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!

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.