In a world where mindfulness and social consciousness dominate the hip breed of shindigs such as Burning Man and TED, the promised new wave of empathetic Big Business leaders is still a long way off. At least in the case of easyJet.
I use and like easyJet. I don't even mind that they charge me extra for taking my suitcase along: £30 for the privilege, bumping the fare up by over 20%. But I do mind when they 'take' money for nothing when I no longer need an optional extra.
After booking my flights recently to go to Barcelona, I realised that my connection time would be too tight to check-in luggage, so I contacted Customer services and asked for a refund on the bags. I did not expect a problem - after all I was not cancelling the flight and easyJet is a successful company that appears to be caring and understanding - a company that is highly profitable to the tune of £478 million, with no need to agitate or penalise its clients.
I was surprised to be told that a refund was out of the question. It's in the small print. Instead of check-in luggage I was asked if I wanted to take ski baggage instead. The adviser clearly didn't know that Gaudi is not the name of a famous ski resort!
It's not about 30 quid - it's about being fair and treating your clients with respect. Everyone (including the banks) now knows that you can't take money from a client when you haven't earned it. Well according to easyJet you can and they do because they rely on our inertia and stupidity not to complain and to accept it quietly. Of course I may have inadvertently stumbled across a nice little earner for easyJet - out of their 60 million passengers, how many thousands find themselves in the same position as me every week? Thousands of £30s makes millions.
Policy changes come from the top in good companies so I emailed easyJet's CEO, Carolyn McCall, OBE, lauded as one of the UK's top business leaders. I pointed out how "contracts need to be fair under the Unfair Contracts Act....that reputation and ethics are not just spoken words or ticking boxes on a form but deeds of action.... from CEOs who actually care and act.....life and business is about principles and doing the right thing.........".
She replied as follows:
"Dear Mr Green, Thank you for taking the time to contact me. I am glad to hear that you are a frequent flier with us and an easyJet Plus cardholder, but sorry to hear how frustrated you have been when trying to remove luggage from your recent booking with us.
We have worked hard at ensuring that we are transparent about our terms and conditions, and believe we have values - integrity is one if them.
We are a non-refundable airline and this does include the addition of ancillary products such as baggage and selected seating and the information that you were provided when contacting our customer services team was correct.
We aim to make travel easy and affordable for all of our passengers and I hope that you enjoy your upcoming trip with us. Thank you for choosing easyJet. Regards Carolyn McCall CEO"
Having taken the trouble to respond, she masterfully ignored the chance to show that big business leaders really do 'get it' by putting an obvious wrong right. As a reminder to Ms McCall, easyJet's 2013 accounts state that it "has a strong ethical tone from the top" - a customer charter which proudly declares that easyJet is "on your side...we see it from your point of view." And all delivered with "a big smile". Yeah, right!
Words lack value when not supported by action and "believing we have values" is not the same as "having values".
With red tape aplenty, this demonstrates that consumers still have zero power to get a large company to stop using terms and conditions which are grossly unfair and likely to be legally unenforceable. The consumer has little choice but to take it or leave it.
Isn't it time politicians introduce useful consumer legislation which force CEOs to take legal responsibility for Customer Complaints? Only then will real change will come.
Apparently Ms McCall was born in India - home of many great gurus who teach mindfulness and meditation. EasyJet proudly displays orange, by sheer coincidence the same colour as the robes worn by many Indian monks. Orange represents the burning of illusion and renunciation.
Great business leaders don't need to be spiritual to know that earning money unethically is wholly unsatisfying, unrewarding and WRONG. We want our leaders to renounce such practices and demonstrate daily fairness and care through positive actions. If the client changes their mind with a valid reason giving reasonable notice then give them a refund with "a big smile". It's common sense - keep the client happy - the first rule of true business leadership.
Real mindfulness is not about attending a course. It's about treating others as you expect to be treated yourself.
Luckily, it's never too late to change although sadly change only comes when we the consumer complain far more. Perhaps a new breed of CEOs will emerge who prioritise their clients and actively get rid of unfair terms and conditions rather than actively support them. Well I can dream.