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.


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You can complete the survey by clicking here

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