Hall of Shame: SwissAir -The Service Sucks!!

Ever since I moved to Switzerland some 16 months ago, I have chosen to fly SwissAir rather than BA. Why? Because I found the travelling experience to be better with SwissAir. However, now – today – I am so so minded to switch to any airline as long as it is not SwissAir. Why?

My Experience With BA: Excellent, Could Not Ask For More/Better/Different

It started back in March-19. I had booked two flights – for my son, and my daughter -with BA, from London to Zurich, for April. BA cancelled each of these flights – both of which departed on different days – and notified me via email. Further, BA informed me that I would automatically be refunded the cost of those tickets. BA was true to its word as in a few days of the cancellation notification email I received a confirmation – via email – of the refund. This left me impressed with the professionalism and integrity (moral) of the people running the airline as well as the operational integrity of the IT systems and associated business processes.

My Experience With SwissAir: Wow How Incompetent & Inconsiderate!

As soon as BA notified me that the flights were cancelled, I made the flight bookings with SwissAir. And, I was relieved and delighted as I was so looking forward to my two children coming over for Easter. All SwissAir did to delight me was to allow me to book (and pay) easily/quickly via their mobile app.

Since then my experience with SwissAir is one that can best be described – politely – as poor. Or as the Brit in me says “Piss Poor!” Allow me to set out my Moments of Despair:

1-Flight Cancelled But No Automatic Refund Nor Can I Get Through to Customer Services

Early April, days before my children were due to fly, SwissAir cancelled the flights: those of my children, and my scheduled flight to the UK at the end of April. As I made the bookings, I was notified. Unlike BA there was no automatic refund of the costs of those flights. No, to get a refund it was necessary to go online and fill in a form. Why?

To make it harder for customers to get refunds. Further, it simply was not possible to speak to a member of the Customer Services team. And we were told not to call Customer Services team. What the fork!? I let this be and gave SwissAir the benefit of the doubt given the covid-19 circumstances. Yet, I did notice their lack of moral integrity with regards to issuing refunds. In my way of seeing things: BA had acted decently, and SwissAir indecently.

2-Rebooking By Calling Customer Services, Cannot Be Done Online


Mid-July I rebook my son’s cancelled flight – as I am allowed to do this free of charge – due to the change in terms of conditions set out by SwissAir to deal with covid-19 impact. The thing is that I cannot do this online. Not great as I have been used to doing it all via the SwissAir app on my mobile.

So I ring Customer Services. Thankfully someone helpful answers my call within a few minutes. So far so good. Getting the flight rebooked turns out to be painless. Except for one thing. I am told that the new tickets will be issued and the transaction will be confirmed by email.

I wait for a few days, no email arrives. So concern is present. Which in turn drives me to call Customer Services. I get through and am told “Your ticket has not yet been issued. You are in the queue and your ticket will be issued shortly. Once the ticket is issued you will get an email confirmation.” That does not happen. And, I do not chase as I notice that the booking (including booking reference) appears on my SwissAir mobile app.

Notice that this is a fail for me, the customer, and for the airline. By not keeping the promise, by not keeping me up to date with status, SwissAir made work for me and for itself. I had to call, they had to take the call. I wonder how many customers did that which I had found myself forced to do?

3-Time to Check-In And Get A Boarding Pass For Flight to Zurich

It’s now just less than twenty four hours before the flight is scheduled to depart from London. Son goes to the SwissAir mobile app to do the check-in. Not allowed. Instead instructed to go talk to the SwissAir folks once arrive at London Heathrow. Which means that my son has to arrive earlier (and thus a longer journey) at Heathrow to get this issue dealt with. This is not forking great as my son – due to anxiety – finds travelling stressful. Imagine what my son is dealing with right now.

What does he find at the ticket desk in Heathrow? A queue. And when he finally gets to the ticketing desk, he finds that SwissAir have failed to issue a ticket for his flight!

Get this SwissAir had 2 weeks to issue the ticket. And failed to do so. Then, there, some running around to get the ticket issued so that my son could get a boarding card. And when he did get one, he got one of the shitty seats – as these were the only ones left.

How is it that SwissAir takes the booking, takes my money, and yet does not issue a ticket for the flight? Surely, issuing a ticket is basic, fundamental, business process for an airline, any airline! So, from an CX perspective, this is a huge fail. And, being charitable, I think “OK, it might just be a one-off glitch”

4-Yesterday, Time to Check-In And Get Boarding Card For Flight to London

Guess what happens! Yes, you have guessed it: we go to the SwissAir app to do the online check-in as the flight departs in just less than 24 hours. And we face the same issue: not allowed, told to go see the SwissAir folks at Zurich Airport.

