When things go wrong

By on October 7th, 2013 in Blog

I write this stuck at Heathrow en route to the Frankfurt Book Fair with a 12 hour delay due to fog. The experience has reminded me that at times of crisis we are most likely to either be impressed or dismayed by our experience. Get it right and a business can win a customer for life; get it wrong and you can lose a customer forever.


The most frustrating aspect of any delay or problem is not knowing what is going on. Lufthansa had plenty of opportunities to keep their customers informed. When I first arrived at City Airport to find the screen simply said flight cancelled, to the 2.5 hours spent queuing at Heathrow for the replacement booking. One person at the head of the queue telling people which line to join does not count. A simple sign apologising for the delay and explaining the process or wait time would have gone a long way to making the process less painful.

Ask customers what they want

I was transferred by taxi to Heathrow at a cost to Lufthansa of £120. There were three of us in the cab. I would have been happy to take the tube (and quite frankly it would have been quicker) but nobody asked me how I wanted to make the journey.

Go the extra mile

I was given a £7 voucher to spend at the airport while I wait. But I will have missed two meals by the time I fly so that won’t really cover it. Thankfully someone came round with bottles of water, but only after I had been in the queue for 2 hours. It would have been great to have a bit more of that, a cup of coffee or even the chance to go to the loo without missing my spot in the queue.

Don’t annoy me

I know that when you pay for a business or first class ticket you are paying for the peace of mind that you will get exemplary service when things go wrong. But why does that have to be at the expense of the standard customer (who vastly outnumber the business class customer)? From the couple who jumped in front of me in the queue at City because they had business class tickets, to the separate ticket desk with no queue at Heathrow, these small slights only serve to make things worse. There has to be a way to prioritise best customers whilst still helping the rest. There is nothing worse than standing for hours in a queue looking at three business class check in desks that are completely empty. Surely one or two of these staff could help clear the main queue without inconveniencing business customers.

Queuing twice

Having finally got my new booking I then had to go to a self-service terminal to check in and print out my ticket, then join another queue (estimated queuing time 1 hour by my reckoning) to drop my luggage. At that point I admitted defeat and have come to the pub for lunch before I brace myself to queue again. Simplify the system so I can rebook and drop baggage at the same time, or at the very least give me my ticket. If the current system can’t do that, then change the system.


Lufthansa cannot control the weather which may explain why they didn’t feel it was necessary to apologise for the delay. But the ticket staff could have empathised with me for the long delay and disruption to my plans. A simple human gesture would have made me feel much happier.

Don’t confuse me

Three of us went up to the desk at the same time, all three of us were offered different options for replacement flights. One got a free business class upgrade, whilst I was told that wasn’t possible. I was offered two connecting flights with an earlier arrival time, one person got a much later direct flight. When queried the two ticket agents argued amongst themselves as to which option was better. Then told me it was up to me. Well no it wasn’t because I wanted the earlier flight and free business upgrade thanks. One message, and a quick and smooth transaction was all I needed.

Don’t exploit my misery

Now stranded at Heathrow for another 7 hours the least I need is free wifi. But even that seems too much to ask. It is just adding insult to injury – get the basics right and don’t profit from other people’s misfortune. If wifi is chargeable then all delayed customers should be given a code for free unlimited access for the duration of their wait.

What can we learn from Lufthansa?

Airlines, service industries and retail are in the firing line as soon as things go wrong. Delays and mistakes in these industries are very visible and involve immediate and in-person contact with customers which hammer the issues home. The rest of us aren’t so lucky. Our customers suffer in silence. We don’t see the long line at the airport, the irate looks and the tired faces. We can only wonder why our customers are deserting us in droves.
When things go wrong, imagine what your customers would say to you if you met them in person, and what you can do to alleviate their pain quickly and simply. If you can communicate honestly, resolve the issue with one touch point and make the customer feel special then I am pretty certain you will have won a fan for life.

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