I am the first to acknowledge that in life and in business things go wrong. Nothing is ever 100% perfect. We have always lived on a planet where recovery, apology and compromise have become a part of the way humans interact. Anyone who expects perfection will only end up disappointed – although I may come across as one who does expect perfection….. I can assure you I do not. HOWEVER, just because the world is not perfect, does not mean that humans can treat other humans in a manner that is just plainly unacceptable.

In comparison to some of the atrocities humans still inflict on each other all over the globe, this blog post may seem rather trite. It is not intended to sit alongside events that are of far greater significance. As always, I intend to share stories that bring to life the importance of things that happen to humans almost every day of their lives. We are having Customer Experiences every single day – we always have.

However much income we generate as a human being, we will always hand over the fruits of our labour to anyone providing products and services that we need or want. It is therefore only right that whether you live in New York, London, Harare, Beijing, Moscow, or Reykjavik, the experience you have is in line with your expectations.

Today I am saddened to share with you some classic examples of ‘epic’ Customer Experience failures. The fact that they all occurred in a four day period only serves to make them even more extreme. The fact that the things I am about to describe went wrong in the first place is bad enough – however the real learning comes from the actions (or lack of) that followed.

The following organisations will be named in the story:

  • Harare International Airport
  • Airlink
  • OR Tambo International Airport
  • Radisson Blu Hotel, Sandton
  • Da Vinci Hotel, Sandton
  • British Airways

If they care, they will find this a difficult and chastening read. If they do not care, then life for them will continue merrily on. Whatever happens, I hope that they and others who read this learn from the experiences that I and my colleague Neil had travelling from South Africa to Zimbabwe and then back to South Africa – brace yourselves, it will be a rough ride!!

The story starts on Monday the 7th September. Having traveled for almost 14 hours, we arrived for the very first time in the city of Harare – capital of Zimbabwe. Harare International Airport is not the grandest you will ever find in a capital city – it is actually relatively small, so on entering the baggage hall, we were relatively confident that our suitcases would arrive unscathed.


Harare International Airport

How wrong I was! We soon realised that Neil’s suitcase would not be joining him in Harare. I must re-iterate – this was not a huge surprise to either of us. As regular travelers, it happens. However, on finding the lost baggage desk, Neil’s experience was about to deteriorate.

Having completed 15 forms in triplicate – each containing roughly the same information as the other, Neil was advised that he would have to phone the airport later that day to see if his suitcase had arrived – he would have to phone them!! If it had arrived, Neil would then have to go back to the airport to retrieve it!! I have to admit that it almost felt as though Neil had done something wrong!! Not a great start to a first ever visit to Zimbabwe.

Neil’s suitcase did indeed arrive later that day. Neil did not return to the airport to retrieve it though. The Meikles Hotel in Harare took on that responsibility for him. In a trip of many negative experiences, this was one of the overwhelming highlights – as a result, if you ever happen to be in Harare, you must stay in the Meikles Hotel!

Two days passed in Harare without further incident. For a country that has experienced many challenges over the last few decades, we found Zimbabweans to be among the most charming, friendly and laid back of anywhere we have been.

On the afternoon of Wednesday 9th September, we arrived back at Harare airport to travel to Johannesburg in South Africa. Both Neil and I checked our suitcases in as normal and made our way through to the departure lounge. It was all going very smoothly. We were to fly to Johannesburg with an airline called Airlink. Although the flight was full, it did what was required and we arrived on time at around 21:00 into OR Tambo Airport.

On this occasion we were both VERY confident that our bags would arrive – on a short flight from a very quiet airport, how could they possibly lose anything?! How wrong I was again!! Realising that I was the only passenger still waiting in the baggage hall, I resigned myself to the fact that my suitcase had indeed gone missing. I approached a man standing next to the baggage carousel wearing an Airlink uniform.


