Saturday, January 09, 2010

EasyJet, DifficultJet or Pisstake?

A routine tale of bad customer service.

Bad weather across Europe has been causing severe travel disruption, including a large number of flight cancellations both in the run-up to Christmas and in the last few days.

I was amongst the tens of thousands of people affected and this is my story.

Let's start by spelling out some objective truths: 1) Severe weather is nobody's fault, airlines included; 2) Whatever the quirk of fate, Easyjet was particularly badly affected; 3) Airline passengers' consumer rights are incredibly vague and open to interpretation; 4) The expressions 'no frills airlines' and 'customer service' cannot sit together in the same sentence.

So here's what happened. The night before flying I was informed by email that my cheap £30-worth Easyjet flight had been cancelled. Amidst a flurry of "we are sorry for any inconvenience", I was also offered the chance of a refund (which is in line with EU Regulation 261/2004, see here).

Meanwhile, I swiftly went on to book an alternative route with another carrier which, through a combination of last minute-booking and high season, ended up costing me £168.

So far so good. However, here's where complications started. Go on the Easyjet website and see for yourself. A customer-based business with a visible contact page within reach? You've got to be joking, you pedantic customer.

And yet, the British Airways website is only two clicks away from giving out an email and phone number and, hear hear, even the kings of no-frills at seem to have the words "Contact Customer Services" visible straightaway on the home page.

If you've chosen Easyjet, however, the ordeal has just begun.

In fairness, their home page does sport the word 'Help', albeit in tiny writing, at the top. Fine, you think.

When you click on it, you're presented with a list of 33 "items" ranging from "Add speedy boarding" to "Booking ski accomodation". No mention of refunds or cancellations - you'd have thought that after three weeks of solid travel disruption for thousands, the two items would be amongst Easyjet's top priorities.

The 33rd item on the list, however, reads "Our FAQ and contact details". With a sigh of relief, the customer can click on it. However, still we're nowhere near the end. A page appears with a massive header that says "Check the status of your query" (which, it turns out, you can only do if you've opened an "EasyJet account" - more of which later). Below follow nine options. Still none of them mention the words refund or cancellation.

When the puzzled customer scrolls down, he's presented with "236 answers available", in smaller fonts, divided up into 24 separate pages. Luckily, questions related to cancellations or refund now appear in the first lot, because until four days ago, to spot the word "cancelled" or "refund" you'd have to scour page after page until striking lucky.

Anyway, when you finally click on "What can I do when my flight was cancelled, what are my options?" you are then presented with two options: free rebooking or refund.

When you select "please click here" next to "refund", you are taken to a drop down box. You enter your email address, stick your flight details and booking reference in and then you are also kindly presented with a list of additional expenses - in particular, "alternative carrier" or "overnight accomodation" that can be reimbursed. It may sound promising but, like a certain woman once said: "You ain't seen nothing yet".

After typing in the details, you can attach a receipt (i.e. ticket for alternative flight) and Easyjet assures you that your query will be dealt with as soon as possible.

Call me an ageist pig, but it's hard to imagine some people of a certain age, like my parents, being able to navigate such a torturous online maze.

Surely though, a company as prestigious as Easyjet will cut you some slack with easy access to a telephone number, right?

Well, try and find out for yourself. Going back to the above mentioned FAQ page with "236 answers available", you can either scavenge through them all or try the keyword search. When I typed in "telephone", I was presented with options leading up to this page.

"What is your telephone number?", it reads. Except that there are nine options that don't include a related answer. You still have to scroll down. And down. Where it finally lists the opening hours of Easyjet's "Customer Experience Team" and below a list of countries to pick from.

Once you click on the country of choice, you are finally informed of a number. Incidentally, the prices range from 10p a minute in the UK to a piss-taking 1.03€ a minute in Germany!

If you do call, you are immediately informed that the queues are long and waiting time can approach half an hour. I guess that would put off quite a few people. If you're phoning from Germany, just waiting for your turn can cost you more than the actual flight.

Anyway. A couple of weeks after my first enquiry, Easyjet replied with an automated email. Signed by one "Nina Honarmand, Customer Experience Champion" (seriously), the message announced the reimbusement of my cancelled flight within 5-10 days but also informed me that my claim for the alternative flight could not be processed as my attachments were not in PDF, JPEG or BMP formats.

So I immediately repeated the whole process making sure that I'd attach my receipts in JPEG format.

