I’d like to tell you a couple of stories about some things that happened to me while travelling to speak at an event in Munich recently and why I think they are important, particularly when it comes to customer service and experience.
The first incident happened when it came time for me to check in for my return flight from Munich.
Now, my flight tickets were booked for me by my host. All the details used to book the flights were correct. I checked and made sure of that. But, when I tried to check in on the airline’s website, their mobile site and their app, I couldn’t.
Every attempt, regardless of the channel, was greeted with different variations of the same response……my passport number was either invalid or incorrect.
It isn’t and wasn’t.
Therefore, I wasn’t able to check in remotely and, so had to go to the airport early and try and check in using the self-service kiosks.
I did. And, hey presto, I was able to check in with no problems whatsoever.
This made no sense to me, particularly because I was able to check in just fine on the way out to Munich using the airline’s website, but I wasn’t able to do the same thing on the way back. Moreover, why did the self-service kiosk work, but the website and app didn’t?
The second incident happened while I was on the plane flying back.
I was scheduled to fly back to Edinburgh via Frankfurt on Thursday evening, and everything on the flight from Munich to Frankfurt was going well til the pilot came on the tannoy and told us that Frankfurt airport was temporarily closed due to some enlightened individual flying their drone in the vicinity of the airport.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough fuel on board to circle and wait til the airport reopened, so we diverted to Nuremberg airport to land, take on more fuel and await instructions. That all went relatively smoothly, and we were shortly down, refuelled and back in the air heading back to Frankfurt. But, our drone-imposed delay meant that I missed my connecting flight.
This was the same situation for many other passengers, and given that it was now late in the day, we were notified by the plane’s crew that those passengers who had missed their connecting flights would be met by airline staff at the gate when we had landed, and they would help us make arrangements regarding staying over and booking new flights the following day.
Despite the inconvenience, that all sounded good.
However, when we landed in Frankfurt, I switched on my phone and almost immediately received a number of SMS messages informing me that I had been automatically booked onto a new flight to Edinburgh the following morning and also offering me three options of hotels close to the airport that I could choose to stay in. I clicked on the link in one of the messages and picked a hotel. I was then sent a confirmation message, including details of where to catch the shuttle bus that would take me directly to the hotel.
That was a unexpected but very welcome surprise. It made the end of my night much easier and smoother than it could have been.
The problem was that the couple that were sitting next to me had also missed their connection. But, they received no electronic messages, SMS or otherwise, telling them what to do or what their options were. Instead, they faced the very unattractive option of having to go and queue with countless others to arrange new flights and accommodation at the airline’s service desk.
I should point out that I was just an ordinary customer returning from a work trip. My flights were all booked for me; they were standard economy flights, and were not attached to any airline loyalty programme. So, I was not entitled to any special treatment.
The couple sat next to me were in exactly the same situation as I was in. They had booked their flights directly through the same airline. And yet, they ended up having a very different experience to the one I was having.
That troubled me and made me wonder why that would be the case.
Unfortunately, there was nothing that I could do so I apologised for my good fortune and wished them well.
Reflecting on those two events in the following days, it struck me that they shared a common theme: lack of consistency.
In the first instance, there was no consistency across channels in my check-in experience.
Secondly, there was no consistency of messaging or treatment of customers who, on the face of it, were all the same, had missed their connection and were facing an enforced layover.
Now, I get that travel is complicated, and there are a lot of moving parts and many things that can go wrong.
But consistency is the bedrock of a positive customer experience. As human beings, we value and crave it because it promotes comfort, ease, familiarity, peace of mind, and trust.
Not only that, but it delivers business results, too. A piece of research by McKinsey found that removing inconsistencies across a customer’s journey and maximising satisfaction could help boost revenue by up to 15 percent while, at the same time, lowering the cost of serving customers by as much as 20 percent. They went on to say, “It may not seem sexy, but consistency is the secret ingredient to making customers happy.”
Therefore, while inconsistencies in the service and experience that brands deliver to customers may not be immediately obvious, it is in their interests to seek them out and remove them.