Recovery don’t come easy…
EasyJet have flown into the headlines hot on the heels of United, as they, too, have inappropriately (if not quite as catastrophically) dealt with passengers on an overbooked flight.The couple who were removed from the budget airline were travelling to Italy, where they had booked a six-day break staying in non-refundable accommodation. Definitely a huge blow to the doubtlessly furious holidaymakers, particularly as they were told that the only option open to them was the next available flight to their destination, which was four days later.
Turns out this wasn’t the case at all. The employee imparting this information clearly hadn’t read the company manual: the passengers were actually entitled to either compensation or the soonest available flight with anyairline.
What’s more, this employee faux pas wasn’t the first human error in the incident: apparently the unfortunate couple shouldn’t have even been allowed on the plane in the first place but their tickets hadn’t been properly scanned so they system thought there were sufficient seats available.
Definitely not what the ill-fated couple anticipated and most certainly not likely to shine a favourable light on EasyJet and their customer service.
Evidently, it’s not illegal for airlines to overbook. Apparently, it’s all based on algorithms and statistical data and, depending on circumstances, anywhere from 5-15% of people may be ‘no shows’ on a given flight. So, it doesn’t make sound financial sense for airlines – who often only operate at around 1% profit margin – to fly with empty seats.
Which is all well and good if they react to the situation professionally and fairly, asking for volunteers to give up their seats and offering compensation.
Of course, getting people to volunteer isn’t always successful. In the USA last year, 46,000 travelers were involuntarily bumped from flights. But even then, surely there is a far better way of handling the situation, as opposed to dragging people out of their seats – to accommodate airline staff, no less, not actual passengers! – as per the last week’s United farce? Or basically telling them to ‘come back for the next flight in four days’ time’ as per the EasyJet fiasco?
To err is human… but will there be any forgiveness?
Yes, statistical analysis is prone to error. Plus, of course, to err is human and an organisation is only as good as its people.
So where does that leave us? To start with, I think it places a lot of emphasis on having faith in your team and being 100% sure that those in customer facing positions are sufficiently trained to be there: you need to be confident that they will impart appropriate and factual information when the need arises, to prevent any customer dissatisfaction.
Secondly, unless it’s in a person’s job description under extenuating circumstances (armed forces, police etc), it is never acceptable to use force in some misguided attempt at reaching the desired outcome. (Ok, so I am sure United’s powers that be didn’t tell security to flex their muscle to achieve results but maybe they should have told them not to?!)
In a statement regarding how they were dealing with their problem, Oscar Munoz, CEO of United, said: “it’s never too late to do the right thing… we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. I promise you we will do better.”
Sounds great in theory. The question is how and why were things allowed to get so out of hand in the first place?
In the EasyJet case, European passengers’ rights rules stipulate: “If boarding is denied to passengers against their will, the operating air carrier shall immediately compensate them.” Again, great, if it happens. Not so great when nobody shares this information and you’re simply told the only way to reach a conclusion is to contact a South African call centre to escalate the issue, even though you are in London, moments away from the airline’s HQ.
They are now clawing it back somewhat though and holding their hands up to the error and other that may have occurred, announcing: “If any customer feels that we have not handled their claim appropriately, they should get in contact with us so we can look into it”.
But even if both airlines do manage to smooth the waters somewhat, what long-standing damage does it do to their reputation?
User experience is everything. Without doubt, if sufficient horror stories hit the proverbial fan, others are going to be reluctant to put their trust in your product or service: why would you risk getting burnt when you know a brand is capable of striking a giant gaffe match and there are alternative options?
On the bright side, there are lessons in these events – that give public relations professionals nightmares – for the rest of us.
You have to remember that the customer is King. Their experience is your bread and butter. If you run a business where there may ever be a need for compensation, get feedback now as to what customers deem fair and do your research.
And, as stated earlier, make sure your team are equipped to be consumer facing: they need to have the right information to hand or, at least, an immediate chain of command if they cannot provide or are unsure of specific details.
Manage customer expectations from the outset to help guide a positive user experience for your current and future clients. And make sure you play by the rules.
To find out more about consumer satisfaction services that The Monachie Project can provide, contact the team today.