Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Customer Experience Vacation Story—A Week in Nice

My wife and I just returned from a week of vacation in southern France.  It was the first vacation in decades that we can both claim to have completely disconnected from our daily routine—no cell phones, no Internet, no car, no bills, and no thoughts about the work we both left behind and that we knew would continue to accumulate in our absence.

As a Customer Experience Professional, customer experience is always in mind and I naturally react to any and all personal experiences throughout my daily existence.  What sticks out as a highlight in terms of customer experience during this vacation, you ask?  Please allow me to elaborate.

British Airways was our chosen carrier for this trip and the overnight six-hour flight from Boston to London flight was uneventful except for the fact that we flew coach and seating was, shall I say, a little cramped.  I’m talking “knees meet chin” here.  Only the skinny can survive in coach seating.  Post-flight, my wife and I vowed to not consider BA on any future flights to Europe.

The return trip, however, was quite another experience.  For reasons unknown, when we checked in at our connecting airport, (London Heathrow) the agent told us that due to overbooking in coach they were upgrading us to “coach plus” which we figured was something like an extra inch and a half of space between us and the seat in front.  To our surprise and delight, these were seats to the left of the main cabin door, (always a good direction) wide enough to easily accommodate most average to wider-than-average Americans, and with distance enough to the seat in front that you could actually open a newspaper without smacking the person next to you in the nose—normal expected seating, in my opinion.  The seats also reclined and there was a foot-rest.  In comparison to Coach, you might have thought we were in First Class.  Needless to say, that experience brought us around to thinking that maybe we would consider flying BA once again, but how to negotiate what we would now think of as a normal seat might be the real challenge.   But the story gets better.

When we originally checked in at the airport in Nice, we surrendered one bag each which was checked through all the way to Boston.  Our baggage claim tags were attached to our boarding passes.  So when we lucked-out by getting the upgraded seating in Heathrow, we received new boarding passes.  The agent there discarded our old boarding passes and, unbeknownst to us, along went our baggage claim tags.  What could possibly go wrong there, you ask?  Please allow me to continue.

Upon late arrival in Boston, an airport notorious for taking up to an hour for bags to be off-loaded from plane to carousel, we waited and waited and waited—along with many bags streaming by with no people to claim them (what’s up with that?) and lots of people waiting to claim bags that were not there.  Mine finally arrived but my wife’s did not.  I won’t go through the rest of the process but you know how that works, except that we had no baggage claim ticket and that created extra work. 

We arrived home on Saturday night and my wife’s bag was delivered to our home the following Tuesday night around midnight via courier—for whom we left the light on and a small tip for his service.  A little note of appreciation was left by the courier for us.

Unfortunately my wife’s luggage contained some critical (and not inexpensive) cosmetics that she needed in preparation for an early Tuesday morning client meeting.  Not knowing when her luggage might arrive, off she went to Lord & Taylor on Monday in pursuit of replacements.  When my wife explained her predicament to the customer service rep on duty, she was completely empathetic and began offering little added extras (lagniappe, as author Stan Phelps would say) that more than made up for the inconvenience and expense of what had originated as a problem with lost luggage.  My wife was even offered free samples (in flight compliant sizes) at any time she planned to travel again in the future so that important and over-the-size-limit items would not have to be relegated to checked baggage.

What CX lessons have we learned from this?  Customer experiences are immediate and fleeting and are often determined in the moment by single individual employees.  The BA agent that took our old boarding passes for example and tossed them out along with the critical claim tickets attached likely did so inadvertently without thinking.  BA was having major baggage handling issues at this time due to a computer malfunction so we were not alone.  Getting an upgraded seat (representing normal and reasonable comfort) was nice and unexpected, but it doesn’t mean that it would ever happen again, since we are not frequent flyers on BA.  The “knees-in-chest” seating would be the expected norm.  The ticket price difference between BA and an alternate carrier would have to be significantly less for us to choose BA again.  Lord & Taylor just earned a new and repeat customer in my wife.  They win all 10 stars for exceptional customer experience this time.  The real takeaway: Consistently meeting and or exceeding customer expectations helps secure repeat business and customers for life.