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Excess baggage: when actions speak louder than words

This weekend, I had the good fortune of being treated to a child free break in Amsterdam and returned home yesterday. It was a lovely trip, with lots of culture, walking and eating - until I arrived at Schipol airport to catch a flight with the beleaguered airline Flybe. I feel that I was lucky to be allowed in my seat. There were several passengers who were not so lucky. They were told they were not allowed to board because their luggage was too big, or because they couldn’t afford the £70 oversized luggage fee.

From a customer service point of view, there can’t be many things worse than being refused entry to a plane at the boarding gate, after you’ve already checked in and cleared customs.

In the inflight magazine, CEO, Christine Oumeieres-Widener, opening statement claims that:

“We aim to be ‘Close to You’ in so many ways, not only by providing quality customer service, especially when you are on board, but also by offering a wide selection of attractive destinations from 29 airports across the UK and 44 through mainland Europe.”

It’s going through a phenomenal rate of change, with a prospective sale to a consortium led by Stobart air and Virgin. There’s been a public declaration that the business will be ‘wound-up,’ if the sale falls through. From the outside looking in, it’s a disaster. And judging by the look on our stewardess Pam’s face, there’s not much more of this the people who work for the business can take.

Let’s step outside the sale process for a moment. Flybe changed the rules around baggage in April 2016, well before the sale hit the news. I’m not sure that the customer was mentioned in the boardroom discussion where this decision was taken, but it will have had a huge impact on the brand. A brand that publicly displays two of its goals as being ‘to satisfy customer requirements’ and ‘to provide convenience, reliability, efficiency, and value for money.’ The customers on last night’s flight, generally did not arrive at their destination feeling as though these goals had been met.

Paying lip service to your aims as an organisation will never work. Anybody can craft a set of audacious ambitions that are impossible to embed. I still want to play for the Manchester United men’s team, but we all know that’s never going to happen. Building a strong identity is about building those objectives and principles into your DNA. If you’re all about customer, you have to think about what your customers want and how your decisions will have an effect on them. Talk to them, respond to feedback and make the changes that you need to make to excel. For Flybe, all they need to do is have a look at Twitter to see that the baggage rule is not working. It might get them some short-term additional revenue, but in the long run, it will stop customers choosing to fly with them again.

Going back to the sale, this doesn’t feel like it’s being managed in a way that’s sensitive to the people that are still Flybe employees. Telling them they might not have a future, will not motivate them to carry on smiling when a difficult customer refuses to put his seat in the upright position. Whoever takes on the airline has a huge challenge in rebuilding the culture and the belief of both its people and its customers. They’ll need to invest heavily in the brand to reset people’s expectations. Outside any financial implications, there’s a long journey ahead. I hope the CEO is allowed to take her bag along with her for the trip.

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