We are Consumers in a Take-It-or-Leave-It World

I’ll never fly, Emirates, the Dubai-based airline, ever again.  At least I’ll avoid it as much as I could. 

The Emirates flight I took from Manila to Dubai was horrible. I had a economy seat in which I could not get the in-flight entertainment system to work.  The flight attendants ignored my requests for assistance.  The obese male passenger beside me had a smelly hairy arm that kept invading my space.  The plane was an older model Boeing 777 and the cabin & restrooms were not clean or well maintained.  Ventilation was poor.  I could not sleep. 

I also would not want to ever go to the Dubai airport.  While waiting in transit for my connecting flight, the waiting area was packed with people.  There were hardly any available places to sit.  It was very hot even though it was 4am in the morning, local time (the airport air-conditioning was no match for the Dubai desert heat).  The restrooms were also very bad; floors were wet and the tap & toilet water was boiling hot (even from faucets marked cold). 

In fairness to Emirates, my connecting flight to Frankfurt, Germany, via the Airbus A380 was more comfortable, roomier, and much, much cleaner.  The in-flight videos were of excellent quality.

It was the same with my return trip.  Nice Airbus plane via Dubai, and a lousy long flight again on a decrepit Boeing 777 on the way back to Manila.

It was obvious that Emirates deployed older and not-well-kept planes for flights between Dubai and the Philippines and assigned newer & nicer planes for European and American destinations.  It was apparent Emirates didn’t care too much to serve passengers from the Philippines with the same quality of service as they did for those heading to first-world countries.

From that experience, I never booked Emirates ever again.  I have opted other airlines like Cathay Pacific Airways or Singapore Airlines which had way better service and planes serving Manila. 

We have expectations when we book with an airline, especially one that advertises its world-class service and a very modern fleet of planes, coupled with an airport said to rank with the best in the world. 

When we book flights on an airline, especially for the first time, we rely on what other passengers have experienced and written about.  In the case of Emirates, the airline has received much positive reviews and awards from travel groups.  It has been touted for its sterling service, amenities, and its very roomy cabins.  The Dubai airport, where Emirates is based, also receives very good feedback.  Emirates advertises these positive reviews and passengers naturally would have high expectations. 

We therefore become terribly disappointed when our expectations are not met.  We book our tickets, pay the fare, and instead of the excellence we expect, we encounter inconvenience and poor service.  And since we are already in our seat in a flight that takes as long as nine (9) hours, we have but no choice but to endure the experience.

We can complain, sure.  I did and the Emirates flight crew simply ignored me.  But it’s already irrelevant.  The deed has been done.  We’re left to deal with what has been given to us, never mind if it didn’t meet our expectations.  

Every yuletide season, Starbucks offers a promotion for customers buying their coffee. 

In November 2022, Starbucks Philippines rolled out its 2023 Starbucks Traditions Promo. The mechanics of the promo was simple: collect stickers for every purchase of any coffee beverage and claim rewards upon accumulating the minimum number of stickers. 

The promo promised planners, tumblers, and cups in which the customers can choose any one when claiming their rewards.  I wanted the tumbler.  The promo advertised the tumbler as a “15oz leak proof flask that comes in gunmetal grey colour with sleek matte finish with a modern Siren interpretation.” 

By end of December, right before the New Year of 2023, I had enough stickers to claim my reward.  When I went to the Starbucks branch I regularly go to in the first week of January, the baristas said they had no more stock of the tumbler.  But they promised there would be a re-supply by end of January 2023.  A sign on the counter said the same message. 

When I returned at the end of January, the baristas said there were still no more stock of tumblers. When I asked again one week later, the baristas said there will be no more tumblers coming.  The warehouse was depleted.  I can still get the planner, however.

I would have considered a planner if the baristas in the first place told me in early January that I had no hope of getting a tumbler.  But they didn’t and instead said that there would be supply.  One can imagine the let-down; I was wishing for the tumbler.  Getting a planner in February would give me little value. 

I emailed Starbucks to complain.  In a prompt reply, Starbucks apologised for the inconvenience and stated that items were on a first-come first-serve basis and it is so stipulated in their terms & conditions of the promo (it’s not).  Starbucks advised I could check other branches if there are still available tumblers and gave me a link to their directory of stores. 

I went to three (3) different Starbucks branches and the respective baristas confirmed there would likely be no more tumblers forthcoming.  There was scant hope I would get the tumbler.  There were still planners available, however. 

I contemplated rebutting Starbucks but decided not to. There was no point to waste more of my time. 

The Starbucks tumbler experience, just like Emirates, was a disappointment, I bought enough Starbucks coffee for the promo and I expected a reward I could get as advertised.  I didn’t. 

Once we book a flight, enrol into a promo, buy a product, or engage a service, we have expectations. 

We expect good quality, service, and delivery for the price we paid and for what has been advertised.

Enterprises sometimes clarify those expectations via rules, terms, & conditions in fine print contracts that accompany the items or services we are buying.  They remind us to beware that there are limitations we should be aware of in our purchases.

Nevertheless, contracts don’t completely clarify all of what we should expect.  We rely a great deal on what the enterprises pitch to us.  If Emirates advertises excellent service, a world-class airport, and state-of-the-art amenities in their airplanes, we will then expect nothing less.  If Starbucks says we can choose and claim tumblers, we expect we can do so. 

We live in a world where enterprises raise our expectations to make us choose their products & services.  When we do buy what they’re selling, we experience and respond uniquely as individuals.  What one of us may say is nice may be felt differently by another.  Passengers who didn’t mind an Emirates plane’s broken in-flight entertainment system may give a good review of their experience versus those who were annoyed with the inconvenience.  Customers who preferred and got their planners would give high satisfactory remarks for the Starbucks Traditions promotion versus those who were counting on but never got the tumbler.

For enterprises, business is about wealth accumulation, competitive advantage, esteem, and growing influence in their businesses.  Hence, they look to the responsiveness of markets, not our feelings as individuals

If they are succeeding in their goals with their markets, they could care less what a few individuals experience on their own.  We as individuals who become dissatisfied but won’t matter to their bottom lines would just have to either take what enterprises give or just shut up and move on. 

Enterprises, in the past, have attempted to satisfy individual expectations in the hope of boosting their mass market priorities.  They tried mass customisation, in which companies would tailor items to individual customers but still produce them in numbers to achieve economies of scale.

E-commerce, as pioneered by Amazon, offer thousands of items and multiple delivery & payment options to cater to varying customer expectations. 

Restaurants & fast-foods offer different variants in their menus.  Starbucks offers up to 255 items to its customers. 

There can be so many different shampoo, beverage, and hardware items.

Fast-fashion retailers like Zara and Uniqlo offer deliveries to individuals who couldn’t find the available right-size clothes at their stores. 

Enterprises can’t satisfy everybody, however, what more with all of our individual expectations.  In the end, they simply tell us to take what’s available or leave it.

Emirates and Starbucks made promises they really could not keep to everyone. In fairness, we could say they did all they could to satisfy everyone. 

It’s one thing to pitch promises and raise expectations even for just a few individuals who may not really matter.

It’s another thing when they can’t keep those promises and, in the end, just tell us to simply take it or leave it. 

About Ellery’s Essays

Published by Ellery

Since I started blogging in 2019, I've written personal insights about supply chains, operations management, & industrial engineering. I have also delved in topics that cover how we deal with people, property, and service providers. My mission is to boost productivity via offering solutions and ideas. If you like what I write or disagree with what I say, feel free to like, dislike, comment, or if you have a lengthy discourse, email me at ellery_l@yahoo.com ; I'm also on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/ellery-samuel-lim-40b528b

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