Resignation. Sufferance. Tolerance.

Three words from the English dictionary. Three words that you would not typically want to associate with the subject of Customer Experience. Yet these three words are the ones that regularly go through my mind when I interact with organisations that if I had the choice, I would much rather NOT interact with at all.

On occasion, we may think of certain government institutions that would fit into this category – institutions that the consumer (or citizen) has no option but to partake in a customer journey that may, or may not, have been designed with the customer experience in mind. I do not want to appear as though I am being overly critical of government bodies – some are actually very advanced in making the experience easier and simpler for those who have to interact with them – I am merely using them as an example of organisations that consumers interact with out of necessity, rather than choice.

Public transport is another example of an ‘industry’ whose products and services are used by many people who have no other viable option. If you live in London, whilst cycling and walking is becoming far more commonplace, the majority of the population who realise that driving in the capital city is not particularly sensible, have no choice but to use either a bus or train to get from a to b. It would be remarkably easy for the providers of public transportation in London to view their customers as ‘hostages’ – and treat them as such. Why bother investing in the customer experience if the customer has no choice?

It is an interesting question and one that many have asked me over the last few years. Ultimately, the easiest way to respond to the question is with the following statement:

Customer Experience is as much about taking cost out as it is putting the experience in

The better an organisations ability to deliver an experience that consistently meets the needs and expectations of its customer, the more likely it is that the cost of delivering that experience will be as low as possible. Additionally, the better able an organisation is to deliver a consistent experience, the happier and more motivated their workforce are likely to be. In essence, even if your customers have no choice, the potential benefits of becoming more intentionally and sustainably customer centric are compelling.

Sadly, there are still many organisations around the world who do not appear to understand this – and as a result, the experiences we have as consumers – especially where we have no other option – leads me back to the three words that opened this article:

Resignation. Sufferance, Tolerance.

The resignation of having to suffer and tolerate queues in a post office!

Many of my own personal experiences as a customer make me feel as though I am being made to ‘suffer’. The experience that stands out more than any other though, is my experience at airports. As a regular traveller, I am made to ‘endure’ the airport experience far more regularly than I would like. I use the word ‘endure’ intentionally, because more often than not, it genuinely feels like an endurance test, rather than an enjoyable part of my end to end travel journey.

As someone who has visited 35 countries in the last two years alone, I can tell you a thing or two about airports around the world. Some are good…. some are not! However, the one airport that I have visited on the planet that I LEAST look forward to visiting – more than any other – is Manchester Airport in the North West of England.

I have no choice but to experience Manchester Airport on a very regular basis – often three or four times a month. The very thought of going there makes my heart sink. Whilst I quite like the experience of flying – i.e. on the aircraft – getting to the aircraft fills me with a sense of resignation – resignation that I have no option but to go through Manchester airport – an experience I look forward to even less than having a tooth extracted at the dentist.

You may be asking yourself why this is. What could Manchester Airport have possibly done to make me feel this way? Nothing I am about to share is personal to me – the things I suffer and tolerate are not exclusive to Ian Golding – yet I dislike the Manchester Airport experience so intensely, that it almost feels personal!

The best way for me to bring to life the Manchester Airport experience (in my opinion), is for me to list the things that are at the top of my ‘irritation’ list:

