‘The ‘e’ in easyJet does not stand for empathetic’ – the real cost of sticking to the rules!


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easyJet boarding passes

The summer holidays are upon us. Sun. Sea. Fabulous Food. Fun. Friends. I am sure there are many more words that spring to mind when thinking about holidays planned both at home and abroad. The words I have chosen to use are all positive ones – exactly what should be used when thinking about a time every year that we most look forward to. Holidays are a time when MEMORIES are made, captured on every digital device imaginable as well as hard wired into our brains.

Whilst we hope that the words ‘positive’ and ‘holiday’ live harmoniously together, for some, the very thought of the summer vacation sends shivers of fear down their spine. Can we afford it? How we will keep the kids amused? What if we don’t like our accommodation? The packing!! The washing!! Although holidays are one of life’s ultimate pleasures, they are also fraught with stress and uncertainty. There are so many things that could potentially go wrong. As children we do not tend to get caught up in the stress – Mum and Dad magically whisk us away to wonderful places. As adults, the experience is very different.

That is why when it comes to the summer holiday – or any holiday for that matter – we hope and expect that the organisations we choose to travel with are able to deliver an experience that takes away as much of the potential stress as possible. On our journeys all over the world, we need the ‘Customer Journey’ to be FUNCTIONAL (do what we need it to do; get us to where we need to go, when we need to get there); ACCESSIBLE (as simple and hassle free as is humanly possible); and EMOTIONAL (one that leaves us with positive memories).

In the Golding household, I count myself incredibly lucky to have an amazing (and I mean that very sincerely!!) wife. Naomi is our rock for so many reasons. When it comes to holidays, Naomi is the Queen of vacationing. The entire end to end journey is planned and managed by her expert mind. From browsing countless websites; to booking flights and accommodation; sorting out currency; to making sure that the kids have the right clothing and that the suitcases are packed. Every household needs Naomi to sort out their holidays for them! All I do is pack my own case (usually thirty minutes before we are due to leave the house)!!!

I do not take for granted how difficult it is to do what Naomi does. It is a stressful experience trying to piece everything together. Planning a holiday is a little like completing a 1000 word jigsaw puzzle. The package holiday is one way around that – leveraging a specialist travel company to plan the major elements of the holiday (transfers; flights; accommodation; entertainment) – is one way of making the customer journey slightly easier. However, package holidays do not work for everyone – the Goldings included.

The beautiful city of Dubrovnik

The beautiful city of Dubrovnik

This year Naomi found and planned an amazing 9 day getaway in the beautiful Croatian city of Dubrovnik. Flights with easyJet. Accommodation with Radisson Blu. Transfers from Dubrovnik airport with a local taxi firm. Everything was planned to perfection. We chose to fly with easyJet from London Gatwick – primarily because there were no suitable flights from the North West of England. We have flown with easyJet many times before and were very comfortable that they would more than meet our expectations.

I am going to fast forward now to the current day – the 4th August. We returned to the UK on the 31st July having had a wonderful holiday in a wonderful country. The weather was AMAZING – if not a little too hot sometimes!! The accommodation was fabulous and Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. Our 11 day break created a number of delightful memories that will stick with us forever.

The eagle eyed among you will have noticed that there is a discrepancy in these two paragraphs. Naomi planned a 9 day holiday, yet I have just stated that we were away for 11 days. I know it has taken a while, but I now want to explain why the title of this blog post is not about our holiday as such – it is actually about the one big fat NEGATIVE memory that sadly will stick in the minds of family Golding for a very long time.

dubrovnik road sign

Our hotel was nestled on the edge of the Adriatic about 20 kilometers outside of Dubrovnik. Accessing the hotel was via the ONLY road that allows you to drive from Dubrovnik to the city of Split – 200 Kilometers away. For approximately 10 Kilometers, there is no other way to get to or from the airport. If something happens on that road, you are trapped – the only way out is by boat!

