Norwegian airlines, please invest in service design – A case study in failed customer service

Illustration of a missing suitcase in Norwegian's brand colours.

Let me bring you on a journey no one should have to experience.

It’s not pleasant but I hope it’ll be educational. Especially if you work at Norwegian airlines. In fact, I really do hope someone from Norwegian reads this and takes notice. If you are that person, please pass this on to your customer experience team, if there is one.

And if there’ isn’t one – I’d love to take you on as a client.

It all begins with a wedding

In July this year I flew back to Sweden from UK to attend my brother’s wedding. After the wedding in North of Sweden I went all the way down to the Southern tip of the country for a week of kitesurfing with my old university friends.

On my return to UK my checked-in bag, containing my kite gear, a wetsuit, various bits and bobs and the suit I wore at the wedding, joined 26 million other luggages that are lost each year by airlines.

You know the feeling if it’s ever happened to you. You’re waiting by the conveyor belt with everyone else, keeping a close lookout for your bag to arrive through the hole in the wall. One after the other, people pick up their bags and remove themselves. Until it’s only you left. You wait a bit more, starting to feel more and more anxious about the situation. Then the monitor says – All delivered. The conveyor belt stops. Reality kicks in. Your luggage didn’t arrive.

Luggage did not arrive

Could it be in the over-sized corner? Nope. Not there, and why should it? It’s a normal size duffel bag.

Ok, what do I do next?

A sign says lost luggage but the only manned counter is for British Airways. No sign of Norwegian at all, not even a sign with contact details as with EasyJet.

I check the Norwegian app for support. It reads:

You must let our airport representatives know straight away if your baggage doesn’t arrive on the same flight as you. You’ll be given a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) with a unique file reference.

Since no representatives are present in the luggage hall I exit to find them in the departures hall’s check-in area. But it’s Sunday around 10 PM and there’s no one around, so I leave the airport and go home.

Let’s just call customer service (if only it was that simple)

The following morning I call Norwegian. On their website there is no UK number available. I try the Norwegian one but it does’t work. I have to use Google to find a number to call.

The call routing has no option for lost luggage or general support. The automated phone service hangs up on me. I call up again and choose bookings. I’m forwarded to a human. She tells me that I need to talk to the airport.

(Note: The first five days of missing luggage the investigation is carried out by the handling agent of the destination airport. You learn a lot when CX is this bad and you’re left to deal with things yourself.)

I check Gatwick’s website to find a phone number. There is none. I find a page that says:

For missing baggage enquiries, please contact the handling agent of your airline.

I don’t know who that is. I call Norwegian again to find out. Thankfully, both times I speak to booking agents they are kind enough to assist me, although all they can do is inform me that they can’t help me. This time I get phone numbers to Gatwick and to Copenhagen airport.

Gatwick is fully automated and won’t let me talk to a human. They hang up on me.

I call Copenhagen and find a human. She is very supportive despite not really having anything to do with my lost luggage. She informs me of the name of Norwegian’s handling agent at Gatwick. They are called SkyBreak.

I go to their website and find a Whatsapp chat service. It connects but nothing happens. I leave it open and after about 30 minutes a person named David appears. He takes my case and returns with a link to an online form hosted by Norwegian, and a phone number to their baggage call centre.

The form is for damaged not lost luggage, and as I’ve already spoken with Norwegian and they’ve indirectly sent me to David I’m not satisfied with these two options. I ask David how I can get in touch with Norwegian’s handling agent, expecting him to say it’s them and I’m already in touch with them. Instead he disappears for a bit and comes back with a new player – Red Handling.

I’m given their email address and assume that by contacting them I will finally be able to file the Property Irregularity Report that should’ve been filed upon arrival in Gatwick. Finally the locating and retrieval of my lost luggage can start.

I feel like a Private Investigator – but we’re getting somewhere

I do email Red Handling but don’t hear back. After a day or so I look up their website and find a contact form that I use to send the same message as in the email. The following day I receive a response from Red Handling via email. If it’s a response to the email or the contact form I don’t know but I’m relieved that someone is finally getting back to me.