The very polite man asked me if he could see my baggage label. On presenting it to him he confirmed that my suitcase had been checked through to my final destination. I said that Johannesburg WAS my final destination! ‘No sir’, he replied, ‘your suitcase has been checked through to MANCHESTER’. Let me clarify timings here – it was the evening of the 9th of September. I was not scheduled to fly back to London until the evening of the 10th September. The buffoon in Harare had checked my bag all the way through to a place I would not arrive back to until the 11th September!!!

You may be thinking that I should have confirmed this when I checked the suitcase in at Harare airport – but who has ever needed to check something like that?!! I asked the polite man from Airlink how I could retrieve the suitcase – and that is where the wheels really did start to come off.

‘Nothing to do with us’ was his response – ‘it is a British Airways problem now’ (the airline I would be flying back to the UK with the following evening). How he could have the gall to claim that it was a problem for a company that had absolutely nothing to do with the transaction, I will never know. I asked him if he did not really care about the fact that I did not have my suitcase. The polite man denied this – however, he was prepared to do absolutely NOTHING to help me find out where it was.

Felling rather irritated (whilst Neil was feeling rather amused), I walked away to find the British Airways desk. Unsurprisingly the BA desk was unmanned – unsurprising as there were no BA flights operating at that time of night! I asked a man on the South African desk if he knew what I could do. ‘That is a tough one’, he said. I was starting to despair.

The man had no idea what I could do – he thought that my suitcase may be put into early storage for my BA flight the following night – but he did not know who I could speak to in order to retrieve it. It was now past 22:00 – we were tired and hungry – I was VERY grouchy. I decided to give up – yes – give up. I could not handle any more stress or effort. I would spend a night and day in Johannesburg with no toiletries and no change of clothes. The biggest issue with this experience is that not a single person was able to EMPATHISE with the situation. No one was prepared to take responsibility. No one knew what to do or was prepared to help. Pretty poor.

I consoled myself with the thought that in thirty minutes we would be in our hotel, enjoying a beer and something to eat at the end of a very long day. I should not have dared to get my hopes up.

Radisson Blu Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg

Radisson Blu Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg

We were to be staying n the Radisson Blu Hotel in Sandton – a lovely 5 star hotel. I have stayed in many Radisson Blu Hotels this year – even my family holiday in Croatia was in a Radisson Blu. My experiences have generally been very good to excellent, so I was very pleased to be staying with them again.We arrived at reception on the 13th floor of the hotel at around 22:30 – tired and hungry. We were just pleased to have arrived.

I have visited 18 countries so far in 2015. I do not know how many hotels I have stayed in this year alone. I can only imagine that I have stayed in over a thousand hotels in my lifetime. What was about to happen was the FIRST TIME I had ever experienced something like it. The Radisson Blue said that they did NOT HAVE ANY ROOMS LEFT!!!!! Yes – you read that correctly. Despite us having confirmed reservations, they did not have any rooms to put us in.

To say we were shocked would be an understatement. To say that we were angry would be more appropriate. How can a hotel possibly get itself into a situation like this. ‘Do not worry’, they said, ‘we are going to move you to another hotel’. They had clearly missed the point. A hotel with no rooms is like a restaurant with no food; a hire car company with no cars – it is POINTLESS!!!

What did not help the Radisson Blu’s cause, was the fact that they had a prominent sign on display on top of the reception desk. 100% Satisfaction Guarantee – it proclaimed!! As I pointed this out to the now rather nervous reception staff, I was trying to remain in control of my emotions.

RBlu Guarantee

The guarantee was rather damning considering our circumstances. I stated very clearly that I wanted Mr Vural to call me personally the following morning. The reception staff assured me he would. We had no choice but to leave. The staff had intended for us to find our own way to the new hotel they had booked us in to – the Da Vinci Hotel – another 5 star establishment. As a result of our reaction to such an unsatisfactory situation, they decided it may be better to accompany us.

It was a good job they did – as the Da Vinci seemed completely unprepared for our arrival! When we had eventually been checked in, I looked forward to contacting Naomi to let her know what had happened. The chance would have been a fine thing. In an evening of failure, one more was to come for me – no WiFi – the Da Vinci WiFi system was not working. In fact it did not work until 5am the following morning! When I checked out, I was asked about my stay – when I commented on the inconvenience of not having access to WiFi, the chap on reception said, ‘yes it is rather bad isn’t it?’. That was it – not even an apology!!!