We were due to fly back to London Gatwick on the 29th July on the 11:20 easyJet flight. Having discussed the best time to drive back to the airport, our taxi driver and the hotel both agreed that leaving at 09:00 would give us PLENTY of time to get there. So as we ate breakfast for the ‘last’ time in Croatia soaking up the mesmerising view of the Adriatic, we felt relaxed (if not slightly sad) about the start of our journey home.

On reaching the reception of our hotel, we were advised that our taxi driver had called to say that there was a problem. A car accident had blocked the road and he would be about twenty minutes late. It was 08:45 – we were very grateful to have a thoughtful taxi driver who took the time to phone the hotel to advise us. A twenty minute delay in his arrival was not an issue – the hotel reassured us that this would not be a problem.

By 09:30, the hotel reception was filling up. As well us 9 of us travelling with easyJet, a group of 15 people was also waiting for their transfer to catch a British Airways flight at around the same time – also going to London Gatwick. As time ticked on, the pacing (by the men) started to increase. By 10:00 there was still no sign of any taxi – for anyone. Our driver was phoning with regular updates. The road was still closed, but the ambulances had arrived and the injured drivers were being taken to hospital. We also found out that our easyJet flight was due to arrive 20 minutes late – it’s estimated departure was now 11:44 – there was still hope!

At 10:20 our taxi was the first to arrive at the hotel. The poor man had been sitting about 500 metres from the accident for over 90 minutes – trapped and unable to do anything to get to us. Although he was not confident he could get us to the airport on time, he said he would do everything he could to get us there. So we bundled into the taxi with one of the other stranded families and started our drive to the airport. Naomi was still optimistic we may make it. The optimism drained away when just two kilometers from the hotel we came to a grinding halt.

The queue of traffic on the only road to the airport snaked away into the distance. The chances of us getting to the airport on time seemed to be getting slimmer by the minute. Still our taxi driver tried to do everything he could. Steven phoned the agent who looks after easyJet at Dubrovnik airport – they said they would inform the airline and the pilot of the situation when the plane arrived. At least the airport and the airline knew what was going on. Maybe there was hope after all.

I must make a quick point at this stage in proceedings. Missing a flight is one of my worst nightmares. I travel a lot – all over the world. Already in 2015 I have successfully boarded over 50 flights. Not once in my 42 years have I ever missed a flight. The thought of doing so had sent my pulse racing. Naomi remained completely calm as my blood pressure hit the roof!

At around 11:20 we cleared the traffic. Our flight was due to take off in 25 minutes, yet we were still 20 minutes away from the airport. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we were likely to miss the flight. We pulled up outside the small terminal building at Dubrovnik airport at around 11:40 – 4 minutes before the flight was scheduled to take off.

Naomi ran into the terminal while I packed our suitcases on to a trolley. As I wheeled the trolley into the building, it was clear that we were indeed to miss our very first flight. The plane was still there – it was still on Croatian soil. Yet the pilot had just ordered the doors to be closed – refusing to wait for the 13 passengers who were all trapped by the car accident that closed the only road to the airport. Whilst coming to terms with the fact that we had missed the flight, I noticed the other guests from our hotel who were booked in to the British Airways flight running from the check in desks to the departure gates. The British Airways flight had decided to wait – lucky them.

Have you ever missed a flight? It is not a nice feeling. Not a nice feeling at all. Even if it is as a result of your own making, it is still a horrible feeling no doubt. In this case, we missed our flight due to an unforeseen circumstance – something that was beyond our control. All the guidance and advice said that we had plenty of time to get to the airport. Little did we know that a car crash would change all that.

As I started to melt down, Naomi remained in control of the situation. We discovered that the easyJet pilot had been kept informed of what was happening. He knew that 13 passengers were affected by car accident AND that they were on their way. The pilot knew that we would arrive around 11:40. The pilot made the decision NOT to wait for us – the British Airways pilot was given the same information – that pilot decided to wait.

easyJet customer charter

Did you know that easyJet have a customer charter? I did not – not until I investigated what they publicly promise their customers. Their promises sound great – I completely buy in to all of them. The key with a promise is that if you declare them, you must intend to keep them. I personally feel as though easyJet have FAILED on two of their promises in our experience. This failure has not only left a very sour taste in my mouth, it has also left a very big hole in our pockets. Allow me to explain why.