I’m asked to fill in a customs declaration form which allows Red Handling to create a Property Irregularity Report. Finally it’s logged and I receive a reference number which I can use to track the search progress on, the site I was given previously by David, but then for damaged luggage.

Or are we? Radio silence is all I’m getting

Then nothing for two weeks. After 21 days the luggage is officially declared lost and one can fill in a compensation form,  but this is not very tempting because:

  1. I have no idea how difficult it will be to get compensated.
  2. I’ve read that they are unlikely to compensate for the full value of your lost items unless you take it to court and win.
  3. Some things carry nostalgic value and will be missed dearly even if it’s not worth much.

I feel more and more nervous about time running out. Finally I message Norwegian via the site asking if I can have a status update. I don’t expect a response but the next day Mikael from customer service emails me and asks for a country code for my phone number. As I give it to him he responds that CPH and LGW airports have been requested to search their areas for my bag, and once found I will be contacted via sms or phone call.

I’m relieved to have heard from Norwegian and it gives me a glimpse of hope. Yet, one has to wonder if this was not supposed to happen much earlier in the process, and without me having to reach out for it.

I hear nothing the next few days and finally reach the 21 day limit, meaning I now should file a claim for compensation. This is done via an online form where I’m supposed to price each item and attach a receipt of purchase as evidence. This is a ridiculous procedure given that a lot of items might have been bought a long time ago or been gifted. Are we supposed to keep all receipts we receive until we die? Luckily I have a lot of the receipts left from online purchases in my email, but it doesn’t cover everything.

I submit my claim, receive a confirmation email and reply to it with photos from my trip showing some of my lost items. The story doesn’t end there but by now I’ve illustrated what an appalling customer experience one has to endure if you’re unlucky enough to lose your luggage with Norwegian.

Where did it go wrong?

Let’s take a look at this customer journey map which illustrates the steps I described above and with some of the customer experience pitfalls highlighted.

Customer journey for delayed or lost luggage with Norwegian airlines. Presented with key moments where improvements can be made.

As one can see, we could’ve made a few changes to improve this journey early on. We can avoid the corporate hide and seek, stress and damage to the brand if Norwegian would have applied a holistic service design approach.

Only by conducting customer research and mapping end-to-end journeys can we detect these problems and make sure that experiences aren’t isolated in silos, but rather work in an orchestrated union that results in a great customer experience.

It should be said though that it’s easy to blame Norwegian since they are the service provider on surface level. But as we’ve come to learn, there are many operators involved who all need to collaborate and understand the systemic consequences of acting in their respective part of the system.

It turns out it wasn’t Norwegian who lost my bag. Nor was it Red Handling in Gatwick. Rather they should’ve been excluded soon in the process to turn our attention towards Copenhagen. It’s possible that it was my fault even and I hadn’t attached the bag tag properly (it was one of those self-service check-in and bag drops). Mistakes do occur, and rather than casting blame it’s important that we focus on finding the root cause, the CX pitfalls along the unhappy path and come up with solutions for both.

Did they ever find my bag?

In short I keep chasing Norwegian for compensation and progress updates for another five weeks without getting any response, until one day I make a phone call to customer service. A lady picks up, asks for a few details about my bag that I’ve already left in the original report – and somehow magically finds my bag at the departure airport in Copenhagen.

Apparently the ID tag had come off after checking it in and it never got further, nor could it be identified until the customer service did her magic. It’s concerning however that it took this long and only upon me calling, without actually providing any new information to identify the bag. Which makes me think that:

  1. They could’ve identified the bag a long time ago but somehow the case fell between the cracks.
  2. I would’ve never seen my bag again if I hadn’t chased it up myself.

I did get my bag back. The wetsuit was rank after two months and needed a thorough wash but part from that it was all fine. No apology from Norwegian however. Unfortunately there are few things we can do as consumers other than rant and moan but at least I’ve learned my lesson and will keep my contact details clearly on display in my luggage from now on.

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