Most people who know me know that I have a real thing about good customer service. I work in a customer service role, and set high standards for myself for the service I provide, and I expect others to at least aim for a high standard of service. Providing good customer service isn’t about making sure everything works perfectly and making sure all customers are happy all of the time every time. While that would be a lofty ideal to aim for, the real world just isn’t like that, and it’s the real world we live in. Even with the simplest of transactions, problems can arise, and for me the measure of customer service quality is how those problems are handled and ultimately resolved. Even then, it’s important to remember that the ultimate resolution may not be one that makes the customer happy – any business has constraints on what it can actually do, and limits as to what actions might be justified in any one specific case. So, bearing that in mind, let me tell you about my recent experience with Lufthansa

A little background is always useful in these situations, and in my experience it’s essential for any customer service agent to understand exactly where the customer is coming from, in order to handle the situation appropriately.

The Background

I’m a frequent flyer, flying the same route once or twice a month, for the last 18 months, initially with BA and for the last year with Lufthansa. Given how often I fly, I like to try and minimise the time I spend waiting around in airports and plan my trips accordingly. I do not usually check baggage, and like to get a seat as close to the front of the aircraft as possible, on an aisle. This usually allows me to exit the aircraft quickly, get through immigration and then out of the airport and into a bus or taxi without being held up in various queues of people who might have to wait for their baggage to arrive anyway. It might sound like a minor point,  and when you fly regularly all of that waiting time adds up and gets magnified.

The ability to check in on-line online in advance of the flight really makes a difference to each journey. Firstly it means I can plan to arrive at the airport a little later than I would otherwise, as I know I just have to get through security and head to the gate. I don’t have to factor in time queuing to check-in or drop bags. For reference, as I work in IT, I don’t assume that the automated check-in machines would be working and thus I anticipate queuing. Secondly checking-in online lets me choose the seat while there is still significant choice. Leaving it until I reach the airport means that the choice of seats is likely to be much more restricted, and even then I would need to arrive earlier at the airport to ensure the best possible seat.

The Problem

That’s the background over with, now for the meat of the issue. For the past 6 flights, since sometime in April I think (I have the exact flights and dates noted), I have been unable to check-in online for my flights with Lufthansa. I have therefore being trying to contact someone in Lufthansa who I can discuss this with, and who might actually be able to tell me a) why the problem occurs, and b) if they will be able to fix it. So far, after numerous calls to 2 different ‘help lines’, 2 complaints raised via the website, and e-mail to an address provided by one of the help lines, I have had no response to my query. Nothing. No one even the slightest bit interested in resolving the ongoing problem. In fairness, the help-desk people I call when internet check-in fails are usually sympathetic, and check me in over the phone, but they can’t actually tell me why the problem happens, and why I have to call someone to check-in.

The story gets worse when I go into details, and so I’ll start from the first problem and build the picture up into a comprehensive failure of Customer Service.

The Story

The first time I was unable to check-in, I called the sales/reservation line, and was told it was because there had been a minor change in schedule (the departure time had changed by 10 minutes) and that I couldn’t check-in online because I needed to confirm my flight. That would be fine except the document I was sent detailing the change in departure time states, and I quote

It is not necessary to reconfirm any Lufthansa flight booking after ticket purchase.

There was nothing in the e-mail to suggest I needed to confirm the flight. Anyway, the telephone agent checked me in and I was able to print my boarding pass at the airport.

The 2nd and 3rd flights also involved changes of schedule, in this case sent out before the outbound flight. When online check-in failed for the outbound flight, I called to resolve the situation, which I assume was caused by the same issue of the schedule change requiring confirmation. Once again I was checked-in over the phone and I hoped that would be all that was required. However, on my return flight, I again couldn’t check in online, and again was checked-in over the phone. This shouldn’t have been because I needed to confirm the flight because I’d already done that when I called about the outbound flight.

For the next two flights, outbound and return, there were no schedule changes, but I was still unable to check-in online. In both cases I was prompted to call a number, which I did. For the outbound flight, I was checked-in over the phone with no problem, but when calling about the return flight, the telephone agent told me categorically that she could not check me in over the phone as it was against Lufthansa policy and I would have to check-in at the airport. After explaining that I had been checked-in over the phone for the previous 4 flights because of online check-in problems, I was put on hold for several minutes before the agent finally came back and did check me in.

By now I was thoroughly annoyed at the ongoing problems, and having been told the only way to complain was either in writing or via the website, I decided to try the latter. I spent quite a bit of time drafting the form – it was over 3000 words  and I know this because there was a character limit and the site keeps count. When I was happy with the wording, I clicked submit and was promptly returned to the main Lufthansa page. I got no feedback as to whether my submission had worked, and since I have had no e-mail confirmation and no response, so I can only assume it didn’t.

