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


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!

Wake up, do stuff, go to bed, wake up again – understanding the true ‘end to end’ customer journey

0 real e2e customer journey

Have you heard the term ‘customer journey’? Silly question eh? It is becoming increasingly difficult to find anyone in business who has not heard the term. Hearing it and understanding it do not necessarily come hand in hand though. Whilst many hear ‘customer journey’ banded about as a term, there is still a very long way to go before the majority (rather than the minority) of organisations understand how to ‘map’ one, or ‘design’ one, or even know how to ‘improve’ one.

One thing that I must get straight right from the off is that every organisation that exists to serve customers already has a customer journey. This might seem like a strange thing to say, but whether you like it or not, and whether it is any good or not, you are already delivering a journey to your customers. My good friend and colleague Jerry Angrave advised a client of this fact recently – they were surprised to have never of thought of it themselves.

What can get confusing to businesses is that there is no right or wrong way to ‘map’ a customer journey. Simply conducting a Google search for the term will return a variety of images – here is a small selection:

0 customer journey maps

None of these are right – none of them are wrong – they all served a purpose for the organisation that created them. What your customer journey map looks like is not important – and that is also not the subject of this blog post. Why you are creating a visualisation of the journey that your customers experience is vitally important. What your journey comprises is also critical – and that is the true focus of this blog post.

An increasing number of organisations are busily documenting their customer journey or customer journeys. More advanced businesses are even designing new customer journeys using more sophisticated techniques and practices. Some focus on the TRANSACTIONAL customer journey – the journey that starts when a customer chooses to interact with you, and ends when they have completed their transaction. Others are more concerned with the RELATIONAL journey – the journey that comprises repeat transactions over time. What many fail to do though is consider what I call the TRUE ‘end to end’ customer journey.

Whilst it is important to understand what the journey looks like that your organisation is responsible for delivering, it is equally important to understand where that journey fits in to the context of your customers lives. If you think about it, every day for us as a consumer is a mini journey in itself. It starts when we wake up, and ends when we return to our beds. What we do in between is the ‘stuff’ that makes up the rest of our journey. The true ‘end to end’ customer journey starts and ends in bed (hopefully!) every single day. Despite this fact, not many of us map the customer journey with this in mind.

Understanding the true customer journey can help bring to life why customers do what they do, and help explain why an organisations existing customer journey may or may not work. Let us have a look at a simple example. Jane is a mum of three young children – all are at primary school. She is normally woken up at 07:00 – at this point, her daily journey commences. She showers, and then comes downstairs to make the kids breakfast. All of her kids like porridge – the new trend for easy sachets has made it quicker and easier for her. Once breakfast is over, the kids are ready for school.

The next stage of her journey is to get the kids to school. Living only a mile away, they usually walk. Jane ordered a new dress online the previous day, and knows that if she walks past her local garage, she can collect the dress from a ‘click and collect point’. Once the kids have been dropped off, it is back home to do some more ‘stuff’. Jane needs to do some food shopping – she chooses to go to her local ‘superstore’ as it is easy to get to and has free parking. Once done, it is back home to put the shopping away. Having completed some work she conducts from home part-time, she decides she has enough time to visit the gym. Gym complete, she has time for a quick lunch at home, before picking up the kids from school.

The next stage of the journey sees Jane dropping off her daughters for their weekly theatre school fix, whilst taking her son for his swimming lesson. After a pasta dinner at home, it is bath and shower time for the kids, before bedtime. Once the kids have gone to sleep, Jane decides to watch a movie via her internet TV. Her journey for this particular day is almost over. Having caught up with Facebook, she turns off her light and goes to sleep.

0 janes journey

If you consider this ‘true’ customer journey, you will notice that my fictional Jane has interacted with a number of different brands and organisations during the day. Each one of these interactions has a potential link to another, and understanding what she does, can potentially help to inform each individual journey. Jane will be typical of a certain type of customer of each organisation she transacts with – her ‘persona’ is an imperative insight into how to design a customer journey. Unless you truly put yourself into your customers shoes, it is difficult to understand if the journey that you have as a legacy, or the new journey that you are designing will meet her needs.

So ask yourself these questions:

  • Do we know what our customer journey looks like?
  • Do we understand the transactional journey or the relational journey or both?
  • Do we understand where our journey fits in to our customers true ‘end to end’ journey
  • Do we understand who our customers are?
  • Have we created customer personas?

Understanding a day in the life of a typical customer is becoming more and more important in a world where businesses aspire to deliver customer journeys that increasingly meet customer expectation. By mapping your journey in context with the ‘other stuff’ a customer does during the day will help you to determine if changes or improvement needs to be made. Does your journey do what your customer needs you to do when she needs you to do it – and does it make her feel good about it. How she feels will be affected by everything else she may be doing or have to do during her true daily ‘end to end’ journey.