A while ago I was reminded why I love airports. They're spaces full of different people, created by different companies, providing different customer experiences - all packed together in a huge building. From driving in to the parking area to boarding the plane, I love the whole journey.
Too late to check in but never too late to learn about customer service - good and bad
Last week I had to make a one-day business trip to Madrid and booked the flight online, no problem. I forgot to check-in online but had plenty of time to get to the airport and only had hand-luggage, so would be able to check in quickly – or so I thought… “My apologies but you arrived 3 minutes too late for check-in, sir” the lady at the check-in desk explained to me politely.
She did all she could, calling the gate but getting the same answer “It’s too late, Iberian Airlines are very strict on this, our apologies sir”. She also showed me the paper sticking to her desk explaining this strict procedure. So I had no other choice, I had to accept the situation.
Sometimes a 'fault' can be charming - part of a service that feels personalised
I called my colleagues to tell them I wouldn’t arrive at the arranged time and rescheduled meetings. I felt angry with myself for lack of preparation and forethought.
So I treated myself to a coffee at the Starbucks in the departure lounge. As usual this place makes you feel better leaving the area then when you entered. It’s even ok that the girl behind the counter spells my name wrong on the cup, as part of their coffee making process, or better ‘treating the customer specially’ process. I enjoyed my coffee, or better ‘my Starbucks’.
On the other hand...A chance encounter with a service provider in an 'off' moment can make a bigger impact than any amount of branding
After that, before going to the car park before a long drive to back to the office I went to the toilet. A new experience occurred: I had to queue. Usually (in the men’s toilets, anyway) you go in, do your thing, wash your hands and go out. But now standing and waiting my turn, I realised I was observing the scenery, the interior, the cleanliness, the process, the people – one of my habits when in a ‘new’ place.
Then I saw a man wearing a Hertz sweater ‘going about his business’ and afterwards leaving the space – without washing his hands! It struck me so much as – being a ‘Hertz Gold Plus’ member – I had some idea about what he was going to do next. Processing customers’ papers, handing over car keys to clients etc…you get the picture. I thought to myself, next time I book a rental car I might look into different options, even though I’m a Gold Plus member.
A customer journey does not start nor end with the specific service you expect, a journey never ends!
Just one short, frustrating visit to the airport yielded three valuable lessons in how businesses can get their services right – and very wrong in unexpected ways. The airport staff were under strict instructions to follow rules that were not of their making – and though charming about their inability to help, also unable to do anything about the failure of the outward facing communications to their customers. The Starbucks staff know that making customers feel like individuals is more important than getting details exactly ‘right’ – a certain amount of freedom and lo-fi is all part of the experience. The man from Hertz was just obeying nature’s call – minding his own business, but had forgotten that all the time he was in public, displaying the company brand, he was a part of their outward communication and even a small slip might prejudice people against them. From start to finish, in every small detail, a customer journey’s potential to disappoint or delight, never ends.