It was the best of service and the worst of service.
This blog has a Dickensian feel to it. The reason is that the lessons discussed are nearly as old as Dickens and its a bit long winded. Many, many years ago I saw a Tom Peters video where he talk about customer service. He said that companies paid small fortunes to create the right image but it was the sweaty delivery man in a nylon uniform who really represented you what you were about. He said that every customer who had a good experience with your company would, on average, tell one other person. A person who had a bad experience would tell ten. That was before the internet and twitter. On Saturday I experienced bad service from Monarch Airlines and within minutes I had told over 500 people about it.
On Saturday afternoon, about thirty minutes before we boarded our flight to Majorca, we were told that we would be subject to a five hour delay. The reason given was that another plane had failed and our plane had been given to the other passengers as their destination airport closed at a certain time. These things happen. When airlines are operating on razor thin margins, none can afford the luxury to have aircraft hanging around just in case. As a traveller, you expect the odd delay. However, instead of arriving for last orders we were looking to arrive at 5am, just before we would wake up normally.
Having told us of the delay, the Monarch supervisor told us to go to the information desk in the main terminal to pick up our £5 voucher from the information deak in the main terminal.The information desk would be able to answer all our questions.
People did some quick math. So we wont get there until two in the morning? “What about my hotel?” “What about my car hire?” “What about my bus?” “What about my friends?” . At this point the supervisor let us know how important she was. “Look, this is one flight. I have many flights to look after. The information desk will answer all your questions.”
Now you might think this was delivered in a way we could all hear. An announcement perhaps? Nope. Each group had to send someone to listen to the increasingly exasperated supervisor send us away.
I used my mobile to call our car hire company and hotel. I like to use my mobile phone to call foreign countries. The car hire and hotel said they would wait for us.
We went to the information desk to find out what was happening. They did not know. He rang Monarch Rachel to find out. He was none the wiser as well. So Monarch had lied to us to get us to go to the information desk and were now hiding. As we stood in a half empty airport with a third the normal number of passengers I’ve normally seen we were told it was the busiest day of the year.
Our flight. the 228 to Palma was due to leave at 5.30 and had been rescheduled to 22.45. The 224 at 8.30 was also delayed to 9.30 for the same reason which did not make sense. We considered trying to get the last two places on the 224.
Given the long wait we decided to delay eating until later as a means of killing time. We visited all the restaurants and chose the one that looked the nicest. I noticed that the flight time on the monitor had changed to 19.10 and went to the information desk to find out more. Apart from the last sixteen to book in, we were all to board a smaller plane. The gentleman next to me was one of the sixteen. “I’ve travelled from up North and got stuck in a jam on the M25.”. He was travelling in a family group of seven. We hurried to the plane and grabbed a sandwich on the way with our £5 voucher. We grumbled to the man next to us about not having the chance to eat. He was a diabetic and even less impressed. The flight crew loaded the plane starting at the back but forgot that some people would not have a seat due to the smaller plane. Confusion ensued with some people sitting where they were not meant to. We set off and the flight was thirty minutes faster than expected.
On Monday morning @Monarch followed me on twitter.
On Tuesday @Monarch asked me to contact DM them.
On Tuesday we recieved a letter of apology.
I am emailing to offer our apologies for the late departure of your recent flight with Monarch.
I can assure you that it is never our intention to cause a delay and we do our upmost to operate on time departures. Regrettably, situations can develop but we always take immediate action to try and recover as quickly as possible.
I am aware of how disruptive delays can be for passengers. I would like to assure you that we really do value your custom and I sincerely hope that you will choose to travel with us again in order that you can enjoy our normal standard of service.
Monarch Customer Relations Team
NB: This is an automated e-mail. Please do not reply.
I love the last line myself. This is not a conversation. I also love “…in order that you can enjoy our normal standard of service.”
So Monarch, here is some free consultancy. If you want more advise, I suggest you ask Bob Marshall, Grant Rule or Karl Scotland for help.
1. This IS your normal service. The 21st century traveller understands that things go wrong. Its how you deal with it that matters. As a company you have been running for decades and I am guessing this is not the first time this has happened. Learn from it and improve… or die from a thousand twitter cuts.
2. Never let operational staff deliver bad news to customers. You should get marketing or customer relations staff to do that. One of your customers may have a following of 20,000 and you just wont know it.
3. Understand your customer’s value stream. My travelling value stream ends when I get to my hotel. Your part of it ends when I collect my bag at Palma airport. Understand that you have disrupted it and aim to help them as much as you can. This is easier than you realise and cheaper. Get the gate staff to tell people to ring your sales number on a priority help line to alay fears about car hire, hotels, tour operators, buses. They can then ring them back to let them know everything is OK.
