Complaining: a tale of two companies’ customer service

28 August 2018

Complaining. It’s something of a great British pastime, whether it’s moaning about the weather (“It’s too hot” or “It’s too cold”) to grumbling about the annoying habits of partners, children, parents, mothers-in-law – delete as appropriate.

If there was an Olympic medal up for grabs for the biggest moaners, we’d win.

My current gripe is about transport delays – and before you ask, no, it’s not about Southern Rail – although it’s unsurprising that the Customer Service Institute’s (CSI) July 2018 report found that satisfaction in the transport sector is at its lowest point since January 2015.

But my story is more than just a vent, it’s a tale of two companies’ customer service practices. One airline, I feel, went above and beyond. The other, showed a less than lacklustre performance.

So let’s start with the first delay. A few weeks ago, I woke up to find my flight with a low-cost carrier, which was due to take off 12 hours later, was already listed as being delayed. Not a great start, but these things can happen.

Fast-forward to the airport; the flight was still showing as being an hour delayed, but we were eventually called to the gate, where we expected to board. This turned out to be wishful thinking; the flight ended up being two and a half hours late. Half of this time was spent at the boarding gate, where the air conditioning was broken – great fun in 30-degree heat – and the other half was spent stuck on a sweltering plane wondering when we would take off.

Now, flight delays occur, I appreciate that, but where this airline fell down was its lack of customer service. While waiting at the boarding gate, no information was given on why we were delayed and how long this was due to last, and the poor person manning the gate was left desperately trying to field questions from frustrated passengers, which he couldn’t answer.

I also happen to know my airline rights – something useful picked up from my time as a financial journalist – and under EU regulations, air carriers have to provide assistance to passengers, in the form of food, drink, phone calls and even accommodation and transport if you’re delayed overnight – once a flight has been delayed by two hours.

Proactive customer service – this is what I like to see

Did the airline provide customers with any of this? No. Not even a measly glass of water was given, while we sweated out the wait.

My return journey was with another airline, a long-haul carrier. Here, there was no suggestion the flight was delayed until I’d gone through Departures. However, regular updates were given, with estimated departure times, over the Tannoy, and after exactly two hours’ waiting, passengers were told to go to the customer services desk to receive a £5 voucher for food and drink. Proactive customer service – this is what I like to see; we were offered information and assistance without having to ask.

Plus, when we were eventually called to board, it was because the flight was ready to take off – there were no listless hours spent at a boring departure gate. At the gate, letters were also given out to everyone, apologising for the delay and explaining what caused it.

Now, it doesn’t escape my attention that both airlines managed to keep the delay to just under three hours – which is when compensation becomes payable for EU flight delays that aren’t caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’. And neither airline appears in the CSI’s top 50 organisations for customer service. Even so, it’s eye-opening what a difference good customer service can make – I’ll be more likely to use one airline in future and to avoid the other.

Of course, voting with your feet isn’t the only option when things go wrong. If you don’t get the service you feel you’ve paid for or that you deserve – complain.

I find free online complaints tool Resolver a nifty way to submit and monitor complaints without having to do too much of the hard work yourself – it provides template letters and sends your complaint to the correct person or team to begin with.