The car hire industry has come under some sustained attack over the least 6 months with countless stories of motorists being ripped off by unscrupulous companies – some of the bigger names are involved. The charges about refuelling costs, hiked insurance premiums, charges to “clean cars” that have been returned amongst others. With this in mind it was with some trepidation that I set about hiring a car for a section of our recent family trip to Florida. As you might expect my going in expectations were actually quite low..So how did it go!
The office was small but busy and just off the airport, directions to find it were fine and the sat nav directions actually took us to the offices not some random destination as so often happens when the location is around an airport ring road. The wait was about 3 minutes and the booking was all in order, the only problem was that I offered a debit card to secure the vehicle only to be told “we don’t accept then only credit cards”…what? Apparently it is much easier to recoup charges off a card that is credit based I guess that debit cards are limited to what you might have in your account – I can see the logic but this was not made clear at any point during the on-line booking process…not that I recall anyway. This caused panic as potentially we could not hire a car as I don’t carry credit cards…the guy behind the counter said “hold on let me get a Manager and see if we can sort this out”,,,that took a couple of minutes and the Manager agreed to waive the condition and accept the debit card…I guess we looked trustworthy!! The guy then advised us about the toll charges and sold the inclusive package, the return on empty, but did not try and sell us anything else, that was a pleasant surprise.
The car was ready 5 minutes later and not only was the considerable pile of luggage loaded in for us but he gave me a really helpful teach in on the things I really needed to know (the filler cap, lights, screen wipers, sat nav, etc they had clearly thought about what information a driver needs..and what they don’t need to know) and then we are on our way.
After a few days of trouble free motoring we retuned the car to Miami Airport to be met by a very friendly and efficient young lady who checked the car over and said “your good to go thanks for using Sixt”, in due course the deposit was refunded and our Sixt experience ended.
Bearing in mind the horror stories abounding about this industry the Sixt team far exceeded my expectations with the exception of the credit card issue …that could have been a disaster. But they did recover it and had a process in place to deal with the eventuality…so that cost the one mark deduction in my test. I trust that this experience is replicated every time if not but they are on the right road…WELL DONE!!
This has to be one of the iconic brand Hotels and having stayed recently in the Hard Rock, Tenerife ( see my earlier post on this hotel) I certainly had an expectation of what to expect, yes the hotel charges a not insignificant premium ($2000+ for three nights) but it is on the theme park at Universal and has that cache of Hard Rock. Those were my going in expectations.
Perhaps what I had not factored in was the age of the Hotel (but then again why should I not expect a consistent experience) and how very tired it would therefore feel relative to the newly refurbished Tenerife Hotel. Same baseline experience of music and music memorabilia but without the glitz and sparkle we had seen previously.
The biggest problem and let down was the room, now to explain we are a family of five including three teenagers and as such we are used to being dysfunctional as hotels like to deal with round numbers – if you’re two you are ok or four but not FIVE! So we do take extra time when selecting and booking to ensure everyone is clear about what we need.
That said I had called to book the hotel direct and explained that we needed space for five of us, effectively adults in terms of size and was assured that the upgraded family Suite on the Club floor would be plenty big enough and provide enough beds – well having seen the size of the rooms in our first Hard Rock experience that sounded reasonable.
So at Check-In I asked about beds to be told that there are two doubles, that is not very helpful and why did I even have to ask that question unless they assumed five of us would be squeezing into two beds!!!?
The best they could then do was add a camp bed squeezed in to the room. The booking was for five people why had this not been seen and the requisite number of beds been in place?? When we actually got to the room the space was totally unfit for five people and that, given the price, was a major major disappointment.
The other hotel facilities, the pool,the river transfer to the Theme Parks, were ok to good and the pool bar staff were helpful and provided a good service. Of course the upside of these aspects was overshadowed by the room problems – that tells you something!
At check out time of course you get hit with all those extra charges in so many US hotels, the “Resort Charge”, the “Room Tax” and so on that can and do add $100’s to your bill often unexpected. It would make sense to make all of that information much clearer upfront to avoid potential embarrassment!
