When A Big Brand Fails

There is a lot of upset this morning as thousands of holidaymakers find out their holidays/honeymoons won’t be happening, over 150,000 stranded tourists are worrying about how they’ll get back home and 15,000 employees discover they are out of a job.

I don’t understand how any company can keep trading ie taking peoples’ money, when they are in such severe financial difficulties that they are about to go under. This situation would not have been news to the Thomas Cook Board, so I think its CEO, whose financial packages is worth millions a year and fellow directors should be done for fraud. I appreciate that’s an emotional and probably not a legal case and more’s the pity they can’t be punished for running the company into the ground while taking huge slices from it.

I’ve only ever once had a Thomas Cook holiday and it was appalling but the worst aspect was the lack of customer service on my return. I booked a first holiday with my then newish boyfriend, a Classic Nile Cruise through Co-Op Travel which used Thomas Cook as its third party provider. It seemed to offer everything that much more expensive options were claiming, so we Cooked and booked.

It was one of the worst holidays ever. A so-called newly refurbished cabin was dark, dingy, pokey. the furniture looked old, the curtains were shabby. The ‘food’ was inedible, shameful, disgusting. I don’t eat meat and every day they served a buffet with grisly slimy pieces of fish and burnt sloshy cauliflower cheese. I hadn’t eaten in a Macdonald’s for at least 30 years but when we got to the Aswan Dam and saw a Macdonalds it was like an oasis. Best filet of fish ever!

The ‘7 night cruise’ turned out to be 4 and half days docked, lined up against other cruise boats so that the view from our window was the side of another boat. As soon as I returned to the UK I complained and got a very swift reply in legalise which basically told me that as I hadn’t given them the option to amend things on site in Egypt they didn’t have to do anything. I even went on BBC Three Counties radio consumer show, the JVS Show to complain (he’s a brilliant presenter) and he took on my case to inform listeners that if you have a problem while on holiday abroad you must initially complain to the holiday company when you are in situ.

Now, being a first romantic break I didn’t want to come across as viva la diva, so I kept quiet on the cruise but gave them full feedback on the form they gave us on leaving the ship. I felt duped by Thomas Cook and stunned by their cavalier ‘customer service’, which is where I think all failing big brands break down.

For example, M&S is a much loved British brand but they haven’t been listening to their core customers for years. In trying to attract a younger market for their clothing brands, they have alienated the very people who made them so successful while not accepting that most young people wouldn’t even step inside an M&S store unless it was for a lunchtime sandwich.

M&S haven’t invested in modernising the stores- fluorescent lighting, acres of clothing rails, no one on the floor to ask about sizes or locations. And if you want to buy something, long slow checkout queues.

So faced with the news of Thomas Cook’s demise I do feel a pang of schadenfreude while sympathising with those poor people stuck abroad or here and the people about to lose their jobs. Customer service, customer service, say it like a mantra in every business. If the customer isn’t happy, it’ll get you in the end.