It was also Neil’s turn to feel even more pain. The Concierge said that he would deliver Neil’s suitcase to his room. Neil and I agreed that we would meet back in reception in five minutes to enjoy a very well earned beer. Twenty minutes later, Neil was yet to appear back in reception. When he eventually did appear, he looked furious – he had been waiting thirty minutes for is suitcase to arrive – it still had not! The concierge eventually realised that the suitcase had been delivered to the WRONG ROOM!!! Shambolic – although by this point, nothing could surprise me anymore!

The following morning I received a telephone call from the Radisson Blu – not from Mr Vural though – he decided to delegate that task to his ‘Acting Room Divisions Manager’ – this made me even angrier than I already was. I was astounded that he did not even have the courage to talk to me himself. I actually discovered that they KNEW there was an issue with room bookings earlier that day – but they decided to do nothing about it. What a HUGE mistake. If only they had contacted us at the time – told us there had been an issue, but advised that they were moving us to a better hotel – and had taken care of everything. If they had done that, they could have tuned a negative experience into a hugely positive one. Their failure to do anything was disastrous.

Mr Vural eventually plucked up the courage to talk to me. Although he apologised, it was without any empathy or emotion. He advised that we would not be charged for our rooms – living up to his guarantee. The whole thing was still so badly handled.

I had surely used up all of my Customer Experience ‘lives’ on this trip – nothing else could go wrong…..could it? Unfortunately I was to be proven wrong again. My tales of woe were to take one final turn – on arriving at Manchester airport at 07:50 on Friday 11th September, it was in hope, rather than expectation, that I stood at the baggage carousel waiting for my long lost suitcase to disappear. I was not let down – the suitcase did NOT appear.

In a cruel twist of ineptitude, BA had put my suitcase on the WRONG AIRCRAFT!!! It would not be arriving into Heathrow until later that day. The lovely lady I spoke to assured me that I would get my suitcase that afternoon. Unbelievable. Did it arrive that afternoon? No it did not. I was told I would get a phone call from the courier company who were to collect and deliver it. Did I get a phone call? No I did not. The suitcase was actually delivered at around lunchtime on Saturday 12th September – the courier said he did not phone as he was trying to get his round done as quickly as possible so he could go and watch the football – at least he was honest!!

A trip that should have been remembered for very different reasons, will now go down in my memory as one of the worst sequences of Customer Experience failure I have ever endured.

So there you have it. If you need anyone to read an example of what not to do to customers, send them this way. There are a number of things I will do differently as a result of this experience – I will always check where my suitcase has been sent to; I will always ensure I carry a toothbrush in my hand luggage; I will NOT be staying in the Radisson Blu in Sandton again!!!

The consequences of these experiences could be quite severe. Neil has explained what happened to the Procurement Director of the organisation he works for – my client. They spend MILLIONS of pounds with the Radisson every year all around the world. Because of this one unacceptable situation, they are considering moving their business elsewhere. Do poor Customer Experiences make a difference? you bet they do!

The three key learning’s from the story are as follows:

  1. COMMUNICATE – it is not difficult to train your people to tell your customers what you are doing and why. If something goes wrong, tell your customers as soon as you can – apologise and let them know what you are doing to recover the situation. The sooner and better you do this, the more likely it is you will turn a negative into a positive.
  2. CARE – show your customers that you empathise with their situation and that you genuinely care. If a customer asks for HELP, they generally mean it – do not say ‘no’, or ‘it is nothing to do with me’ – do whatever you can to help – people will remember you and greatly appreciate you and your organisation for it.
  3. IMPROVE – this story demonstrates plenty of examples of ‘broken customer touchpoints’ – touchpoints in the customer journey that have issues requiring fixing or improving. It is critical that you are able to identify issues like these and have a mechanism in place to continually improve them.

Have you had similarly poor Customer Experiences recently? If you feel like sharing them, I and others would love to learn from them.