Three days later, the very same e-mail came back. Identical. "Nina Honarmand, Customer Experience Champion", again informed me that the cancelled flight would be reimbursed within 5-10 days but that my claim for the alternative flight could not be processed as my attachments were not in PDF, JPEG or BMP formats.

Then it said "please click here and we will be more than happy to assist you further". I did click "here" and look where it took me.

Remember earlier I mentioned opening an "Easyjet account"? Well, here it is. I don't remember ever opening one. So I went for the third option: "If you do not have an account...Create a New Account". But as soon as I started the process, the system informed me that my e-mail was being picked up as part of an already existing account.

So I went back. Perhaps I had opened an account after all. Option two is for people who have forgotten their password. I went through it and, sure enough, it said that "a new password will be sent to your email address shortly".

I checked my email inbox and, voila', Easyjet just sent me a message. Perhaps we're seeing the end of this, I thought.

Wrong. The email informed that my password is, literally: (none set).

Desperate, I tried to type in "none set" or "noneset" as the password to my alleged pre-existing account, by neither worked.

"Have you tried to complain?", I hear you asking. Yes, but -again- in order to be forwarded, the online complaint form has to include your "Easyjet account" details, so jack.

I accept that all airlines are being inundated with queries and requests these days and that customers may have to be extra patient and hold on for more than a reasonable number of days. I accept all that.

What I don't accept is the notion that, in 2010, a 'no-frills' airline can get away with total lack of basic customer service and a ridiculously user-unfriendly website that feels like bouncing against a brick wall.

And I'm sorry to say, but if all of the above is the best Ryanair's biggest competitors can manage, gobby Michael O'Leary can sleep safe and sound - total air traffic domination is within his reach.


Chris said...

I have had an identical experience but with TalkTalk. It's a similar target market as EasyJet in that they aim to deliver a no frills, low cost service. And like EasyJet, when it works by all accounts it's okay, but when it goes wrong you will dance around all over the place trying to get to someone or somewhere who can own your problem and resolve it. You know, like someone who was providing customer service might do.

In my case I'm taking them to court. As for EasyJet, if you watch the programme Airline, you get a taste of their apalling, gobby, defensive customer disservice from the start. I wish you luck!

maria phillips said...

Stop moaning for goodness sake, people have died in these unprecidented conditions.

Why did you foolishly pay to call easyJet, did you not see they have a FREE live chat service????

claude said...

maria phillips,
you're a bit of a wally aren't you?
So basically the thousands of thousands of people waiting for their refund should just keep their heads down and not even point out that Easyjet's phone number is difficult to get hold of? There are entire blogs and forums out there with people wondering how to get hold of EasyJet!!!

And don't even raise your concern because people have died in freezing weather?
How the hell dies that work you dipstick?

So basically nobody should "moan" about crime, unemployment bad working conditions because some people die in the Third World? You've gotta love your logic...!

As for the "unprecedented" conditions, you dipstick, it's winter. It's December and it's January and more or less every year you get a cold snap clogging up the whole of Europe.

If you'd bothered to read the article you'd have noticed I made it clear that no-one is to blame for the weather. That is not the point though.

Because basic customer service is needed when there are problems. Cos when everything runs smooth of course nobody needs help or assistance.

As for the "Live Chat", are EasyJet playing at Treasure Hunt or something? Because : a) it couldn't be any more hidden b) it's not advertised anywhere c) even when you find it it just says "live chat", hardly explaining what purpose it may fulfil d) several people online complained that it makes their computer crash.

claude said...

Be warned. The LIVECHAT mentioned by maria phillips above is a true work of art.

The problem wasn't much that I queued for hours. The problem is that they can't help you with NOTHING.

Whatever it is that you've queued for, a customer champion (in my case someone called "Meg") replies in monosyllables without saying anything in particular.

It makes you even more frustrated.

Tanya said...

I had my evening flight Berlin to Paris cancelled on December 21st at the very last moment leaving passengers stranded and the only assistance to help passengers was the very expensive telephone number of their call center. Even a low cost carrier must take some precautions how to handle situations when they fail to provide the service they have sold to their customers regardless of the price. They have to find solutions and not the passenger! Their website is easy to navigate for bookings and check-in but not so for any other assistance.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

That is a grand if pretty worrying post Claude that left me thanking my lucky stars I wasn't you.

And you'll be glad to know that the Curious Freedom idiot and Dan Dare have invaded your immigration post at Lib Con, they must have a Google alert for 'Immigration' and Lib Con so they can wade in with their racist nonsense.

Dave Eyre said...

Similar srt of problem. Let's see how they handle being sued.