So the core issues are firstly inconsistency the bane of any operation that has multiple locations and second the in effect lying to make a booking saying that room can accommodate 5 people when plainly it cannot in any comfort. The expectations are then not met and you are only as good as the last experience – the result for me is uncertainty about visiting any more of the hotels in the group, as I felt (an emotion that means this may not be rational but so what) short changed by the experience and of course when that happens my ‘value equation’ shifts from value for money to pure pricing comparisons.
Arrived in Miami airport to take a flight to Costa Rica and came across the worlds worst airport staff and to be fair to American Airlines that included the Miami airport staff. Combine this with the latest airline cost cutting that sees even more effort heaped on the paying passenger and it was frankly a nightmare
First issue was getting a ticket out of the self service machine – the only way to get a Boarding Pass it appears. So with five people in our party we approached the machine and of course it didn’t recognise the passports so we had to manually enter all of the information for each passenger to get the Boarding Pass but then it asked us to pay for hold luggage so the debit card was inserted. It didn’t register and so we were kicked out of the system and yes…we were back at square one input ALL the passenger information again. So we asked for some assistance from the AA staff, they assisted but failed to give us one vital piece of information…as you will see below…and we got the Boarding passes and left to join the queue for bag drop. Whilst in the queue a particularly unhelpful AA staff member said “get out of the queue you don’t have bag tags”…now we didn’t know we were supposed to as at every other airport I have ever been in (100’s) that is done by the airline staff.
Despite our pleas for assistance she just said we had to go back to the check-in terminals again and print out labels and then out them on ourselves….so we again enlisted help from the same AA staff member who had not pointed out the label issue when we were there the last time, input information for a third time and finally had baggage labels spew out of the machine.
Stress levels were very now very high and we had to go to the back of the queue to finally drop the bags.
Having done that we headed for security and as pre-approved Travellers we needed the expedited security queue, “which one is it” we asked a Miami airport customer service person – “down that way” waving an arm in a general direction, so we go to the most obvious security queue, wait a while in line only to be told nope it is another one 250 yards away.
This appears to be an American Airlines terminal where the have a lot of control ver the experience but they managed to stress us so much during the check-in that we made note to avoid AA wherever possible in future – given the choices that now exist in terms of airlines that should be pretty achievable!!
As a footnote the only good part was the TSA as I am Global Traveller they treated the whole family as trusted passengers and we sailed through phew!
What do we learn? Well the airline journey is all encompassing as the smarter airline shave understood like Emirates, Virgin, Singapore and the rest and in todays world of ever expanding choice you don’t get the second and third chances you might have enjoyed before. All of the issues raised were controllable, resolvable with minimal or not cost and the experience could have been superb – even when the Airlines is loading more effort on to the poor old fare paying passenger – but they ignore the basics of attention told detail and recognising the customer needs at key points of emotional overload.
I decided to use Thomas Cook for one leg of our latest family holiday (or vacation if you prefer) as they now offer a Premium cabin with additional services and you can book even if you are not using them for a package holiday. We duly took a flight from London to Orlando in Florida, the flight itself was good, plenty of legroom, good food and complimentary drinks – the crew were pleasant and the aircraft was pretty new. In other words they had done well in terms of setting expectations and then meeting them – this was not a full business class experience but then it was not advertised as such. All good so far and I was looking forward to giving the flight and Thomas Cook a high score in the test.
Then it all went downhill rather rapidly when we arrived in Orlando……
For a journey to be complete two things have to happen you have to arrive and …your luggage…now given that we arrived as you can guess one of our party (my wife) luggage did not arrive. We were only due to stay in Orlando for a few days before heading south to Miami and the Florida Keys so time was now of the essence to add to the already stressful situation. We duly reported the missing baggage and advised to contact the team the next day as they would expect the bag to be on the next flight…..note we had to contact them not the other way around.
