I don’t want to make this sound like a rant against Airasia. So, I’ll try to make this educational about how a badly set-up customer service process can lead to losing a long-time customer.
Naah, I have a feeling that I might end up ranting anyway.
I’ve been based in Singapore for over 5 years, and has also been bit by the travel bug since roughly then. Singapore is a great hub, and KL – just 5 hours away by road – is an even greater hub for low-cost budget travels through East and South Asia. There are atleast 4 major budget airlines players in this hub, and plenty of other regional carriers. But my favorite has always been Airasia.
Some people crib about Airasia’s budget offerings (less seatspace lah, no free food lah, no entertainment lah, blah blah blah), but I’ve always accepted that it was a you-get-what-you-paid-for model. You want extra space? Spend a few extra bucks and buy some legroom. Want extra luggage? Buy it. Want food? Buy it. In other words, you can’t cry about not getting luxury offerings, when you have paid for something basic. It’s like buying a cheeseburger at McDonalds and expecting to get fries or coke for free. No, Ma Cheri. TANSTAAFL!
And moreover, Airasia has been always extending their services to new destinations, that it keeps the wanderlust in me burning. When I had finished seeing all of South-East Asia, they began services to Myanmar. Like an obedient child, I booked the flights. When I had finished SEA completely, they began services to Bangladesh and Maldives. Like an obedient child, I booked the flights again. Every time I decide to see my family in India, I remember that AirAsia has direct flights to Chennai. And because I am quite obedient with my own mother, I book those flights often too. And nowadays when I began setting my eyes on exploring the Middle East, I found out they have launched flights to Iran and Saudi Arabia. I planned to book those too.
Planned. Past tense. After scores of flights with them, the last one left such a bitter taste in my mouth that I am contemplating whether to take any future flights with them. And below is what happened.
Again, because I dont want this to sound like a rant, along the way I will highlight opportunities where AirAsia could have done things differently.
Long Story short… ok, not so short
I was planning for where to go for the Christmas-NYE long week, when I figured out that Airasia D7 had recently launched flights to Mauritius. By now, you guys know that I am like that obedient child, who doesn’t think twice about booking flights. And so I booked my flights. Singapore to KL to Mauritius for the first leg on 23rd December, with the booking confirmation of FGU1PW. The return was Mauritius to KL on January 2nd with the booking confirmation # UKUMJN. (No flight to SG, because I had planned to meet some friends and take the bus back to Singapore late at night)
All was well at the check-in at Singapore. I had purchased additional storage and meals. I checked in my bag at Changi, and was told that my check-in baggage will be flown all the way to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport (yep, fancy name, that one) in Mauritius. So, I slept through both legs of my flight on my brand new neck-pillow, dreaming about the beautiful waves along the long Fliq-n-flac beach of Mauritius…..
…. Only to reach Mauritius and find out – with a mild panic – that my bag was nowhere on the baggage belt. My carry-on bag was still with me, but it only had my laptop and my camera. Nothing else. No clothes, no flip-flips, not even a change of underwear. It was 2PM in a very hot Mauritius, and I was already sweating in unmentionable places, desperately feeling the need to change my clothes to avoid the stickiness that was taking over my body. And I didn’t even have my toothpaste with me, and my mouth felt like a chimney, thanks to the couple of cigarettes I smoked in Kuala Lumpur before the last flight!
But I composed myself. I am a frequent traveller, and this was not the first time that my baggage was delayed. I knew exactly what to do.
I walked to the ‘baggage claims’ section of the Mauritius airport, and informed the friendly officers there about my bag. In hindsight, these officers definitely need some recognition, because they were super-helpful and the most considerate in the fiasco that followed. They not only showed considerable empathy (a definite customer service win), but also went around looking at the baggage belt, other baggage belts, and even went back to talk to the baggage handlers directly. They finally concluded – with an apology, of course – that my bag definitely had not reached in Mauritius. It was either in Singapore, or more likely in Kuala lumpur, where it was missed out in transit.
They again helped me to fill out a PIR (property irregularity report), gave me a personal mobile number to call and check if the bag reached Mauritius, and told me that my bag would delivered on the next Airasia flight to Mauritius.
“When is the next flight”, I asked?
“Sunday”, he said.
Sunday! He said Sunday! And today was only Friday! I had forgotten that Airasia flies to Mauritius only on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. So, I had to wait 2 days in Mauritius, without any clothes, until I get my baggage.
Opportunity # 1: For all baggage of transit passengers, who are headed to a destination where there are no daily/frequent flights, at least tag them as priority before/in the transit point.
“What do I do until Sunday? I have money, but I don’t have any clothes or toiletries.”, I said.
“You can buy some clothes and toiletries (inexpensive ones, he quickly added) locally for your 2 days stay. Keep the PIR with you. And once you are back in Singapore, you can ask AirAsia for a refund.”
Sounded fair. So, all my plans of spending the day at the beach went in the air, as I first had to go the mall (As if I hadn’t seen enough in Singapore already) to shop for some clothes. I was a backpacker before I became a corporate travel, so I didn’t necessarily need expensive designer wear. And I am sure I could have found stuff cheaper if I knew where to shop. I didn’t. So, the mall it was. For my 2 days of waiting, I bought 2 pairs of shorts, 2 t-shirts, 2 underwears, a socks and some toiletries. The total bill for all these came to 4237 MUR (Mauritian Rupees), which equated to 167 SGD. I kept the bills with me for talking to AirAsia when I got back.
