Big Miss by SWISS

 Airplne Man sitting in chair on flying airplane wing


In an article I wrote for HBR entitled What we can learn from one of the worlds most mocked cars , I used the tragicomic tale of the mighty Trabant - the ultimate symbol of command-driven economics under communism -  to illustrate the perils of disregarding customer experience.


It so happens that a recent and sadly still ongoing saga with SWISS International Airlines is reminiscent of the customer experience blindness the Trabant embodied.


Let me preface my tale by referencing another. Namely, the story of musician Dave Carroll. Dave was flying on United in 2009 and had his guitar damaged by the airline’s luggage handlers. He patiently followed protocol to recoup damages but was consistently met by uncaring and dismissive bureaucracy. So he took an alternative approach, and wrote a song about his experience entitled ‘United breaks guitars’. The song’s video immediately went viral, received a flood of media attention, and triggered a 10% ($180 million) drop in the airline’s stock price, causing it to revamp its customer service processes: A-broken-guitar-a-youtube-video-and-a-new-era-of-customer-service


Dave’s feel-good story illustrates the significant power spurned customers have today to push back by sharing their indignation, and the danger for companies who fail to act honorably. Every company can make a mistake and inadvertently inconvenience customers. What really shows character is how a company handles or mishandles such situations.


Similar to Dave, here is what happened in a nutshell:


  • A companion and I flew from Budapest to Geneva on SWISS at the end of March for a late season ski weekend. Upon arrival and following much delay, we were informed by an airline representative that our checked ski equipment bag was in fact on a transatlantic flight to NYC by mistake. As a result, we were forced to rent or buy all ski gear during our stay.
  • The missing luggage was only found and returned a week later, well after our trip was complete. The bag had been opened and the skis were badly scratched.
  • Following protocol, I filed a lost/damaged luggage report and detailed all associated costs. This set in motion a bizarre, almost laughable chain of email correspondences with what I can only assume to be an automated system, as the airline provides no means to a talk to a live customer care specialist.
  • Through the salvo of emails I was first informed that only a fraction of our documented costs would be reimbursed (without explanation), then told that no reimbursement would be made at all and the case was closed because our country of residence did not match the country of our bank account (a ridiculous stipulation given that a large portion of travelers use neobanks which only operate online), and later notified that partial reimbursement would in fact be made within 14 days. This sequence of messages was then repeated, creating a Monty Python-esque circle of misinformation.
  • It is now over 3 months since the ill-fated incident, still no reimbursement, and no correspondence at all from SWISS since June 9th. I must have written something gravely offensive to the automated system causing it to go silent on me.


Ultimately, it seems that the legacy of Swissair – which had a reputation for exemplary customer care – may be too much for SWISS International to live up to. But there is no excuse for wasteful and belittling processes that prevent rather than assist inconvenienced passengers in their pursuit of just compensation. It’s the surest way to turn brand loyalists into vocal critics. Now that I think about it, perhaps I should commission Dave to turn my SWISS tale into a new song?


#SWISS #airlineservice #customerexperience #customerservice #customercare

Beyond Disruption

Beyond Disruption Book


Last month Professors Kim & Mauborgne published their new book entitled ‘Beyond Disruption’. The book lays out the essence and path to nondisruptive creation - the optimal type of market-shaping innovation that benefits society and all stakeholders, without causing any casualties or displacement.


I have very fond memories of my close association with the two professors during the launch and popularization of Blue Ocean Strategy, and my Slingshot platform was born as the result of that work.


The focus of their new book is highly relevant and especially timely for the post-pandemic world where a new type of leadership is needed, one based on transformational, yet sustainable and positive-sum market strategy.


#disruption #blueoceanstrategy #innovation #markettransformation #leadership #creativity #sustainability

Re-Imaging Boundaries with YPO Portugal

YPO Portugal


It was great to be in Lisbon last week and to spend an enjoyable day with members of YPO Portugal. During our workshop session at the majestic The One Palacio da Anunciada hotel, we explored how to lean into uncertainty, master creative transformation, and continuously re-imagine boundaries in business and in our personal lives.


This mindset and accompanying step by step approach is critical for navigating high volatility and enabling us to be among the future shapers.


#ypo #leadership #strategy #changemanagement #innovation #transformation

When Customer Discomfort attracts Presidential Intervention

Airline service


In his State of the Union address earlier this year, U.S. President Biden launched an initiative forcing airlines to eliminate ‘junk fees’ – hidden, punitive charges added to basic airfare. He is proposing the Junk Fee Prevention Act, saying “We’ll prohibit airlines from charging $50 round-trip for a family just to be able to sit together, baggage fees are bad enough. Airlines can’t treat your child like a piece of baggage.”


Such action on the part of the President should be a wakeup call for all businesses to reexamine their customers’ experience, in search of major pain points. And there is no shortage of them in any industry. According to the recently published annual Customer Rage Survey, a record number of Americans are finding faults with companies’ products and services – 74% of respondents experienced a product or service problem in the past year.


So why not seize the opportunity and be the first to remove or transform the most bothersome aspects of your industry’s customer experience? Alternatively, you can wait until your customers flee in search of more pleasant experiences and a presidential intervention forces you to do so.


#customerexperience #innovation #presidentBiden #junkfees #markettransformation

Global Innovation Institute Webinar

GINI webinar


I am pleased to be the guest of the upcoming Global Innovation Institute Webinar.  The session, hosted by GInI's Executive Director Anthony Mills, will air on March 23rd at 11 am EDT, and focus on practical steps for turning crisis into opportunity.


Join us by registering here:


#innovation #transformation #creativity #strategy #crisismanagement



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