The easy way to customer relationship management, not.

When you fly on a cheap airline you can expect to be
travelling cattle class but that doesn’t mean that brands like EasyJet and
Ryanair (especially given their profit warnings) can afford to treat customers
like cattle. In today’s consumer dominated marketplace and credit crunching
times, the customer may want cheap prices but still expects to be treated well.

Our railway system may be one of the worse in Europe but it could still teach brands like EasyJet a few
things about customer service. I don’t usually use blogging as a way to
publicly moan but then this piece is all about customer experience and my
recent joyless trip on EasyJet wasn’t a good one. If I were Andy Harrison
(Chief Executive of EasyJet) I’d get a team of customer relationship
consultants in very quick.

This is one area they are failing at, given my experience
and almost 200 passengers who travelled from Madrid recently. I’ve always wondered in
this modern age why check in desks are so slow? Why have technology if you
can’t use it? If McDonalds ran check-ins we’d all be through them in seconds
not hours. If there’s two thing that many pieces of research have told brands
it’s queuing and lack of information really upsets customers. Especially when
they are waiting in stressful situations.

It was this customer insight that motivated the Underground
to install the dot matrix system to inform passengers of train arrivals and got
Tesco’s to put more check outs in. It often pays just to have someone walking
about reassuring customers and keeping them informed. Yet with this wisdom
freely available, why do so many airlines go one step worse – even their own
staff haven’t a clue what’s going on. Instead you get rumour and passengers
soon start to voice their frustrations to each other, just adding fuel to the

I’d planned to use the waiting area to do a survey into
attitudes towards flying and the environment but instead all I got was a lot of
moaning about customer service. After several hours of having my ear bent all
I’d established was that most people agreed that we needed to fly less but
somehow they didn’t feel part of the problem. Finally, almost 4 hours later, we
were on the plane. It’s that point when you think, “oh well at least we’re on
our way home.” But there was another problem.

We had one too many passengers. How can that happen with
modern computers you may well ask? Well the staff didn’t know either. I suspect
human error. Now there’s a saying that ‘it’s not how hard you fall buy how high
you bounce’. When a Virgin customer complained that a bag had fallen on his
head (through no fault of the airline) Branson rang him up personally and
offered him a pair of free flights anywhere in the world. You can imagine the
situation in the office, “John, there’s a call for you and it’s some guy called

Even if that was a PR stunt it worked, many punters know the
story and it’s one that gives Virgin a good image. We probably all suspect BA’s
response would have been less than friendly, whereas Rynair would probably have
found a way to charge the customer for the pleasure of getting bashed. Having
worked on several airline marketing accounts, including BA, the one thing that
makes or breaks a brand is not the advertising or the lure of cheap prices but
the customer experience.

A brand isn’t a nice colour scheme, typeface and slogan, a
brand is what people feel and say about it – reputation is all. And in these
times of social networking and blogging, word travels fast (the fact I’m writing
to a potential audience of 300,000 proves it). It was Branson who said
(referring to BA’s big ad spend) “instead of spending millions trying to tell
people I have a better airline, I spend my money on making it a better airline.
My satisfied customers do the rest.”

Branson has always put his customers first – value the
customer and they’ll value you. It’s a good warning to all brands that in these
credit crunching times you need to keep focused on the customer. Now with the
extra passenger problem solved (no one knew what happened to him) we finally
take off. Surprisingly we aren’t offered free drinks or food, unlike GNER or
National Express who give it free after any major delay (and a refund on your

After much wrangling I finally got a free coffee but having
missed my evening meal the only way I was going to get a bite was by paying for
it. That option didn’t last long. A short while later we’re told all the
sandwiches have run out so no food. Thank goodness I’d packed an Eat Natural
bar, always a life saver. I can’t say that there was a lot of enthusiasm from
many passengers I spoke to after we landed for flying EasyJet again.

“Easy? it was anything but,” commented one irate passenger.
The few parents on board were especially frustrated. Yet it would have been so
easy to have made them happy customers. In my free copy of the EasyJet
in-flight magazine Andy Harrison invites his passengers to write in with
suggestions. So I did. That was over a week ago (you can’t say I didn’t give
them a chance to reply). I waited. Two days passed. Four. Six. Eight days…no
reply. So much for customer relationship marketing.

  • Shane

    I think you’re missing the point a bit with Ryanair – the reason their profits are under threat is because of the escalating cost of oil and the fact that their margins are sliver-thin, not because customers are turning away

    Ryanair’s customer service may be shoddy but people will continue to return to them again and again for the simple reason that their fares cannot be beaten

    £2 return to Dublin – inc taxes/fees? I’m in