Still in Ko Chang, still beachin’ it up. Life is good. Boy’s even succeeded in using his new snorkel without inhaling the sea. A first.
But I mustn’t forget my Czech roots, too much positivity simply will not do. So let’s talk about Air Asia…
Some context: You may recall that the Kids and I were supposed to fly to Langkawi from Kuala Lumpur a few weeks ago, only for our flight to be cancelled at the last minute due to the monstrous South East Asian Haze. No problem with that. Safety conscious airline. Good.
However, from what the Kids tell me, everything Air Asia have done since then has resembled a crash course in how not to deal with unexpected (or in the case of the Haze, probably reasonably expected) situations. First off, people didn’t realise the flight had actually been cancelled until after the plane was supposed to be airborne. Then, they didn’t know where to get their baggage back. Then they had to learn from word of mouth where to queue up for over an hour to be told they would be given a voucher to the value of their flight tickets within 24 hours. Then they never actually sent the voucher within 24 hours. They still haven’t sent the damned voucher.
Since Boy’s attempts to confront Air Asia staff have so far been met with a combination of smug refusals and brazen distraction techniques (very similar to Girl’s very successful anti-Pizza Hut strategy, come to think of it), I suppose it falls to me to stand up for my Kids.
To keep this simple, let me introduce ‘Kluk’s simple steps for Air Asia to deal with flight cancellations without pissing people off to the extent that they have to whinge to their teddy bears about the inconvenience of it all’. I’m assuming the flight cancellation is not the fault of Air Asia, so this is the teddy bear minimum…
- Change your name to Bear Asia. Much better.
- If a flight is cancelled for any reason, make an announcement as soon as you know and also stick a large sign at the flight gate which clearly states:
- The flight is cancelled, (duh!). So everyone knows, not just inquisitive types who decide to go and find out why boarding hasn’t started yet. If you can include an actual reason for the cancellation such as ‘big badass smoggy cloud over SE Asia – aka the Haze’, that would also reduce confusion. If the cancellation was not the fault of Air Asia, this detail might even mollify angry passengers. But probably not.
- Other important information that people will probably want to know.
- When are they likely to be able to get on a different flight to their planned destination (a conservative prediction such as “definitely no flights to blahdiblah island today. 50% likelihood they will resume tomorrow.”).
- Where and when can they get their baggage (“Get your baggage from the baggage collection area, belt number blah. Baggage may take up to an hour to arrive due to other cancellations to the same destination.”).
- Exactly where people need to go after they have collected their baggage in order to get their refund or change to another flight. Also explain how to get there (pro tip: a cute little map always helps).
- So far so good. Now, let’s talk efficiency. Let’s assume that people are going to want to do at least one of three things: 1) get a refund and go away 2) switch flights 3) shout at somebody. Why not automate the most popular option and solve the majority of passengers’ issues without them having to do anything? Example a) Assume most people want refunds. Write on the aforementioned board something along the lines of “due to the cancellation, the entire cost of your flight ticket will be refunded automatically within 24 hours. If you need to change flights, need to shout at somebody or have further questions, please go to desk blabbyblah in the the main terminal building.” Boom, you’ve reduced queue size and waiting time by 50% or more plus you and your staff also appear competent. Bonus. Example b) State on the board that all passengers will be automatically changed to the next available flight and informed by email AND sms unless they prefer a refund or to shout at someone, in which case they need to go to desk blabbybloo in the main terminal building. You never know, you might already have data on what passengers prefer to do after their flight is cancelled to help you decide on your approach.
- Place some human canon fodder by the board. This further reduces potential queue time by providing someone on the ground to be shouted at by scary men with beards and to give further information to polite young men such as Boy who either cannot read or need to be told things multiple times. Pay this brave soul double time to keep smiling and stay friendly. It would help if they are married and/or have children as the experience will come in handy.
- Give passengers something small for free. You will be amazed, but flight cancellations can be quite disruptive to people who suddenly have to spend the next few hours booking new flights, hotels etc, maybe from the extremely expensive airport Starbucks. They’re hungry, tired, confused and they’ve probably already spent the last of their currency. Why not give them a voucher for the value of a small meal and/or a drink? Too expensive? Maybe you could even arrange a deal with some of the vendors within the airport to reduce the overall cost. Even if the cancellation was not your fault, a small gesture can go a long way towards making people feel better, not to mention making life easier for your staff to do their jobs and help the people who really need it.
- Do what you say you will do. If you promise to credit a passenger’s account within 24 hours, make sure it is there within 24 hours. And send confirmation just to be really clear. If it is delayed for any reason, add 10% of the value to the voucher to make up for the inconvenience and demonstrate that you care about them.
- Follow up. Reach out to passengers a few days or weeks later to ensure that there were no further problems. Boy tells me this can be easily set up as an automated email so it need not take up lots of staff time. Again, people like to feel cared about.
Why should you do all of this? Mainly because it’s the right thing to do. However, if you insist on being nothing more than pragmatic, the small investment of effort and money in creating a simple process, going beyond the minimum for your customers and positively surprising them will be the most valuable marketing you can ever do.