24 hours went by and no sign of the bags and given the time difference communication was not easy. Day 2 we call (at our expense – when good practice says if a customer calls in from abroad offer to call them back) to be told the bag was discovered minus it luggage label (phew) – I don’t know if you have ever tried to remove a luggage label but they are designed not to come off, but maybe that was actually what had happened. So we are told it is on the flight out and will be with us Friday evening our time. So we duly waited for it to arrive at the Hotel that evening/early hour of the morning…nothing arrived. We called again to be told actually it was still in the UK…WHAT/WHY!!!! We were now due to leave the hotel and head south on the earliest day that the bag could possibly arrive – time to change our plans and stay in Orlando as the flight/bag would not arrive until the evening. After a long period and insisting on talking to a Manager (to be told there are none on duty??) we insisted that they put it on the next flight whichever the airline was (eventually to cam out on BA) and call us to say it has happened. Eventually this was agreed, we delayed our journey and collected that bag at 9pm in the evening then had to drive down to Miami.
So what do we learn from this incredibly stressful incident…firstly; do not lie to customers (“it is on it’s way”/”their is no Manager in duty”) because it means you can put the phone down and pass on the now even bigger issue to someone else tomorrow; second this is the time when your reputation and brand are truly on the line it may cost some time and money but if you fail when it matters the impact is exponential in terms of brand damage, loss of future revenues and reputation impact; third when you run an international operation it is not acceptable to work UK office hours meaning that customers cannot contact you; fourth when you have ‘screwed up follow up’ – we have had no correspondence from Thomas Cook, why are they not advising us of compensation due/apologising for screwing up our holiday – ignoring things does not make them go away.
All of these could be addressed with minimal cost and the benefits would be enormous for the brand
So Thomas Cook managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as is so often the case the experience design around a service failure is about process and not about emotion and that amounts to a serious mistake in an increasingly competitive world.
First I have to come clean, Virgin Atlantic are one of my favourite airlines I have been a member of their Flying Club since 1992 and have travelled in all classes on their aircraft over the years. So I have a lot of experience and a very high expectation of the experience that I will receive whenever I fly Virgin.
I also watched and thoroughly enjoyed the documentary series ‘Up in the Air’ last year as it gave a fly on the wall view of the inside workings of Virgin Atlantic (check it out on You Tube) and in particular the design and commissioning of their first Boeing 787 Dreamliner – we saw close up how much thinking appeared to go into the design of tiny details…so I was excited to fly on this new aircraft to San Francisco.
All of the brand advertising certainly sets the bar high in terms of expectation of the service and overall experience with Virgin and my history was overwhelmingly positive to date – that is not to say they do not have issues but more of that in later posts!
So what happened and what did I discover?
Arrived in my seat in Upper Class and prepared for the flight, the usual announcements started about in flight safety but then stopped, then started again, then paused for a while then started again – it felt like the announcer was having a chat with someone and doing the announcements, not very professional or ..if you are a nervous flyer…very calming!!
After take off I opened the tray table to discover the previous occupants left overs – maybe when cleaning the cabin tray tables should be opened mmm nice ???
Then it came to dinner which as usual was pretty good on Virgin flights, the problem was that I was a little slow finishing my dessert that, shouldn’t be a problem but no one turned up for 45 minutes to finally remove it meaning either I was trapped in the seat or had to call for assistance which I duly did BUT my call button was simply and consistently ignored. This is a fundamental failing not of the new aircraft but of the crew and maybe a sign of the times with Virgin (I truly hope not) the notion of ‘eyes off’ service is already the hallmark of too many airlines where the cabin crew can walk past an obvious opportunity to provide service because they are focussed on another ‘task’, this not only applies to leaving a dinner tray that has clearly been finished. As another example of listening, during the dinner service I asked for a full glass of ice when it finally arrived there were three cubes…this might seem trivial but at 35,000 feet and on a 13 hour flight these things get magnified in your mind as there is little else to really focus on.
On the plus side the new TV screens are a massive improvement….
