After my first post introducing this new blog of mine (“Looking for the One”), I feel a bit bad writing a negative post related to a supposed-to-be great company. But since I promised to write about those who take the tourism business experiences further away from simple quality and excellence, I feel totally compelled to write after what happened to me this week when flying Emirates.
So, here I go!
Excellence is (from my point of view) an intrinsic part of quality, or so it should be. But a step further from it, we find ‘Wow-ing’, that is, when a service excels the customer expectations, creating a “surprise” effect that makes him /her grow immediately fond of the brand. In marketing we call these customers ‘brand lovers’.
There are brands that, just per se (and obviously because they have worked to gain its reputation), ring a bell in the customer mind that makes us associate it with a more exclusive / sophisticated experience. Emirates is, I believe, one of those brands.
I wouldn’t call myself an Emirates frequent flyer but I guess it all comes down to statistics. Let’s say I flew with them from Barcelona to Dubai three times and to Bali twice in the last 15 months. For some, I would dare say, this might be flying “quite a lot”.
The first time I flew to Dubai with Emirates I fell in love with them, right from the minute I stepped into the grandiose A380 aircraft. It was huge; the screen in front of me bigger than I have ever seen; the food was excellent; and I had a lot of room for my legs (I am 5’3 “ so it really doesn’t take much for me to feel ample!). On top of that the flight attendants looked gorgeous in their uniforms, especially the girls, and they were caring and smiled a lot.
All went smoothly on that first flight and I continued to use and talk wonders (I became and Evangelist!) of the brand, even though I knew I was paying a premium of approximately 150€ more whenever I took a flight compared to other airlines. But hey! I felt good and I put my trust in the company, believing they could provide a solid customer care experience under any circumstance. And guess what? I am a hard one to please being a professional in the tourism industry.
Back to the beginning of this post, and back to “surprises”. Unfortunately, I found out I was wrong about Emirates only a few day ago when I was scheduled to fly to Bali, all the way from Barcelona via Dubai (a long-haul journey of 6’45 + 9:30 hours flight).
A week before my flight, my Aussie friend Karen, now living in Ubud, Bali, sent me a Facebook message alerting me about Mount Barujari, in Lombock, having erupted and advising me to keep an eye on Denpasar airport for openings and closures. I read her message and immediately a smile took over my face. ““Hey never mind, I fly Emirates, these guys will take good care of me and give me a sweet solution if for whatever reason, we cannot fly that day”.
And I utterly felt like it would be like that. I had put my faith in the brand and believed in its excellence.
In any case just to make sure, I called the offices in Barcelona and asked ““What happens if Denpasar airport closes? Would I be allowed to wait in Dubai or re-schedule the flight?”
I have friends in Dubai, so I thought it would be a minor inconvenience, not to say a stroke of luck, if I were stuck in there for a few days for free (even if I was not given accommodation or any other fee).
The guy at the end of the line assured me there’d be no problem.
The 8th of November came and I happily headed to the airport in Barcelona.
I approached the check-in counter and I was advised to visit the Emirates booth as Emirates had decided for security reasons (which I totally respect) that it was not safe to fly to Denpasar that day. “Oh well, so there we go! A few days in Dubai, just my luck!!”
I did as told and made my way to the Emirates booth and told the person there I had been sent from the counter as I had a flight to Bali that day. In a totally relaxed way, I told her I was happy to wait in Dubai until the sky cleared and to take the first flight to Bali they could fit me on. I needed to go but I wasn’t really in a hurry. The person at the desk, a woman in her forties maybe, gave me a patronizing look and informed me that I had been re-routed to Jakarta.
- “Wait!! What??? So you mean you fly me to Jakarta and then you arrange a short distance flight with another airline flying to Bali – to my final destination?”
- “No, we take you to Jakarta and then you can proceed on your own, under your own account (meaning I pay for my final flight) to Bali.”
It won’t take much for you to understand how shocked I was.
I tried to explain my reason for not wanting to be stranded in Jakarta, without any previous plan, and having to take care of my expenses when I had bought and paid a full ticket all the way to Bali, not Jakarta. I insisted again on the fact that I wanted, if anything, to wait in Dubai, where I had friends and knew the city and the airport.
She looked stressed (excuse me?? What about me who you’re trying to send totally unexpectedly on my own to Jakarta??) and was not rude but totally unfriendly and arrogant. I tried to stay calm and made a point about me not going to Jakarta, not to mention paying for an extra flight.
So she offered to let me stop in Dubai but then (hear this!!) she would cancel my Dubai to Bali flight. I wouldn’t lose it, but since I would have to re-schedule, I would have to pay the penalty fee for changes (100€) plus any additional fee or an upgrade in case there weren’t seats under the class I had previously booked. Alternatively, she offered me a full refund (900€) and I could see if I wanted to fly with another company, because yes, for instance, Qtar Airways was flying. The reason I know is because I went to the next booth and asked “Do you guys fly today to Bali?” “Yes!” “And how much is a return flight?” – Almost double what Emirates was refunding me as I was buying over the counter and flying back right after Christmas. So that wasn’t an option for me.
