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Innovation&: User Experience

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

User Experience

Picture: If the users' cognitive model doesn't align with the conceptual model (web and information from helpdesk employees about the case), and the process steps are described very roughly. The information on the frontend doesn't provide much usability insight.

User Experience (UX), which refers to the experience a user has while interacting with a product or service, plays a crucial role in customer satisfaction and loyalty. One area where a poor user experience can be particularly frustrating is during a flight when luggage doesn't arrive. In the following article, we shed light on the problems and difficulties passengers may encounter based on my specific case and discuss how the situation could be improved.

Let's take my recent flight from Catania to Zurich as an example, which was plagued by problems from the start. The user experience theoretically begins well before the actual flight. However, for this article, we'll focus on the immediate events before, during, and after the flight.

The first annoyance occurs when the plane arrives late, resulting in a 45-minute announced delay during boarding (21:30 instead of 20:45). It's worth mentioning that customers are informed on-site and via messages on their mobile phones. At this point, passengers in the "flight ecosystem" become uneasy since Catania Airport is crowded and stuffy due to general delays, and some are unsure if they'll make their connections or onward flights. While delays cannot always be avoided, clear and timely communication by the airline in collaboration with the airport can mitigate the negative experience. Information about the reasons for the delay and possible alternatives should also be transparently communicated rather than simply stating "delayed," ensuring that waiting times don't lead to negative experiences (I'm thinking that the user experience during medical visits is also worth blogging about).

Inside the plane, passengers are informed that the plane needs refueling and, therefore, smoking (no joke) is not allowed. While these are likely standard safety precautions, a clear and friendly explanation from the crew about the "reason for the delay plus refueling" could help passengers better understand that the plane took off late on its previous flight, and the delays and refueling in Catania airport are now contributing to additional waiting time. (Thought: The Swiss Federal Railways [SBB] applies information for just two minutes of delay, even though their transportation system is also highly scheduled.)

Another issue arises when there are noises coming from the belly of the aircraft during refueling and waiting for takeoff. The lack of information amplifies passengers' concerns, and the absence of clear announcements leads to uncertainty. Some passengers see and discuss the possibility of luggage being unloaded, adding to the confusion.

When the pilot finally starts the flight at around 22:00, he informs the passengers that he will be flying to Zurich at maximum speed to land before the nightly closing time in Kloten. While this may be perceived as a positive aspect, the reasons for the delayed departure and late landing should be transparently communicated to avoid passengers feeling rushed during their connections or journey home.

The actual landing finally happens slightly before the expected time, shortly after 23:00 (yes, one hour earlier than usual), which could be considered a positive aspect. However, the experience is marred when the baggage claim display shows that the luggage will arrive in 12 minutes, only for the passengers to learn through a loudspeaker announcement that all the luggage was unloaded in Catania. This leads to significant frustration and anger. The suspicion is strong that the airline or pilot chose the economically cheaper option to unload the luggage, leaving it behind, instead of not taking off due to the night closure in Kloten and providing accommodations and transportation to passengers. In any case, swissport employees distribute forms or refer passengers to an online form to report lost baggage so that the luggage can be delivered to their homes in the following days. It's striking that while filling out the form, a lot of details about the missing luggage are required (brand, size, color, shape, wheels, handles, lock type, etc.), which seems unnecessary since each luggage has an individual ID sticker and modern airports have scanning systems.

Subsequent calls to the swissport helpdesk in the following days worsen the situation. The conflicting statements from the staff intensify the feeling of the employees' cluelessness. During the first contact, it is communicated that there was a fire at Catania Airport, and the airport is closed until further notice (which is understandable). When asked if the luggage is affected, there is no clear answer. During the second contact, it is said that the luggage is intact, the airport will reopen the following day, and the luggage will then be brought to Zurich. During the third contact, the employee honestly admits that they still haven't received any response from the ground staff at Catania Airport. During the fourth contact, it is stated that the luggage is intact and in the luggage warehouse in Catania, but the on-site personnel currently do not have access, even though flight operations have resumed. Simultaneously, we were required to provide detailed information about the contents of the luggage, in case they were not identifiable. This aligns with the experiences that many have with helpdesks nowadays, where the quality is very low due to price pressures, and the staff lacks the necessary experience, tools, or competence and simply follow their internal scripts, whether they make sense or not. What is very bothersome is the use of false statements to avoid answering questions; they definitely have no place in such situations.

This example also shows that the conceptual model conveyed by the airline does not match the users' expectations and cognitive model. This means that the experience presented to the passengers doesn't align with what they actually experienced. This is particularly relevant in cases of multi-brand strategies within a company, such as Lufthansa with Swiss and Edelweiss. Throughout this user journey, all logos smiled at me. This can lead to a significant loss of trust. Clear and realistic promises should always be upheld to ensure customer satisfaction.

Overall, this example of a flight from Catania to Zurich illustrates how a poor user experience can adversely affect the entire flight experience. To improve customer satisfaction, airlines should focus on clear and transparent communication, efficient solutions to address problems, and strengthening customer service. Only through these means can a positive user experience be ensured, leading to long-term customer loyalty. All others will only be defined by price competition.

To enhance user experience, clear communication in such situations is essential. The airline should immediately inform passengers of available information about the whereabouts of their luggage, instead of leaving them in the dark. This requires training and clear communication from the customer service team to make passengers feel that their concerns are taken seriously. An efficient luggage tracking system can help identify and address such issues early on. Ultimately, the user doesn't care who handles the ground operations. They booked the overall service with the airline and expect them to be responsible and take the necessary steps to provide passengers with information about the whereabouts of their luggage for this flight.

P.S: We still haven't received our luggage after almost three weeks, and the communication remains scarce and still a "responsibility of the passenger" (Holschuld). Today, we received a message in response to another inquiry, stating that all luggage will be brought to Zurich in the next few days, and then the individual owners will be identified. However, it also mentions that this may take longer due to a high volume. Perhaps it's better to buy luggage tracking tags, then we wouldn't need the ground operators' systems anymore (at least from the passenger's usability perspective).


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