I call Customer Services, I wait only a couple of minutes and get through to an agent. I set out the issue that I am facing. She checks. Sure enough, SwissAir have failed to issue a ticket for the return leg of the trip! How forking incompetent. And inconsiderate with regards to the impact on the Customer!

Can she get the ticket issued there and then? No! The best she can do is to put a high priority urgent request to the ticketing team. And, she tells me that the ticket should be issued in 2 hours so I should attempt online check-in after 2 hours.

Did SwissAir keep that promise? Fork no! It’s around 8pm yesterday and I am on the line with another agent in Customer Services. She tells me that ticket is still not issued. That it is in the queue. And there is nothing she can do about it. That the matter will have to be dealt with the ticket desk at Zurich airport tomorrow.

In Conclusion: The Management Team at SwissAir Should Be Sacked Immediately

I am clear that issuing a ticket -correctly and on time – is both an essential and a basic business process. It should happen automatically, and should work flawlessly. It should not be the job of the Customer to chase SwissAir to issue tickets.

Failure, twice, to get this right shows that a hygiene factor in the Customer Experience is broken. And, it shows that SwissAir doesn’t give a fork about the impact on the Customer and his/her experience of dealing with SwissAir. That is grounds enough for me, if I were in a position to do so, to fire the SwissAir management team – starting with the CEO. Given that I am not in a position to do that, I will do the next best thing: book future flights with alternative carriers like BA.

Customer Experience Lessons From Amazon UK’s Failures

It is my experience that for the most part and on the whole Amazon UK delivers. It makes it easy for me to find stuff, order it and pay for it. It keeps me informed about when the item/s are going to be delivered. And when they are delivered. Finally, Amazon makes it easy for me to deal with matters that have not worked out as I expected them to.

Against the background that I have painted, I have found myself somewhat disappointed with Amazon as a result of three customer experience failures. I want to share these failures (breakdowns) with you. Why?  It is the breakdowns, in the habitual, that provide me with access to getting present to that which I take for granted, to see matters with a fresh eye, and usually these breakdowns provide an opening for breakthroughs.

Customer Experience Failure 1: The Product Does Not Meet My Expectations

I ordered a copy of Crime and Punishment from one of the Sellers on Amazon UK. I deliberately picked a Seller who displayed a copy of the book with a red cover and described it as “Used – Very Good”. What turned up?  A tatty copy: the book was worn/shabby and the cover was white not red.  What emotion was aroused in me? Disgust. I found myself not wanting to touch the book. I found myself wanting to throw the book in the bin.

What did I do? I logged into my Amazon account, found the appropriate order, and raised an issue (in writing) with the Seller – sharing my disappointment. Within an day or so the Seller reached out to me in a friendly-understanding manner. The Seller apologised. The Seller shared her disappointment with me. And the Seller refunded my money.

What are the lessons here?  I can think of several:

1. The product is most definitely a core constituent of the Customer Experience!  Put differently, it is foolish to exclude the product and product considerations from the Customer Experience bucket – which some ‘Customer Experience guru’s’ do.

2. You must deliver on the expectations that you set.  If you display a red cover then make sure that the book delivered has a red cover. If you describe the product as being used yet in a very good condition then make sure it is.  The description of the product is not just some marketing fluff; it is a promise that you are making to the customer and in making that promise you are setting the customer’s expectations!

3. If you mess up then be charming-gracious about dealing with the consequence of it. How? By owning up to the mess up AND most importantly the emotional impact of your mess up on that particular customer.  How do you work out what the emotional impact is? By listening to the customer and/or asking the customer.  Then making things right. In this case the Seller refunded the total cost of the book.

4. Use every interaction to build trust and goodwill. It matters that the Seller did not ask me to waste my time sending the tatty book back. If the Seller has asked or insisted that I send the book back then that would have left me feeling angry. Why? Not being trusted and having my valuable time wasted. By trusting me, I am left feeling nothing but goodwill towards the Seller. How do I explain this event to myself? Something along the line that even good folks f**k up from time to time.

