I am writing this post for three reasons:
- To find forgiveness for a small act of revenge in a tweet
- To correct my behavior from criticism to constructive dialog.
- To help an airline change.
The story about my revengeful tweet
Rainy September, late evening. I am surrounded by a group of strangers having late dinner at a hotel in the center of Vienna. All of us are here for the same reason – we missed our late flights and the airline company assured the dinner and accommodation. A young French couple is sitting at the opposite table. I can hear the woman talking to the waiter: “You want to say that we have the business class and now we have to pay extra for some cheese on my pasta?” The clerk’s answer is unemotionally neat and clear: “Yes exactly”. Cold and factual service is what I really got enough today. I’m taking my smartphone and tweeting the following.
— Alen Gojceta (@agojceta) September 1, 2014
It all happened when I was flying from Belgrade to Bucharest over Vienna. To make more productive the next day, I decided to take a less comfortable evening flight over Vienna instead of the direct one in the morning.
My flight from Belgrade was getting late in departure, and I missed the next plane. This was not the worst thing one could have experienced, but somehow I really felt that after that no one in the service chain really cared whether I would miss this plane or not. Moreover, I believe that I could have caught it if it was different. Here is the story about my perspective and suggestions on how Austrian airlines could have done it differently. I use the “#idontcare” (I don’t care) tag from my tweet as a synonym for the missing service experience.
The First #idontcare at the airplane
Just after we landed to Vienna, while some of the passengers were still at their seats, I told the flight attendant that my boarding for the next flight ends in 20 minutes. She responded by telling me just to go through the regular procedure. Without any additional information – will I make it or not. At the time, I was sure by the tone of her voice and her expression, that she meant: “You should make it by passing the normal procedure”. It turned out lately that this was my first #idontcare that evening.
If you won’t, competition will set standards for expectations
Second #idontcare I experienced was in front of the craft. While we were waiting for the cabin luggage, passengers to Frankfurt were invited into a van waiting aside. Some of us with tight schedules also asked the attendant about our options but we were told just to proceed to the bus and gates. The Frankfurt van only increased my expectation-perception gap. “This was the way I should have been treated” was the only thought that could have come to my mind.
Security check is part of your service too – sorry to tell you that.
Third #idontcare was at the security check. My time was running out when I reached it. I saw that there were perhaps just a few minutes to make it to the gate some 30 meters away. From my position in the queue I told the security person that my boarding is about to close. She just shook her shoulders and said that I had to wait. Some nice granny was the first to show some compassion and let me in front of her and her husband. However, the security check took it’s time with the second turn to pass my shoes through the x ray. I missed the gate closing for just about 4 minutes.
An airline might argue that security check is an independent organization not concerning them. I do not take that! Airport security does not take part of bureaucratic government agencies any more. I would not agree with an argument such as “This is under airport authority, and we are just an airline”. It is up to the airline to develop a business model that assures certain service level (with delivering on schedule as its minimum), by that I mean including the whole ecosystem – security, airports, cattering, check-in process, travel agencies, on-line booking services, and even (to go to extremes) air traffic control authorities if needed.
It is also about the way we associate brand with service: Austrian airline – Vienna – Vienna airport. Now tell me who do you associate the security service with. Got it?
Some airports do not require additional security checks when switching flights. Austrian airlines (ups sorry Vienna airport) does. Competition sets expectations (once again).
The fourth #idoncare: at the service desk
When I reached the gate, the person standing there, just concluded that “The boarding is completed. You have to go to the service desk”, pointing to the nearby booth with 5 or 6 working places and 2 or 3 persons servicing clients.
Although short – maybe 6 or 7 people, the queue at the both was very slow. After 10 minutes, I started feeling uncomfortable: “What if there is a next plane departing in minutes? What if I’m missing it by standing in this queue, what if…”. The problem was I could not check any status as there were no displays in my sight, and I was afraid to leave the queue that was becoming seriously long behind me. A young woman cried because she missed the same flight, a group of people in front of me discussed about what they should do. After a long waiting, the group of people in front of me was serviced in seconds as they obviously stood in a wrong queue. Overall, at the service desk the “#idontcares” reflected in significant lack of information as well as indifference about the impact of the process on the passengers. While standing there, you feel blind, dump and not really serviced. Next time in such situation, I’d like to understand what is happening, how long will it take and what are my options.
Customer care around empathy and caring
The general #idontcare during my experience with the missed flight is the overall absence of empathy in all interactions in which I was involved with Austrian airlines representatives. By that I meant the Vienna airport and security employees also – sorry again. I do not blame Austrian for not having designed the customer facing processes around empathy. However, I do mind the ease in which I was left to spend the night in Vienna, without anyone even pretending to try to help or at least care.
Austrian can you do that?
Finally by writing this, I am answering to the Austrian airlines tweet, I’m investing time and energy to “co-source” the design of Austrian’s “#idocare” processes. To be honest, I’m not sure that it will make any difference. I suspect that this correspondence will remain just another check on a to do list of some “social media specialist” who did his or her job just by finally showing some compassion and care thus avoiding bigger harm to the image of the brand.
@agojceta We're so sorry for the troubles, Alen! Can you tell us what exactly happened? We'd love to follow-up with you!
— Austrian Airlines (@_austrian) September 2, 2014
There are just a few companies which have the culture and the business model integrated responsive and actionable in the way that a client complaint would have made any substantial internal changes, and I’m really not sure that Austrian Airlines with its service ecosystem (the craft crew, the security check, the service desk, the lady at the gate, the airport stuff,…) is among those.
Austrian Airlines, surprise me!