And as promised, my baggage was delivered on Sunday, December 25th, and finally my trip went back to normal. The headache was gone, and I had forgiven Airasia for the minor lapse, which could have happened to anyone. And I enjoyed the rest of the trip until…
Longer story. Will try and make it short, but how?!
…. I was back in Singapore on 2nd Jan. After clearing my work emails for a couple of days (oh boy, emails seem to procreate and make their own kids whenever I am away on a vacation!), I finally decided to contact customer service on Jan 5th to claim for a refund of the additional cost that I had incurred. I checked AirAsia’s call centre page. And if you clicked on the hyperlink, you will figure out the same thing that I did: Airasia does not have a call center hotline number for Singapore!
Opportunity #2: If Airasia has designated Singapore to be their ‘focus city’, the least one should expect, should be a direct hotline number for Singapore, right? Alas, they don’t seem to think that way yet.
Not a problem, I thought. After all, I anyway had to share the scanned copies of the PIR and the bills. So, it might be a better option to do a livechat with the agents. So, I launched the chat link.
And then, I saw the wait time. I was 70 something in the queue, and I had to wait 20 minutes!
(Disclaimer: The screenshot was taken as I write this blogpost, and not on January 5th. But I assure you, the wait-time was not much different.)
Opportunity #3: No idea where the customer service team for Airasia is located (could be AGSS), but I hope there is some workforce scheduling and monitoring guy who is part of the team? Chat monitoring is difficult, and I know it because I have set up chat solutions for clients myself. But such wait-times do not help any customer form a positive opinion. All Airasia has to do, is check the number of dropped chats, and they will figure out what I mean.
And shortly later, when I finally got a live agent, I figured out that the chat window has no option to add attachments.
Opportunity #4: Obviously, Airasia is using the live chat inc platform (looks like the free version, going by the fact that you could clearly see ‘powered by Live chat’ below the chat window. The Live Chat platform can be customized for an option to enable file transfer, but I didn’t see it anywhere.
Before I could have a full chat with the agent, I figured out that the chat was automatically closed. That was my fault, because I was checking something else for nearly 5 minutes, and obviously I crossed the session time, which I am guessing is set to somewhere between 3 to 5 minutes. That was standard session times so nothing wrong there, but I didn’t want to try again and wait for another 20 minutes to get another agent. So, I went a different route. I tweeted to the AskAirAsia handle.
Of course, I had to use the e-form. Normally, E-form is not my preferred mode, simply because communication takes a while using it, as either party has to wait for the other to respond and response times are higher. But looks like I had no choice this time. So, I wrote a detailed e-form with the entire history (if you are reading this blogpost till now, you would have figured out that I am quite intimidatingly detailed!) and attached all the scanned copies. I just wanted a refund of what I had spent. Nothing more than that. I submitted, and expected to receive an automated confirmation mail, as every other Customer service CRM in the world would have.
Nothing. Zilch. Nada.
I waited a few hours, and after not receiving a confirmation email, I tweeted to Airasia again.
Opportunity #5: No idea which CRM AirAsia is using, but it should atleast be able to search a customer/contact history with their name? And I am pretty sure that I have quite a unique name as far as names go, so there is no question of duplicate contacts too.
On January 6th, one full day after I had submitted my e-form, I got an automated response in my email (not a manual response, mind you), and I finally had a case number.
Opportunity #6: Seriously AirAsia, set up instant automated response for all emails that come to the e-form. Delay in manual responses can still be explained, but there is no explanation for a one-day long delay in an automated response.
So, I tweeted back to the Askairasia account. This time, I did make a mistake. I gave the wrong booking number. (I had quite a few bookings in my email account, and I was on a compulsive-tweeting mode, ala Trump mode, as the hip kids call it nowadays). But do note that I had given the correct case number.
I waited for a full week. No response through email, or through tweet. So, I tweeted back again on January 18th. When no response, I tweeted yet again on January 19th. AirAsia’s twitter staff had successfully managed to make a calm and composed customer (I like to call myself that) turn into a really irate one.
I corrected the booking number (Again, do note that I had already included the correct booking number in my eform, which was raised on Jan 6th). And yet again, I was told that my issue has been routed to the correct team.
Opportunity #7: It’s obvious by now that the twitter staff is not part of the contact center. Most probably, the marketing team manages AirAsia’s twitter handle. BIG MISTAKE!! Social media and customer service should be handled by the same team.
I waited for another 5 days until today. (January 24th, as I pen this blogpost). Until today, I have not received any response to my email webform, and tweets informing me that it is being looked into. So, I tweeted again.
Opportunity #8: If the twitter handle is managed by a team other than then the contact center, at least ensure they have access to the CRM so that they can view the customer history before responding with wrong information.
Opportunity #9: If the twitter staff DO have access to the CRM and customer history, but simply don’t bother to check it, good luck Benyamin Ismail and Tony Fernandez. You are waiting till the shitake mushrooms hit the fan.
So here I am. I have been asked to write another e-form, when I haven’t still received an email response for the first one, written 3 weeks ago. As a customer – and as someone who has sold, implemented and ran contact center solutions for a living – I am not pursuing this conversation (or my refund) any further, as it is only going to get worse. As highlighted before, there are plenty of fundamental misgivings in how AirAsia’s customer service is set up, outsourced, or simply managed.
Come on, Ismail and Tony. You guys have been visionary in the budget travel space and you have my utmost respect for that. Are you also going to do the right thing and fix any/all of the problems with your customer service?