their ‘world class’ customer service. In fact both airlines during their ‘in flight’ announcements mention the fact that they are ‘award winning’. From the minute I entered the cabin, I noticed a difference between the crews of the two airlines.

Emirates cabin crew are very well presented. With not a hair out of place, they look as though they have walked straight out of a catalogue. However not only do their uniforms look well starched, so do their smiles. Although they said all the right things – ‘Welcome to Emirates Mr Golding’ etc.., it very much felt to me as though it was being said through clenched teeth. In almost 15 hours of flying with Emirates crew, I did not see a lot of smiling going on. They just felt indifferent to my presence – as though they were not that bothered. They were not rude or impolite, just indifferent. I will say that the male crew seemed more indifferent than the female – I am not sure why, but it was evident to me. They left me feeling as though I should not ask them anything; I shouldn’t disturb them from their tasks – not really what I expected from Emirates.

Etihad felt very different. The crew said the same things as Emirates – the BIG difference is that they said it as though they meant it. With warm smiles always present, they glided around the cabin constantly looking to see if passengers needed help. I actually felt more relaxed than on my Emirates flights – it was the crew that made me feel that way. On my fourth flight – my final leg with Etihad, I had the pleasure of being looked after by two lovely crew hailing from Portugal. Maria and Martha were ever smiling, kind, courteous and very helpful.

As can sometimes happen, I was among the last passengers to be served their meal on this particular flight. Being tired and grouchy, I expressed my distinct displeasure to Martha. I must admit, I was a little rude – something I imagine cabin crew have to face on a regular basis.  What happened next exceeded my expectation. Having told Martha that I would take the option I did not want (as I had no choice!), Maria appeared by my side. ‘We are so sorry that this has happened sir’, she said. ‘We have had a look at the crew meals and I would be delighted if you would have the meal that has been secured for me’. I was touched – Maria and Martha had held counsel in the galley, and decided that even though the passenger had been a grouch, it was still their role to try to make me happy. This highlighted for me the significant difference in the way I experienced the Emirates and Etihad crews. As readers of my blogs know, the importance in people delivering empathetic experiences must never be underestimated – Etihad’s people in my experience were a cut above Emirates.

Value – CX Review Score Emirates 7/10; Etihad 8/10

When it coms to value, there is little to choose between the two airlines – the cost of a return ticket to Kuala Lumpur is as low as £500 – not a lot of money when you consider the distances involved. However, Etihad’s ability to offer a variety of fares based on Customers requirements for flexibility gives it the edge again over Emirates.

How did it make me feel? Review Score Emirates 8/10; Etihad 9/10

Prior to thinking about conducting reviews of both airlines, I assumed that I would attribute the same score to both when it came to the way interacting with them made me feel. I did not think that there would be significant enough differences to differentiate between the two. I was wrong.The Etihad experience just felt better to me – almost entirely down to the attitude and behaviour of their people. It was a warmer, friendlier more relaxing experience – I can still recall members of the crew from both Etihad flights – I cannot recall any crew member from my Emirates flights. In my experience, the difference between the two airlines is their people and as a result, Etihad wins the emotional component of the experience.

Would I use Emirates and Etihad again? YES and YES

If you have made it this far, you will have noticed that the Etihad experience has surpassed that of Emirates. Four flights spread over a few days – whilst both experiences were good, Etihad’s was better. As they so often are, people have proven to be the biggest differentiator of them all – and in my experiences, Etihad’s people are delivering a better, more empathetic experience than those of Emirates.

In all likelihood, I will use both Emirates and Etihad again – the key is that if I have the choice to use either – my primary choice would be to use Etihad – this is the most important thing. In an industry were differentiation is so difficult and where choice is increasing, it is often fine margins that will determine the advocacy of your customers. If Emirates want to compete for my business, the next time I board one of their aircraft, the crew need to convince me that they are genuinely enjoying what they do and then sit me at a seat where everything works!

 


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