Customer Experience Failure 2: I Have To Go To The Post Office Depot To Pick Up My Parcel

One day I got home to find a ‘ticket’ for me from the Post Office. It was notice telling me that I needed to go to the Post Office Depot to pick up my item. And that I needed to pay something like £2.00. Why? Because the Sender had not paid postage. So I made my way to the Post Office depot to collect my item. What did this cost me in addition to the £2.00? It cost me something like 45 minutes of my valuable time: drive there, queue-wait, collect-pay, and drive back home.  So I logged into my Amazon account and made a complaint to the Seller of this item – a book.

What did this Seller do, how did he respond?  I got an explanation, an excuse, for the failure to pay postage. Something like, all are items are franked, this should not have happened, don’t know how this has happened. And I was told that half the cost of the book would be refunded along with the £2.00 postage I had paid.  How did this leave me feeling? P****d off!  Why?  My central gripe – waste of 45 minutes of my life – was not acknowledged and addressed

What are the lessons here?

1. The customer cares about his/her experience not about your policies, processes or practices! So if you mess up then acknowledge the impact your mess up has had on the customer – as experienced by the customer.  I was looking for something like “You are busy. By not paying for postage we made you waste 45 minutes of your life including 20 minutes waiting in a queue which you hate to do. Really sorry about that.”

2. When you mess up then ask the customer what you need to do to make things right.  By not asking me the Seller did not involve me in resolving my complaint. By making a decision on my behalf I experienced the Seller treating me as an object not as a human being.  If the Seller had asked me what he needed to do to make things right, I might have told him that by asking me that question he had already made things right. Instead, I was left thinking-feeling “This is NOT good enough! It is not adequate compensation for wasting my time.”

Customer Experience Failure 3: Amazon UK Lies To Me!

I ordered a book directly from Amazon UK – not from one of the Sellers on Amazon UK.  I ordered that book either late on Friday or early on Saturday.  I was expecting to get the book in the following week – earliest Monday. To my surprise I got an email from Amazon UK informing that the book would be delivered the next day: Sunday.  I found myself DELIGHTED – delighted that Amazon delivers on Sundays, delighted that I could start reading it on the Sunday as I had some spare time that Sunday.

Guess what happened on Sunday?  Around about lunchtime I got an email from Amazon UK.  The email told me that Amazon UK had delivered the book to my home.  That email left me puzzled.  If the book had been delivered then why had it not made its way through my letter box? So I opened the door to see if the book had been left outside on my doorstep. No. I went around to one side of the house, to see if the deliver folks had left it in the garden as they sometimes do. No.

How was I left thinking?  I was left asking myself questions.  How is it that Amazon says the book has been delivered and yet it has not been delivered?  Has Amazon made a mistake? Or is it that the delivery folks are playing games with Amazon? Or is it that Amazon’s definition of delivered differs from my understanding of delivered. And if Amazon gets something as basic as this wrong then what else does it get wrong: invoicing, not delivering some of my stuff, charging me a different price to that which was displayed?

How was I left feeling? Delight turned into significant disappointment.  There was even some frustration thrown in. When? When I was looking around the house for the book that had been delivered (according to Amazon UK) and which I could not find.  I believe that I also experienced mild anger. I suspect that if an Amazon manager had been around I would have ‘given him/her a piece of my mind’.

When did I get the book? On Monday. Was I delighted/happy to get the book on Monday? No.  Yet, if I had been told that the book would be delivered on Monday and had been delivered on Monday, I would have been happy. And importantly, my trust-confidence in Amazon would not have been dented.

What are the lessons here in addition to that which I have already shared?  The following occur to me:

1. If you are pushing the envelope on the Customer Experience (like Amazon UK is doing) then make sure that you do not push it so far that delight turns into disappointment.  It occurs to me that Amazon is pushing the envelope in letting its customers know when a delivery is scheduled. And then letting the same customers know when the delivery has been made.

2. Every piece of information you provide to your customers acts kind of like a promise and sets the customer expectations.  So make sure that the information is accurate.  Any ‘bullshitting’ in the provision of information is likely to come back and bite you in the form of customer disappointment. It occurs to me that this is a lesson that many in marketing and sales have yet to learn.

3. Your informational processes+practices must be in tune with you operational processes+practices. Any disconnect between the two is likely to impact your customers – usually negatively. I imagine that the delivery partner informed Amazon that delivery had been made. And this triggered Amazon’s email alert to me.

4. If you subcontract part of your value chain (like Amazon does when it comes to delivery) then you will be held responsible, by the customer, by the failures of your value chain partners. Therefore, it behoves you to select the right partners and ensure that if they are telling you something then you can rely on their word. For my part, I am clear that I am disappointed only in Amazon because I hold only Amazon UK accountable for my experience as a customer.