Firstly, I must make it clear that technically, easyJet have done absolutely NOTHING WRONG. They have done exactly what they promise to do – as per their 5th promise – open and upfront. Every passenger understands that if you are late for a flight, you will not be permitted to travel – it is in the RULES. We were late – that is down to us, not down to easyJet. So this being the case, why am I annoyed with the airline?

easyJet’s 2nd promise is ‘on your side’. ‘ We see it from your point of view. We don’t assume we know best and we make decisions with you in mind’. Did the pilot of our flight on the 29th July make his decision with us in mind? I do not think so. The pilot knew we were about to arrive at the airport. If you have ever been to Dubrovnik, you will know that the airport is tiny – it would not have taken long for the thirteen passengers to get from the check in desks to the aircraft. Would delaying the flight for a further twenty minutes really have been so difficult?

I must repeat that the British Airways pilot did do that. I do not know why, or even what makes their rules any different. What I do know is that this fact just made our situation feel even worse. So even though easyJet had completely stuck to their rules, in doing so, they had made thirteen paying passengers feel pretty damn awful about the situation.

easJet’s promise of a ‘big smile’ is also lost on me. In our situation, there was no-one from easyJet to even talk to. The only people that could help us were their Croatian agent. The lady was as helpful as she could be, yet completely unemotional and unempathetic. ‘This happens all the time’ were her only consoling words for us.

I do not know what a further twenty minute delay would have cost easyJet. What I do know is what the pilot’s actions of making a decision without us in mind COST the thirteen passengers who missed the flight. It cost £40 pounds per passenger to transfer us to a different flight. So straight away, we were hit with a 400 Euro bill. Secondly, the first flight they could fit the 5 Golding’s on to was two days later. There were other options – they could fly us to Newcastle later that day. We could drive to Split – 200 kilometers away on the same road that caused us the problem to catch a flight that evening. None of the options were ideal – all of them would cost us a lot of money.

We ultimately decided that the best option was to take the same flight,  two days later – on the 31st July. We found a hotel in a town 5 kilometers away from the airport (we did not want the same thing to happen again). The total cost of the pilot’s decision to us as a family was well in excess of £1,000. Once you consider that I also lost two working days, the cost to us is considerably higher. When you are self employed, the effect of this kind of situation is extreme.

So thank you easyJet. I know you stuck to your well publicised rules. I know you technically did nothing wrong. However, I now also know that you do not really make decisions with your customers in mind. That makes me FEEL as you do not really care about your customers. What you care about is easyJet – and your rules. What would have happened if your CEO was one of the thirteen passengers? Would you have waited? If the pilot had been in the same situation as we found ourselves? Would the pilot have wanted the flight to wait? A failure to empathise with your customers makes it impossible for a business to understand the consequences of the decisions it makes on the very people they exist to serve.

I FEEL as though easyJet have demonstrated brilliantly the difference between delivering a rule based experience delivered through the execution of PROCESSES and a rule based experience that is delivered with EMPATHY. If you continually put yourselves in your customers shoes, your ability to make the RIGHT decisions for the company and the customer becomes easier and clearer. I will now think twice before booking with easyJet in the future. I want to interact with companies who do demonstrate that they treat their customers fairly and empathetically. I do not want to interact with businesses who rigidly stick to the rules…..whatever the circumstances.

Like everything I write, there may well be things that you disagree with – or indeed where you have a different perspective. What I write, I do so as my opinion – and my opinion alone. I actively encourage debate and differing perspectives and look forward to hearing your thoughts on this story.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ian Golding, CCXP
A highly influential freelance CX consultant, Ian advises leading companies on CX strategy, measurement, improvement and employee advocacy techniques and solutions. Ian has worked globally across multiple industries including retail, financial services, logistics, manufacturing, telecoms and pharmaceuticals deploying CX tools and methodologies. An internationally renowned speaker and blogger on the subject of CX, Ian was also the first to become a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) Authorised Resource & Training Provider.


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