Why scores alone don’t tell the whole story...

How good is a customer experience rated 95%?

I recently had the chance to travel once more to one of my favorites cities – Budapest.

I still remember the first time I travelled by plane, many years ago. I was 23 years old and I was moving to Europe. At the airport, every single traveller was excited, despite the fact it was 5:00 AM and it was raining.

Since my first trip, I have travelled many times and something that I have noticed, is that every time I travel I see fewer and fewer happy faces at the airports. If you are a people watcher like me, you will notice that the whole airport experience is becoming, let’s put it this way, less exciting.  X-ray routines, restrictions on hand luggage items, impatient people, people screaming and/or staring at their mobile phones, travellers who still think they can take those extra 10 kg of luggage without paying any extra…

But above all, you can see fear. Many people show clear signs of discomfort and anxiety.

With the recent events with Malaysia and Egypt Airlines, the airport in Brussels and now this week the attack against my dear city Istanbul, travelling by plane is becoming a huge stress trigger.

There is a clear opportunity for airline companies to improve customer experience, specifically by reducing the level of stress to make passengers feel more comfortable. People need a lot of energy to manage their feelings, so the service provided by airline companies should be seamless.

Going back to my recent trip to Budapest. I was travelling for the first time alone with my two daughters (1 and 4 years old).

After the flight, I analyzed my experience based on a mystery shopping questionnaire I have, for one of the world top airlines, just to check what the score would be. If you work with airlines companies you will know this, the questionnaire is very long and detail oriented. There are so many touchpoints to evaluate… Buying the ticket, check in, boarding, flight, arrival, luggage, etc. The questionnaire I used has about 300 questions in total. After I finished entering the results, my customer experience was rated at 95%.

I could not believe it. Despite the fact most of things actually worked very well, I have to share with you, that I was very unhappy with the service. So what went wrong?

First of all, for some reason this airline does not have online check in. The queue at the airport was quite quick, but even so, it meant another step I had to manage on site with the kids.

Secondly, already at the gate, I was called for priority boarding, which sounded great. BUT after being taken outside of the terminal, I realized that we would walk from there to the airplane. That was fine with me, as it was a small distance. However, because the same team that would walk with us to the plane was also working on ID checks and other tasks, they only started boarding after ALL people were checked. As a result, the “priority boarders” (we were about 15 people, between families with kids, elderly and disabled) had to wait for about 15 minutes outside. In the Sun. This is Lisbon – it was 30ºC. More than half of us had to stand the whole time, as there were no enough benches and we were not allowed to come back inside the terminal.

And finally we started walking. When we reached the airplane I realized we would have to climb all those stairs. My 1 year old Isabela can barely walk, so I had to carry her. Her weight is 14 kg. My 4 years old Carolina has a bad relationship with stairs. So I had to hold her hand.

I did my best to travel with just a few items, but when you have 2 small kids to feed, entertain during the flight and if you intend to keep them at least moderately clean, you still need a lot of stuff!! And I still remember the last time I travelled with them, when we arrived in Casablanca at midnight to discover all our luggage was missing, so I packed a couple of extra clothes just in case.

So I had 1 hand luggage with about 7 kg and my daughter had a small trunky bag (the type kids can ride on) with toys, snacks etc, which weighted about 3 kg, I was holding my 14 kg baby and giving some support to my older daughter.

I finally reached the top of the stairs, to find 3 flight attendants happily socializing with each other. One of the flight attendants asked for my boarding pass, which somehow I still managed to have in my hand.

The flight attendant asked how old my baby was and I said 1. He then told me I needed a special belt, while, between baby &  luggage, I was holding 24 kg and still had a free hand to hold my daughter. And while about 100 people were waiting to board.

The flight attendant tried to hand me the baby seat belt, together with a life vest. I told him I did not have more hands to hold more stuff. Instead of offering some help, the flight attendant got creative. He told me: “Oh I am sure we can squeeze these things on this outside pocket of your luggage”. I don’t recall exactly what my response was - I think I started barking. The flight attendant then suggested he could bring those items to me after I was seated.

95% for Customer Experience. When I look at the questionnaire, in fact 95% of things were perfect. But still I was an unhappy customer.

As a mystery shopper provider, sometimes we tend to avoid narrative questions – They are expensive, many shoppers do not know how to write properly, which can highlight inconsistencies, editors hate to correct typos… But only by knowing the story behind the 5% lost, can we actually help our clients to improve their service. That is the power of storytelling!

I will probably never fly again with that airline, but I really hope I will have more chances to travel to Budapest again in the future!

I hope to see some of you in Vienna for the MSPA EU workshop week. In the meanwhile, enjoy the summer!

If your holiday destination is Portugal, I will be happy to see you here.

Kind regards from sunny Lisbon,

Cristiani Oliveira
MSPA EU Board Member & Mystery Shopping Director – Intercampus Portugal

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