4. COMMUNICATE! The gate staff used a tannoy that would have embarressed even British Rail in the 1980’s. Get a few white boards to write up important information. Simply changing the time on the board is not enough as it can cause delays. Rethink how you communicate with customers when there is a delay (Jamies hand out pagers to people waiting for a table).
5. Use Real Options to work out how to reschedule your flights to minimise costs AND within a constraint of no delays past a certain time. Practice and learn how to do it fast. Then communicate the changes to all your staff.
6. Go and sit in Atlanta or Chicago O’Hare airport and study how they get people to take a later flight. They offer free flights and cash incentives. People like it when they get the opportunity to get bumped. Charge it to marketing. You chose to condemn a family of seven ( two adults, three children, two seniors?) to an extra early hours arrival.
7. If you cannot handle the peak in service agent demand, go study how SWA/NWA handle it with “Home Staff”.
8. Train your staff in the fastest way to load an airplane. Oh and by the way, as a parent, I would rather minimise the time I spend on a plane with my children. As long as I have seats together I would rather let the adults who have more patience load first.
9. Having staff following people in Twitter is failure demand. Check out John Seddon’s “Freedom from Command & Control.”
10. Never let your staff speak anything but total truth. Never let them hide. If they do not know, tell them to say they do not know. What they think is inconvenient is nothing compared to the misery your customers will experience.
Finally, the flight was pleasant. Your staff were pleasant, even the self important gate supervisor. The only problem is that you fail to understand that when something goes wrong, it is your normal service! And it was the worst of service.
Last night we went to a lovely port on the coast. The restaurant we wanted to eat at was full.The maitre’d asked us where we were from. An hour’s drive away. We walked off down the promenade. Five minutes later the maitre’d caught up with us. He had run down the promenade to tell us he had squeezed an extra table in for us.
That is the best of service.
September 28th, 2011 at 10:42 am
I have agree that your experience wasn’t the kind of service we pride ourselves on at Monarch. I can appreciate why you felt this wasn’t the best of services. I’d like to apologise once again for the delay and the inconvenience it caused to your journey from Majorca. I understand that this was a difficult situation for yourself and the other passengers involved at the time and I’m glad you actually managed to depart earlier than expected.
Unfortunately delays do occur from time to time and I agree that it’s the way that we handle these situations that matters most to our customers. I’m sorry that on this occasion we didn’t deliver the service you would expect from us.
Thank you for your thought provoking article and tweets which featured a number of helpful ideas regarding customer care. I have shared your blog with senior managers and staff from various departments within the airline. We very much value this feedback as it gives us the opportunity to make improvements that we hope will benefit you and other customers in the future.
As a result of your comments, we have spent quite some time working on changes to our delay communications. As some of these projects are works in progress, I can’t go into great detail, but I can tell you:
• We have changed the wording of our delay emails to remove phrases which lack meaning or can be seen to be clichéd. We are working on ways to improve the clarity, consistency and speed of the delivery of our messages
• We will soon be launching a free phone number for customers to call in the event of a delay in order to keep up-to-date with the changes surrounding their flight. The details of this will be announced on our website
• We have brought together a team of people across the business from operations to marketing to work on other ways to improve the airport experience including during delays. This team will be using your blog as well as customer feedback from surveys and social media to make improvements to our services
• We are reviewing the use of mobile communications such as SMS (text messages) and mobile applications for delays and disruptions
• We realise that good customer service is not good enough – our aim is to give you outstanding levels of service. Our contact centre and customers services staff are undergoing a special training programme to improve their writing, call handling and social media skills to deliver a higher standard of customer care.
I have also passed on your feedback about our cabin crew to the head of crew management who was delighted that despite the delay you experienced, you found our staff to be pleasant and helpful during your flight.
I hope that this has in some way reassured you that we are heading in the right direction. Thanks again for taking the time to tell us what you think and I hope that next time you fly with us you enjoy what would prefer to think is our normal level of service – an on time departure, quality information when you need it and an efficient, friendly inflight service from our highly experienced crew. If you have anything you’d like to add, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
With best wishes,
Head of Customer & Inflight Services
October 4th, 2011 at 12:23 pm
Thank you for the positive response. It is nice to see that you are prepared to change your practices based on customer feedback.
We all expect delays when we are travelling. Its how they are handled that matters. It sounds like you are putting in place a number of initiatives to improve things, hopefully without incurring too much extra cost.
I look forward to hearing good things about your service going forward. ( People tweet about good examples of service as well as poor ones )