My busy schedule over the past week has given me an interesting case study in customer experience. As a I’m hoping to one day be an entrepreneur I’ve been a keen student of business practice and theory. These days we don’t just talk about customer service, we talk about customer experience. How does it really feel as a customer to experience your product or service and how does that affect whether or not I buy again or recommend you to others. As noted in Forbes, ‘Customer Experience’ is today’s business benchmark.
In the past seven days, I’ve flown three different Australian airlines over four different flights. One flight was on Qantas, the next on Virgin Australia, and the last two on Jetstar. It’s been a good opportunity to compare and contrast the service offerings of the three. I didn’t get a chance to try Tiger Airlines, but then again I prefer my pilots be qualified to fly, so probably best that I didn’t.
Qantas still has it’s old fashioned approach to customer service. It’s good – a bit dull, but good. Everything works the way you expect although there is a big push towards self service everywhere.
Virgin Australia has a fresh innovative feel to it, but they do focus on good old fashioned face to face customer service. You can use fancy new mobile check ins and boarding passes, but they don’t make you feel guilty for using the traditional bag drop either.
However it’s Jetstar I really want to focus on as a real case study in a bad customer experience. The first thing you’ll notice when you book Jetstar is their deceptive marketing practices. They have been forced kicking and screaming to moderate some of these by the ACCC, however you will find that in practice the fare they advertise is not the fare you pay.
Fares advertised by Jetstar are advertised as “1 way carry on baggage only”. Carry on baggage is defined as 2 items total of 10kg. What they don’t spell out clearly(sure it’s in the fine print though) is that they can’t actually offer what they advertise. If everyone brings 2 items of carry on to a full flight, they simply cannot fit them on the plane. Not only that, because of the $25 standard extra fee for checked luggage, everyone will be trying to take 2 items of carry on. Therefore they go to extreme lengths to enforce the 10kg rule.
What they don’t advertise is that unless you book the checked luggage in advance, they will check your items with scales in the boarding lounge. It’s easy to have a suitcase well under 10kg. However what’s not so easy is to have a suitcase and backpack or another bag under 10kg. Most of us often carry 4-5kg in our back packs without even thinking about it. Most people on my flight were stung with this. Main bag only 5-6kg. Second small bag 4-5kg.
Now what would be a reasonable cost to check suitcase. The $25 standard checked fee would be good. But no. After baiting people to try their luck with carry on, they sting you $50 if one of your bags has to be checked from the gate lounge. A quick look at how many people they stung, tells you that this is a major profit strategy for Jetstar.
Plus, they won’t let you check your bags until precisely 2 hours before departure. Too bad if you do the right thing by being early and booking checked bags. It’s ok in Melbourne, there’s good facilities outside the secure zone. Too bad if you’re in Brisbane where there’s barely a coffee stand for your long wait to bag drop.
The bad customer service experience doesn’t stop once you’re through security. The terminals, bars and cafe’s in both Jetstar departure lounges were filthy, both times. Ok so maybe Jetstar doesn’t operate the the bars and cafes. However they do set the standards that companies are expected to work by in their terminals. The massive stacks of empty pizza boxes, piles of empty drink bottles and glasses, and food all over floor shows that they don’t care about their customer experience. I don’t expect polished gold leaf, but I do expect to be able to find somewhere to sit without having to move other people’s empty drinks out of my way and having to wipe down the table.
When you watch the tarmac prior to departure you see more of their cut price approach. Instead of professional looking well marked trucks, services are provided by a bunch of people who stuff waste into the back of a bodgy looking stationwagon with a cheap magnet stick on the side. Angry baggage handlers hand carry extra bags to the plane. Not a good look.
On board you’ll find the cabin crew are courteous but short. They combine the lack of formality of Virgin, with the lack of humour of Qantas. Overall it’s a bad end result. Even the food cart practice is worse. Instead of both people operating the cart from both sides like other airlines, one person operates the till(the main focus of Jetstar’s model) and only one person serves. The result is if you’re waiting to get a drink on the plane you’ll be left thirsty for a long time waiting.
So overall Jetstar gives a very poor customer service experience. I can complement them on one thing though. They do have a very good safety demonstration and briefing, particularly for exit row passengers, in comparison to Virgin and Qantas.
I would suggest only flying Jetstar if you only fly occasionally and they have the cheapest fare(after adding all the fees and surcharges). Be very careful and don’t believe the prices you see advertised. I would also suggest the following tips:
- Be sure to weigh all bags before leaving home if you expect to use the “2 Carry-On bags, 10kg option”. If you’re anywhere close, I’d suggest book the $25 checked luggage option.
- Don’t expect fast service on board – take your own food and drinks.
- You can’t check bags until 2 hours of your flight time – find a bar outside the checked area if you can and wait.
- Don’t bother with their mobile boarding pass option. It’s a joke and a waste of customer time.
- Lower your expectations.
What would Jetstar have to do to win me back?
- Clean up their act – get their food vendors to keep the place clean.
- Just offer checked baggage standard. It makes the flight more comfortable for everyone if the occasional travellers aren’t struggling to get their bags into the overheads lockers.
- Stop the silly restrictions – really how many people are going to be coming to the airport more than 2 hours before their flight? Is it really that big a problem to just accept it?
- Get a Customer Experience consultant to advise on how they can improve their cabin and ground services to make it just “feel better”.