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.