I then went to the new bar area, it look good and I applaud Virgin for sticking to principles and providing this iconic option and not using the space to cram in a few more seats – something that BA under their new leadership would DEFINITELY be doing!!! That said I am not sure how much road testing was done as a passenger – so as a passenger on long haul I remove my shoes and use the socks provided, when you do that and go and sit at the bar what you discover is the seats look good BUT the footrests are so angular and sharp that it is almost impossible to comfortably rest your feet on them for any period of time. Whilst I was there it was manned for no more than 10 minutes and the absence of crew/staff meant that I even ended up having to serve myself – it really was like the Marie Celeste in terms of Virgin crew.
My final gripe was that there was no bottle of water in my seat a detail but I always saved it for the end of the flight to take into the Terminal ready for a long immigration wait -I know you can probably ask for one but once again that is just pushing the effort onto the passenger.
As a true Virgin loyal I have to say that the new aircraft was great, quiet, comfortable, the bar just needs some fine tuning in terms of the seating – what let this flight down was the Virgin crew and that is one of the first times I have felt a decline in the quality of the in-flight service not something you want to coincide with a big capital outlay on the kit/aircraft.
As ever I am pointing out details here and the general standard remains high but it is in the words of Alan Sugar “with some regret” that I cannot ignore the decline and so my overall score expectation versus reality is 6/10, I truly hope this was a one off time will tell!!
Ok back to my regular posts on or favourite subject now that the holidays …for me at least…are over…ENJOY!
In my latest one for the weekend pieces let’s think about Acme and how Roadrunner is relevant to todays advertising and customer experience worlds…..In the modern world of advertising where so much is about how something looks and not about whether it is actually truly representative of the real customer experience of the product or service I go back to the days of Warners Bros and Road Runner – those of you old enough to recall will remember that there was always a way out of a sticky situation you just pulled out the right Acme product and hey presto you were in business!! The key to the success was that whatever it said on the packet was what you got so …if it said dehydrated boulder just add water that is what you did and boom you had a boulder.
Todays customers are increasingly cynical about the way that advertising’s gone and rightly so – too many are so esoteric they are more art than substance, take a look at some the ads you see over the next few days and ask yourself if they are really advertising reality or an ‘(m)adman’ parallel universe, then ask if the adverts are intended to drive trial or reinforce positive reasons why you already use the product or service where is the return on investment??? The old adage that the problem with advertising is that 50% of it works and 50% doesn’t work we just don’t know which 50% so we just keep doing ‘it’ …could be solved we know that advertising an experience that you can’t deliver is the wrong 50% 😉
I was sat in a bar on the corner of the Southbank in London – a very expensive area for real estate and any bar or restaurant along the bank is typically higher end. The result is that you already have an elevated expectation about the experience and of course the service component.
So we arrived as a group of six and headed to the front area outside, to be met by a “Maitre D” who asked if we were eating mains we said no but would be having drinks and may eat later. He then said “you can’t sit here” – even thought there was lots of space “you can sit down the side of the restaurant in the outside area go and pull some tables together”. So we couldn’t sit where we wanted and we then had to do the table organisation ourselves…so much for customer effort!!
Having done our own bar work and arranged the tables I was amazed to see that the tables were all adorned with fake plastic plants – they looked and felt v unappealing and were so not in keeping with the expectation – this was definitely a case of nothing would have been better the last time plastic flowers were in fashion was 3o years ago and I don’t see them making a comeback any time soon. Finally the tables they were using ‘down the side’ were metal fold out, cheap ones where each time someone leant on there side it tipped all the drinks their way!!
So great location terrible service and some ridiculous furniture and props.
The sad part about it was that as the early evening rush started the place filled up and of course if it is taking money there is never any incentive to resolve these problems…just like in any large Corporate 😉
I was waiting for a train yesterday and came across this stuck onto the window of the platform cafe. Now I am sure that the person who originated this was very proud of their work – and I am also convinced (NOT) that all of us would early love to steal this piece of art but even given that I don’t think the note in the bottom left corner needs to exist….seriously who thought this was a required addition to sticker. The world is full of processes and people who come up with and monitor these complete wastes of time….made me laugh out loud though os maybe there is a point after all 😉
p.s. if you can’t read it – it says “This sticker remains the property of the Local Authority”