I asked for the flight to be re-scheduled and for them to cover for any upgrade of class or extra cost for a different date. No, that wasn’t possible either. But if I wanted to fly today, she could extend the offer and, in a way I felt like she was giving me an allowance to go on with my life, I could fly to Hong Kong, Bangkok or Singapore. And that was about it and I needed to make a decision as she was busy with other customers!!!
I couldn’t believe I was dealing with an Emirates Customer Care agent. Really, so that was about it. Their excellence is limited to “when things go well” but they won’t hesitate to just drop someone half way to their destination when I had bought and paid a full ticket to go to my final destination, which was between 4 and 2 hours further away from what they were offering me..
I took a deep breath and, knowing I was going that day, no matter what, I said “Ok, I’ll file a complaint later, get me to Singapore! If I am going to be stranded or stuck, Singapore sounds like a civilized and safe place to land.”
She gave me the ticket, looking clearly relieved that she was getting rid of me, and I rushed to the check-in counter as my flight for Dubai was about to close. Due to all the fuss I tried to smile my way into an upgrade kind of “listen, since I am getting all this hassle and you guys are going to just drop me in a place I wasn’t expecting, a place where is way cheaper to fly to my original final destination, could you, at least, give me an upgrade in this or next flight?” “No, sorry, cannot do that”.
So, nothing. Emirates fell down from the pedestal where I had placed it as an excellent service provider and customer brand, by giving me no more than what they had decided to give on that certain day, due to the adverse circumstances. I do understand they could not fly to Denpasar but, sure there are other ways to take care of this and pay, on their account, for a short distance flight from Singapore or Jakarta, which might have cost them less than 70€ in that day (I know because of course I had to check), or upgrade me, or give me extra miles and make a concerned and preoccupied customer who was accidentally drawn from her original plans, a happy customer who would have explained to the world how good Emirates was when things didn’t go so right.
Instead they have an unhappy customer who happens to make a living as an international freelance tourism consultant, and who blogs about it.…
… so well, yes, I am telling it to the world, but possibly not telling the message Emirates would have liked (or, even better, should want) customers to spread to the wind.
Now, out of my most emotional concern from it all, let me give you my professional point of view of this story, which I’ll summarize in only a couple lines, in the form of questions.
How easy is it to be good when you face only favorable circumstances? How can you tell when a brand has an excellent customer care / service? Why people like me, who get paid to do Mystery Guests, do, on purpose, take service people to fairly extreme circumstances to assess how good they are when the weather is getting a bit rough?
The answer is easy. Other than having excellent planes, good food, beautiful and well trained to smile flight attendants and making sure through, I bet, hundreds of test-and try protocols of security and service that all go beautifully smoothly for their clients, when something outside their control (say a volcano erupts), Emirates does not have the right crisis management customer care protocol to continue providing an outstanding and wowing experience to their client when they most need it.
I would dare say I am a well-travelled person. I have many miles under my wings, so landing almost anywhere in the world without previous notice does not (generally) freak me out. But not intending to sound arrogant about it, it just goes with what I do as a job. That is not the norm for most people who fly once or twice a year as tourists, looking forward to enjoying their holidays, craving a break from their routine lives at home / work /family and who need it all a little packed and organized. Other people, under the same circumstances, would have gone a bit nuts knowing they were going to land in an unknown foreign land and that they had to take care of themselves to arrange travel to their final destination. It’s my belief that, ultimately, tourism services providers are responsible to keep their customers happy and carefree!
Really Emirates! How much money would it have cost you to make this right and keep your reputation impeccable as an outstanding airline? Surely it is not worth the damage it is going to do when people talk about their hard to believe (when you think you fly and pay extra for a reliable company) experience. And trust me on this. I happened to talk to just a few and none of us where happy with it.
Taking into account this is just a post in my new blog which is meant to be about experiences that exceed expectations, I should congratulate you Emirates; you did exceed my expectations of you, only in the wrong direction!
No need to mention that I will file a formal complaint, ask for a refund for the ticket I had to pay from my own pocket to finally make it to Bali, and for some extra miles to make up for all the trouble you caused me having to go myself though a new booking and wasting my precious time complaining to a company that, I believe, could have easily have done it right from the start.
If I don’t get a proper reply from you and the assurance that you will train your land personnel a bit better when it comes to dealing with stressed passengers being told that they won’t fly to where they were expecting that day, don’t count on my flying Emirates again or being an evangelist of your brand anymore, like I have been, blindly, since I first flew with you a couple of years ago.
It’s too easy to be good when all goes well. Prove you’re good under any circumstance, then I will grant you the “tag” of a “wow-er”.
Please Emirates, feel free to comment here, in my blog, so people following it might know, first hand, what you have to say to it.