Iceland Airís Appalling Customer Service | November 15, 2010

A couple of months ago I traveled to Reykjavik as a guest of Iceland Air to speak at a web design conference they were sponsoring. My talk was all about delivering exceptional customer service so it’s ironic that I received some of the worst customer service I’ve ever experienced at the hands of their UK team.

It all started when my bags got lost of the return journey. Loosing bags seems an unavoidable part of modern air travel and I’d had lost bags successfully returned in the past so wasn’t that worried. I simply logged the loss at Heathrow and two days later my bag was found and delivered to me. However upon receipt of the bag I noticed that it was lighter and decidedly less bulky that I remembered. Upon opening the bag I realised that several hundred pounds worth of stuff had been taken from my bag and I was livid. Either a direct employee of Iceland Air or somebody under their charge had stolen from me.

I emailed to complain but received what appeared to be a stock response saying that while they took the issue very seriously, they had a policy not to take responsibility for items stolen from customers, so there was nothing they could do about it. This response REALLY wound me up as I couldn’t see how they were taking the theft seriously by denying culpability and washing their hands of the issue.

I pressed the issue but was told that anybody could have stolen the items so there was no proof that Iceland Air were responsible. This threw fuel on the fire as I had entrusted my bags to Iceland Air and felt that they had a duty of care to look after my possessions. If they were going to subcontract part of their process to a third party, it was their responsibility to ensure that those companies were trustworthy and didn’t steal from their customers. If they did, Iceland Air should take responsibility for the theft rather that trying to pass blame, and then raise the issue of theft with their subcontractors.

Iceland Air were basically exposing the internal fallings of their organisation and using this as an excuse for impotency. Now I realise that baggage theft may be endemic in the travel industry so can understand why the airlines would prefer not to take responsibility. However if the airlines were to be held financially accountable for losses, I suspect that they would do a better job of vetting their partners and securing the processes. It also made me slightly scared for security reasons. If it’s that easy for ground staff to walk out of an airport with several hundreds of pounds worth of stolen goods, their background or security checks can’t be up to much.

I continued to press the matter and their UK representative begrudgingly sent me baggage loss and theft claim form. The fact that this form even existed basically negated their initial assertion that they took no responsibility for lost of stolen bags. Why would they have a stock claim form if it was their policy not to accept claims. This angered me even further as it appeared to be evidence that their initial email was a lie.

The form I was asked to fill in demanded receipts for all the items I was claiming for. Now as most people don’t keep receipts for every small item they buy, this could be seen as a thinly veiled attempt to avoid paying for older items. However as it happens the majority of items that were stolen were actually gifts that I’d bought while away. The only problem is, most of the receipts were in the stolen bag and Iceland Air refused to accept copies of my Visa statement as proof of purchase. Also a very hand get out clause.

Up to this point I wasn’t really concerned about the financial loss as I had travel insurance so would have been able to claim on that instead. It was a matter of principal and I wanted to give Iceland Air the opportunity to put matters right. From a customer service perspective you can tell how customer focused an organisation is, not by how they treat customers when things are going well, but by how they treat customers when things are going badly. So I had given Iceland Air’s customer services team an excellent opportunity to turn me into a lifelong advocate. However by shifting responsibility and passing the buck, they had done the exact opposite. In fact, rather than trying to serve their customer, I got the distinct impression that it was Iceland Air’s policy to insulate the company from their customers.

I suspect that a lot of companies make a decision how they are going to treat their customers based on their perceived worth. So for a company like Iceland Air, I would have to fly with them a bunch of times before they made back any compensation they would have given me for the stolen items. As such it probably makes pure economic sense for them refuse to pay for my stolen baggage and lose me as a customer. Sadly I think this is a mistake.

10 years ago when people weren’t as connected as they currently are today, there was marketing law which said that a happy customer would tell one of their friends while an unhappy customer would tell 10 of their friends. These days people have hundreds of friends on their Facebook accounts so I think this rule can be increased by a factor of 10. This means that customer service slips can no longer be hidden or insulated. These days unhappy customers will tell a thousand of their closest friends in an instant, and the fallout can be dramatic. As such I think it’s ever more important for companies like Iceland Air to hire great customer service representatives and ensure that they serve the needs to the customers and not just the needs of the business.

So how did this debacle with Iceland Air end up. Did they step up to the plate, admit responsibility and offer to compensate me for the stolen items? Sadly not. Frustrated by my dealings with Iceland Air I ended up contacting my insurance company instead. I was hopeful that Iceland Air would still come through, but as soon as they heard I’d contacted my insurers they were quick to pass the buck and close down my claim. They have also stopped answering my emails so have basically washed their hands of me.

With such poor treatment I’ve vowed never to fly with Iceland Air again. Sadly with a near monopoly on flights to Iceland, this means that it’s highly unlikely that I’ll return to Iceland again. It’s a shame as it’s a beautiful country with great people and we had an otherwise amazing time there. So it’s a shame the knock on affect poor customer service can have on people, especially when they are treated as problems rather than human beings.

Posted at November 15, 2010 12:15 PM


Jon Aizlewood said on November 16, 2010 12:11 PM

Sorry to hear there isn’t a happy ending, Andy.

It’s even more disappointing that companies like this are still not grasping ‘proper’ customer service - especially given the mediums now at our disposal to rant, rave and influence.

It’s simple logic: the cost involved with rectifying your issue is trivial compared to the number of people you influence who will choose not to fly with Iceland Air in the future. They’re losing (potentially) thousands of pounds in sales by refusing to console you. Of course I’d never expect them to fully compensate you for your ‘lost’ goods, but in the varying degrees of good CS, there’s a lot more they could have done to leave you happier than you are now. The outcome (this irate blog post) to them might be a storm in a teacup, but to your peers and readers, it’s a strong and valid reason to avoid flying with them in the future. And all totally avoidable.

Great customer experiences are memorable and make advocates for life, but (as you mention) so do terrible customer experiences that are healed. It’s a real shame that Iceland Air doesn’t understand the true value in that.