Aug 072009

I had the fortune to go to Sardegna recently for a friend’s wedding. Everything about this place is pretty awesome. The service is attentive yet chaotic– it’s hard to instil a strong series of values when you have four hours off in the middle of the afternoon in 40 degree (C) heat. When there’s a queue at any café, the whole system bogs down– although it’s rather forgivable as it’s probably bogging down because the owner has decided to hop out from behind his counter to get in the photos being taken “with the pretty ladies”. This is OK, because it’s expected.

On the way, we had a stopover in Milan. And they had an interesting thing there (as we were transferring from international to internal flights we had to pass through the baggage claim area). And this is what I noticed on the way out

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You can see when your flight arrived and when the bags should be out.

This was an incredible revelation to me– sometimes it takes 5 minutes for bags to start rolling out while other times it’s more along the lines of 20 minutes. Someone at the Milan airport noticed this and did something about it. Now you can decide if you want to run to the restroom or queue right at the conveyor belt for your bag. If you want to get a coffee from the vending machine or sit down and wait.

Alitalia bag handling at Heathrow
On the other hand, when I returned to Heathrow, Alitalia’s ground crew (they were handling the bags as well as the flight in this case), notified us the bags would be delayed 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, they said 20-30 minutes.

After 25 minutes, they said another 20-30 minutes. At which point I went to the counter to inquire. I got the most amazing story.

What had happened was this: The computer indicated that there were about 20 bags missing from the flight. As the baggage barcodes are read automatically in a baggage sort centre, someone was poking at the computer (probably without the appropriate permissions or something) trying to figure out which bags were missing and which weren’t. Meanwhile, no one was taking the bags off of the aircraft– the plane and passengers sat for over an hour before they got the crew together to unload the bags.

Of course, if they’d done this in the first place, then they would have avoided annoying the 120 or so passengers whose bags weren’t lost. And focussed on fixing it for the 20 people whose bags were lost.

Because of this inability to handle the situation at the time, the ground crew was off unloading another flight and they coudln’t unload the bags for the longest time. Me? My bag was fine. The delay, however, made me the last train from Victoria and had to decide to take three buses home or a £25 taxi.

Terrible handling of expectations, Alitalia.

Zeitgeist, biker bar, San Francisco
This is a bar that probably has the worst customer experience ever– if you use typical views of service. There’s a sign saying that regulars (friends of the bar staff) get preferential service. The hamburger counter is open at odd times, and when they have too many orders they shut down– and they’ll shout at you if you hang out waiting for it to reopen.

Why? They pour great vats of beer and cook a damn good $5 burger. It screws them up to have too many orders pile up, get lost, get greasy. The only can make so many burgers, and their back garden ensures that they’re packed 180 days a year.

They provide pitchers of a wide variety of great beer at decent prices, amazing bloody marys, and good burgers and home fries. They provide a great environment to hang out, drink, and meet people. The experience is what matters. If you’re rude or slow, they’ll shout at you.

Experience and expectations and brands
The Zeitgeist experience is what you want, though. They know who they are and provide exactly that.

Alitalia, of course, doesn’t care. Air ticket purchases are based on price. Once you’re receiving your baggage you’re locked in. Still, though, this is the level of screw-up that puts people off of airlines. Almost every frequent traveller I know has one or two airlines they just won’t fly. Alitalia’s on mine until I see how they respond to my note.

*update* To top it off, the customer service emails they gave me three days ago all bounce.

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