Monday, 19 April 2010


Buy one get one free. Or in this case, enforced. I am currently in week two of a one week holiday in Sharm El Sheikh, courtesy of the Icelandic volcanic eruption. Due back in the office last Friday, I now have no idea of when my family will be able to return. But it could be worse.

The situation created a few thoughts on customer service. This is the sort of thing that sorts good customer service from poor - and the reprocussions will go on for long time.

So, let's look at my personal situation - on holiday with 2 young children and my wife. At totally unexpected event means our flight has been first delayed and then cancelled. What did Thomas Cook do, and what could be improved? (It was mostly good).

Thomas Cook moved us from our all inclusive hotel to another (rather less fancy) all inclusive hotel and are putting us up at their expense on an all inclusive package. Ok, it is not as nice as our just out of sight hotel round the corner, but it is free. A Bogof holiday. We are now here until at least Wednesday, and it is a good resort. All the people from the Manchester flight are now billetted together.

What could have been improved was the initial stages of the crisis when the passengers were considerably better informed than the rep. Thomas Cook, whilst admittedly facing a totally off scale problem, seemed to be a bit slow in getting to grips with the scale of the problem. Thompsons appeared to make the decision that we were staying and not just delayed about 6 hours earlier than Thomas Cook.

Secondly, Thomas Cook made one of the fatal mistakes in communications in setting deadlines for reporting back, and them missing them and extending the deadline by another hour. Clients want certainty. They should either have set longer deadlines or shown more of their thinking at the hourly reporting sessions - that way people could plan their day rather than just hang around the airport.

Thirdly, I was quite surprised at the low tech nature of the interaction - a poor, long suffering rep getting personally slammed by customers who knew more than her. I was thinking that this was perfect for a Twitter feed, and if they took all of our mobile numbers they could have mass texted us every hour or so. As it is the rep would have to text herself, rather than TC.

Interestingly the people on a package have been treated very well, while those who booked flight only have had to pay for their ongoing accommodation and claim it back on insurance, which is a strong incentive to buy a package in future.

Apart from those minor gripes (or opportunities) we have been very well treated, and it is almost like a second holiday. I am itching to be back at work though.

So, learning to date:
1. The world is globally interconnected - even physically
2. Customers often know just as much as sales representatives
3. Make the customers happy and they will come back (we will buy a package from TC again)
4. Use Twitter and texting to keep customers in touch with rapidly changing situations
5. Egypt is very hot.

Ok, the last is not terribly insightful. Time to go.