Two-Faced Travelling

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I’m not sure I’ve ever seen people be so angry. Or so happy.

Having made it to the airport, put bottles in plastic bags, and negotiated the fragrance-spray, Toblerone-filled gauntlet, we were all at the boarding gate with the plane about to leave.

Except… as we made our way in, a fierce-looking lady blocked the way, asking each passenger to put their hand luggage into one of those metal boxes to see if it was the right size.

Confidently, people put their bags in. Yet curiously, lots of the bags were too big, despite having been the right size for every other flight in the past twenty years.  

People looked on, utterly perplexed like they’d been the victim of some kind of Derren Brown mind trick. They took turns to take the bag out, stare at it, push it back in, stare at it, turn it over, stare at it, then kick the metal box to reveal how the trick worked.

The trick, it turned out, was less to do with hypnosis and more to do with healthy profits.

EasyJet had decided there were now two types of hand luggage. And if – minutes before boarding the plane – your bag didn’t fit their new small hand luggage criteria, you had a choice of paying £24 for it to go in the hold or leaving the airport the way you came. Your call.

It also turned out, if you’d paid £15 for ‘Speedy Boarding’ beforehand, you could take on a normal bag. If you paid this £24 now, you did not get the speedy boarding. Or your bag on the flight. It’s unclear what, exactly, you did get, except frustration and public shaming.

One by one, people tried the bags. One by one they looked angry, upset, and defeated. Elderly passengers queued up to pay their fine, see their bags disappear, then call their loved ones to say they’d be at least an hour later coming out of the airport on the other side.

And one by one, they shouted at the lady blocking their way. People got louder, angrier, apoplectic with rage at being – in their view – held hostage in this way. (I recently wrote about how Britain is becoming angrier)

When it was my turn, I tried to stay calmer

‘Why are EasyJet doing this?’ It’s ruining everyone’s trip’   

‘I don’t know – you’ll need to ask EasyJet’ she replied

‘Wait – you’re not from EasyJet?’

‘No, we work for the airport. They ask us to do this.’

‘So you have to stand here and take all this abuse on their behalf?’

‘Yep – everyday people shout at me, poke me, push me. Last week my colleague had a fire extinguisher thrown through the door at her’

‘And does anyone from EasyJet ever come and speak to customers?’

‘No – the last time we saw anyone from EasyJet here was about six months ago’.

It suddenly felt like being in a real-life Social Media storm. The front-line team being used a battering ram for the frustrated and fed-up, whilst the senior managers and decisions makers churn out platitudes about caring for their customers and colleagues, but avoid speaking to customers directly and hearing the inconvenient truths.

Hi, I’m Pablo! Welcome to my flight!

Once onboard, the experience couldn’t have been more different.

‘Here comes the safety bit, which you’ll need to listen to if you haven’t been on board a plane since 1942. They say they update it, but…’

‘We’ve got a lovely in-flight magazine but be quick because it’s only a short flight and we’ll land before you’ve got to page five’

‘I hope you’ve had a great flight today! If you have, I’m Pablo. If you haven’t my name is Theresa and I thank you for flying with EasyJet!’

The frowns had turned to smiles in the EasyJet environment.

People were happy, laughing, and some even over-enthusiastically clapping. The flight took off early, landed early and – with the exception of those people having to make their way to baggage claim to collect their over-sized and over-priced bags – sent passengers on their way with a minimum of fuss.

I couldn’t help but think back to the lady in the airport, welling up as she spoke to us about the abuse she receives every day, and the contrast between the two experiences.

Where should a company start and end its journey with customers? Where is it important to be consistent? When should it stand up and take responsibility, rather than leaving others to take the flack?

These questions can be quite hard to answer without good customer understanding and a clear strategy. But I reckon if your customers are regularly shouting and screaming due to a situation you’ve created, the answer might need a bit more thought – regardless of how good Theresa is.

Thanks for reading this article, I really hope you enjoyed it. You can subscribe to my monthly newsletter below, and find me in tweet form @johnjsills, in picture form on Instagram @CX_Stories, or in work mode at The Foundation

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