  • If you want/need to use a trolley at Manchester Airport, you must pay a fee to do so – a non refundable fee – they are not the only airport to do this, but it goes against every customer centric principle in the book.
  • The Manchester airport terminals are dark, dingy and not particularly well maintained. On more than one occasion I have walked past buckets in the corridors collecting water coming through the ceiling, or tape on the ground covering up holes – if you were visiting the UK for the first time, it presents an awful impression.
  • Security – I completely understand that airport security procedures have become increasingly stringent over the years, but queuing to get through security in Manchester is AWFUL! It regularly takes over 40 minutes for me to get through – something I now just resign myself to.
  • Seating in Terminal 3. If you are visiting terminal 3 at Manchester – do not expect there to be anywhere to sit when you finally get there (bear in mind you could have been standing for a LONG time just to have that privilege). Many times when I have been through terminal 3, it has looked like it is trying to break a world record for the most people in a departure lounge at any one time. People sit on stairs, the floor – basically anywhere they can find a spot. The lucky ones get to go into the airline lounges. The other terminals are not much better by the way!
  • On your return back to Manchester airport – things do not improve. Most of the time, waiting for luggage to arrive is like waiting to get through security – long and torturous. On occasion, the belts used to send the luggage onto are not big enough for the aircraft. I will never forget waiting for my luggage from an Etihad flight for over an hour. It took so long because the belt was too small – with too much luggage on it, sensors prevented any more from getting on! So frustrating!!!

I am going to stop there – as I could go on. Other airports I visit are not great at some of these things either. Yet Manchester Airport are consistently (in my opinion) the champions at delivering an experience that I remember for all the wrong reasons.

Photo by REX/Shutterstock (1265996a)

So when Manchester Airport was named as the third worst airport in the world by AirHelp, I was not at all surprised. In fact, I was rather relieved – it is important that organisations who consistently deliver sub standard experiences understand that there are issues needing to be addressed. Maybe now, Manchester Airport would sit up, take notice and do something about the suffering they inflict upon those who have to experience their product.

That brings me to the title of this article – ‘The Customer Experience Reality Check’ – this survey should have acted as a strong, hard reminder to the leadership team of Manchester Airport that there is much they need to do to improve the experience for the customer. Akin to ‘looking in a mirror’, it should have resulted in the desire to learn and act on valuable feedback. ‘Should’ is the key word – this was actually how Manchester Airport responded:

“A Manchester Airport spokesperson dismissed the claims, labelling them as ‘flawed’, particularly in that only 76 airports around the world were evaluated. He said: “This PR survey is unreliable, using flawed methodology and is not an accurate reflection of our customers’ experience.

“Manchester Airport is signed up to The Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Survey which monitors passenger satisfaction, covering areas such as customer service, cleanliness and security. Over the last year we have seen some of our best ever scores and complaints are down year on year.

“Making sure passengers have a good experience as they pass through the airport is an absolute priority for us and we continually look at how we can improve. Our £1bn investment in our terminals will ensure the airport offers world class facilities and the best possible experience for our passengers.”

I am not sure this constitutes an organisation who is happy to accept a reality check when it is offered up on a plate! You can read about the survey in this article from the Manchester Evening News. The management team of Manchester Airport do not want to accept that anything is actually wrong. Ironically, to add further fuel to the fire, earlier this year, Manchester Airport was crowned best UK airport for third year in a row!!! This particular award was voted for by travel agents – not the poor, resigned, suffering hostages who have to use the thing! In accepting the award, Manchester Airport head of marketing said:

“2016 was an incredible year for the airport with record passenger numbers and expansion by lots of our airlines. Looking ahead, we have some very exciting new routes already confirmed to start in 2017. We’ll also be working hard to try and retain our crown for a fourth year.”

I applaud the airport for enticing more airlines to use its services – but the airport cannot cope with the services it has now! Instead of patting themselves on the back for giving travel agents more flights to sell, they should be listening to real, genuine, unprompted feedback from the people who have to use the airport every single day.

This is one of the most emotive articles I have written in quite some time. The thought of having to go through Manchester Airport really does fill me with dread – but I have no choice much of the time. I have nothing personally against the airport, its staff or its management. All I want is for them to listen – to not defend themselves against criticism – but to listen, learn and act on the things people are telling them. I urge their management team to experience what their customers experience – regularly. Stand in the queues. Walk the corridors. Try to find a seat. Your airport is consistently unable to deliver an experience that meets the most basic of needs of your customers – I am not talking about the airlines – I am talking about the people who have to endure going through it. This should act as a Customer Experience Reality Check – please do not ignore it.