After the website debacle I resolved to call Lufthansa and try to speak to a person to explain the situation. First I called the UK Internet Service Team, who told me they could only help if I was due to fly in the next 23 hours and couldn’t check-in online (the irony was not lost on me). They told me to call the Miles and More Service Line, and after being on hold for 8 minutes (I timed it) the agent I spoke to was singularly unhelpful, telling me she could only with specific future reservations and that for anything related to the website I needed to talk to the UK Internet Service Team. I explained I had already spoken to them and that I just wanted to talk to someone who could help. The agent said she couldn’t do anything, and when I asked for to speak to a supervisor I was told there wasn’t one available. At that point I gave up and called the UK Internet Service Desk again, who again told me to call the Miles and More Service Line. I explained I had already done that and just wanted some way of feeding back my problem to someone who can help. Finally after a fruitless 45 minutes trying to find a human being who could actually help, the agent gave me a Lufthansa e-mail address ( to try.

I then re-wrote the letter I had previously tried to submit via the website, and sent it to the e-mail address. I have had no response – not even a ‘bounce’ message saying it didn’t arrive. So, no one can help me by phone, the website form disappears into thin air and I get no response from an e-mail address provided by a Lufthansa agent. Am I getting good customer service yet?

What do I do next? Well, I thought I’d try the website complaint form again, after all sometimes these things have glitches and maybe it would work a second time. It did. Well, I say it did, and what I actually mean is that this time it told me my feedback had been submitted, and I even got an e-mail with a reference number, and a promise that

Our Customer Feedback Management team will contact you shortly in this matter.

That was two weeks ago. Guess how much contact I’ve had from the Customer Feedback Management team? That’s right, none. After the first week I filled in the complaint form again, complaining that my first complaint hadn’t had a response. I’ve had not response to that second complaint either.

Anyway, on Sunday I flew again. On Saturday evening, less than 23 hours before my flight I tried to check-in online again. As I expected it failed. So on Sunday morning I called the Internet Helpline again and specifically asked why I couldn’t check-in online for this specific flight. The agent couldn’t tell me – he said everything looked fine, there had been no ticket changes, no schedule changes and nothing to indicate that there was anything preventing an online check-in, and that he just didn’t have any other information. He checked me in, and my flight went fine.

The Conclusion

The fundamental problem here isn’t that I have an earth shattering problem,  it’s just a an ongoing persistent inconvenience that I would like for someone just to try to resolve for me. The problem is that Lufthansa clearly have no idea what makes good customer service.

Firstly, make sure that if you send a customer information, it is correct. I received notifcation of the schedule change on the first couple of flights and it said I didn’t need to do anything, but I did. It should be a simple matter to get this fixed and make it clear to the customer what is expected of them. What’s the betting it hasn’t been fixed yet even though I reported it some 2 months ago?

Secondly, make figuring out who they need to call easy for the customer. The Lufthansa website is poorly laid out, and the information provided does not help a customer work out which team they need to call. That isn’t something the customer should have to work out anyway, but if they do, make it easy. They should be able to call one number, and have their problem resolved, whatever it is. Sure, have separate sales and support lines, but having multiple support lines just confuses things for the people who need help.

Thirdly, if you must have separate support teams for different parts of the business process, allow your agents to transfer calls internally to route your customer to the right place. Lufthansa didn’t. I had to drop the line and each time I end up talking to the ‘wrong’ people. There was no ‘internal Lufthansa handoff’ meaning I had to explain the situation over and over again. Other companies manage to transfer calls internally, it’s not rocket science.

Fourthly, have a dedicated customer team, contactable by phone, for people who have not been able to get their problem resolved by the other teams for some reason. If a customer is getting passed from one team to another and back again, with both teams saying “I can’t help talk to the other team”, that only makes customers frustrated. The customer doesn’t care who in Lufthansa solves the problem, they just want someone to take ownership and solve the problem.

Finally, if you insist on forcing a customer, who has already been annoyed by the previous three failures of customer service, to make complaints through your website, make sure it works and make sure they get a response. Sending an automated response stating you will be in contact shortly is a commitment, and if you fail to meet that commitment you just make your customer more angry.

All I’m asking for is for someone to help me resolve this problem, and yet Lufthansa have made it clear that they don’t care as long as I’m giving them my money.

Next Steps

The way I see it, Lufthansa’s dedication to poor customer service leaves only two options open to me at this point. The first is an outside bet and one that might provoke a response, and that is Twitter. Regular readers will have noted frequent tweets about this issue as things have happened, and it turns out Lufthansa have an official twitter account. I’m going to try contacting that and point them at this web page and see if I get any response.

If that fails, the only thing I can do is to physically send a letter to the chairman of the company, and hope that it stimulates a reply. I can’t e-mail him because Lufthansa don’t publish an e-mail address for the Chairman’s office. I have no confidence that such a letter would have any effect anyway.

Ultimately the only sanction remaining would be to take my business to a competitor. I have reasons why I would prefer not to do that, and if Lufthansa really don’t want to engage with me then that’s fine, another company can take my money. At the end of the day, Lufthansa management should care about that or they aren’t doing the right thing for their shareholders.