Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Impersonal customer service? Wave your customers goodbye

I watched Airline last night and saw a distraught EasyJet passenger being refused entry to her flight from Luton to Edinburgh because she didn't have any form of photographic ID. She had a paper driving licence but no photocard or passport.

She was worried sick because she was going to Edinburgh to pick up her children, then drive them down to Heathrow overnight, to catch their flight to go on holiday the following morning.

She protested that British Airways didn't require photographic ID for UK domestic flights (which is true - I've just looked it up on the BA website).

Her offer of a fax of her passport was refused, and when the check-in manager suggested she phone up her office, where the passport was, and have the passport couriered over, she said she couldn't afford it - nor did she have time to go home to fetch the passport, because her office was too far away.

In the end, she had to drive to Heathrow and get another flight with BA to Edinburgh. She left in floods of tears saying "Thanks a lot, EasyJet" and I don't think she meant that gratefully.

The EasyJet website does say:
All passengers to provide a valid form of photographic ID at check-in on all flights, including domestic services.
But that is fairly well buried in their website. Is a busy mum of three going to have time to delve through the website and find it before she goes?

Now maybe I'm too soft. And I know airlines have to be ultra-careful given the terrorist threat. But if I were EasyJet, I'd have handled the problem differently.

Why not offer to pay for the passport to be couriered over? Then instead of sending away a very unhappy customer who'd be very unlikely to book again, you'd create a "wow", the customer would be overjoyed and relieved, and it'd be well worth the cost of the courier in repeat business from that lady and her friends.

Or, why not accept a faxed passport if the fax is certified by a professionally qualified individual such as a solicitor, a teacher or an accountant? That's what banks do when accounts are opened.

Then you'd have to set clear guidelines for under what situations you'd do that. Once and once only for any customer? Only if there are extenuating circumstances, e.g. children involved?

But a blank wall of a "No", particularly when it's shown on national TV, doesn't show the company in a good light.

Put it this way, I'm unlikely to fly EasyJet if there's an alternative, because the impersonal nature of its service - which I've experienced personally as well as a viewer of Airline - puts me off.

I loathe unreserved seating, for example. I hate being squished in the middle of a row. When I used to fly to Cornwall it was always with Flybe or Air Southwest where I could book a seat in advance and sit in the emergency exit row with more room for my knees.

When I have to fly EasyJet I always make sure I get there early so as to be one of the first on to the plane. But they scuppered that once at Newcastle by bussing us all out to the plane. The first people in the queue were squashed to the back of the bus and had no chance to make their choice of seats. Bleurgh.

Impersonal and rigid customer service is bad news and will put current - and potential - customers off.

Customers are individuals with individual needs and I think it's vital to treat them that way.

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