16 January 2017
Everybody knows that small attentions like a box of chocolate or a flower bouquet at the right time can have a great impact. Also companies can leverage the power of such soft factors to create positive customer experience, leading ultimately to loyalty.
My loyal followers must have noticed that I am not a big fan of easyJet. My general experience usually combines several negative experiences, from high fares for low service to recurring and annoying delays.
However, living at an airport where easyJet holds a market share of 25% or so, you simply can’t avoid it all the time, although it is always my last choice. And flying on an airline without a Frequent Flyer Program is obviously against my deepest ethic standards. Yes, I know they think they have an FFP (sorry, I always forget the name of their club – seriously!), but this is some strange invitation-only initiative without any real benefits. And I wonder who they want to have in this club if they even don’t consider people like me with elite status in other programs worth joining their club. But never mind, I am not interested anyway until you’ll have a true FFP.
But last Friday, I had to fly to London at fairly short notice and bought the ticket really at a reasonable price. Their morning flight to Gatwick was also slightly more convenient for me than the parallel BA flight to Heathrow, so my choice was made.
Friday was the day after the “big” snow in London, but since my aircraft was actually based in Toulouse, we were not affected by that. Unlike BA, who had to cancel their flight because of some crew issues and some of their crew members were even flying back home on our flight.
Now for some strange reason, easyJet always allocates me seats 21D or 22F since it is against my ethic principles to pay for any seat selection. [Yes, “ethic” is an important word in a blog about easyJet!]. I was the last one to board the plane and the first three rows were virtually empty. I’ve asked the purser at the entrance door whether she minded if I took a front seat rather than my seat in a back. As the rest of the cabin crew, she was based in Toulouse and hence of the easy-going kind of person. She made me a big smile and invited me to do so (“of course, you can!”) and I settled as comfortably as you can on an easyJet flight, on seat 1A, with no neighbours.
She made everything right to enhance my customer experience, at zero cost to her, just applying some good will. We left on time, so everything was set for a good day. Somehow they’ve managed nevertheless to get us 15 minutes late into Gatwick, but that is a different story.
After a day in London, I’ve headed out to Luton to catch my evening flight back to Toulouse. By now, I’ve seen enough of easyJet to understand that I should not expect anything close to on-time performance on a Friday night after a day with severe weather conditions in many parts of Europe.
Imagine my surprise when I’ve realised that the flight would depart on time (ultimately, we should even arrive 20 minutes early into Toulouse!). Already at the gate, I’ve noticed that the flight was very light, with an estimated load factor of 30%. Again, I was the last to board and the first 8 rows or so were almost completely deserted. Same question as in the morning – but this time to a nice male Luton-based purser. Up to speculation whether his gender or nationality led to a different result.
“I am sorry, we have rules to follow and you have to pay extra to use these seats.”
Yes, I know the rules. No, I am not going to pay since, to my knowledge, you don’t offer the option to upgrade on board by paying with easyJet miles. And again that ethic dimension.
My lady from Toulouse was probably acting against the rules. But first of all, who will ever know that and even if, who really cares? More importantly, she did intuitively the right thing at the right time. She has realised that the more basic your product is, the more important such soft factors become. She didn’t have to go out of her way – for instance by granting me a free cup of coffee, what would certainly be against company rules -, but helped to provide me with a better experience.
The polite, but determined decline of the same question in Luton did the opposite. Of course, he didn’t know (and certainly couldn’t expect either) that this was the only weak element in an otherwise – for once – close-to-perfect experience on his airline, obviously always in the context and at the level of what you can expect from a low cost carrier. But he did everything that I will not remember that experience as something rather positive for long.
Teaching sensitiveness for soft factors should form part of any training for front-line staff, at airlines and at other industries. For some, this comes naturally as part of their personality and cultural background, others have to learn it. But the importance of soft factors in creating customer loyalty should not be underestimated by any organisation. We all know that from a personal context. The challenge is now to transform this into a business context. Getting the hard factors right is obviously the basis and main focus, but more than once, soft factors do make the difference, especially if everything else is right.
I will be back in London soon. By the time I will arrange my travel, easyJet will only get my business again if they are ways cheaper than others. But most likely I will be travelling on British Airways, especially with their current triple miles promotion. Unless easyJet will have launched a more attractive Frequent Flyer Program than any other airline by then.