Unlocking The Value Of Customer

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British Airways

BRAND STORY From automated lounge entry to new digital signage across the airport, British Airways is focused on making the customer journey stress-free

On a flight to Miami, a customer accidentally left behind a beautiful scarf on her seat. The crew member who had been looking after her realised after she disembarked. He tried to find her in the airport with no luck. He posted her scarf back to her office, with a note, as she’d told him where she worked. And that’s the experience the happy customer remembers when she thinks of British Airways (BA).

It was a simple effort but made all the difference as most of the time, if you realize you forgot something as soon as you get off a plane, you’ll most likely not be able to go back and get it. Or if travelers do get their items back, it can be quite a hassle.

Anyone can fly planes, but few airlines can excel in serving people.

Even in a cutthroat, mass-market business such as air travel, Sir Colin Marshall, the former chairman of British Airways (BA), believed there are people, even among those who travel economy, who will pay a premium for good service. He envisioned that decades ago.

After BA was privatized in 1987, Marshall transformed BA by reshaping its customer service. He worked a revolution in BA, developing a branding philosophy that became a Harvard Business School case study.

His rationale was that customers take the basics for granted and increasingly want a company to treat them in a more personal caring way.

Marshall created, among other steps, a program called “Putting People First.” The airline created profiles of customers, innovations such as serving meals in the terminal in advance to allow passengers to sleep longer, and attitude surveys helped the change.

The new and refurbished planes had the motto “To Fly, to Serve” stamped on their tails, and the biggest brand advertising campaign was launched, with adverts on peak-time TV, in newspapers, and online in 2011.

“Many service companies ignore the fact that there also are plenty of customers in the lower end of the market who are willing to pay a little more for superior service,” Marshall said in an interview.

It’s a verdict that holds even today. People are willing to pay a premium not to be treated like cattle. They want to be respected — and not just with frequent-flier miles. Customers want an experience – the process of flying from point A to point B is stress-free and pleasant.

But being the top carrier doesn’t guarantee immunity from the pressures of disruption in the industry. Also, changing customer behavior and technology are rewriting the rules for every airline.

Although some factors are out of the airlines’ control, such as flight delays and cancellations and seemingly arbitrary government regulations and security, customers face many problems that an airline can fix.

A decade ago, BA started focusing on individual touchpoints – planning, booking, and flying — to provide a new, intuitive experience.

Seeking to embed a deeper digital mindset and improve the customer experience and performance of critical digital products, BA accelerated its digital delivery and improved its existing mobile apps.

The product design then improved the Android and iOs booking compatibility and added the missing features such as the display of departure gate information.

While working on mobile apps, it streamlined the customer experience on the desktop to drive up conversion and revenue rebuilt the booking flow so that the process for outbound and return flight selection took fewer steps.

In the first three weeks following the new app launch, there were 2,000 additional bookings.
Interestingly, BA was the first UK airline to launch online and mobile boarding passes as well as mobile check-in.

BA has been ahead of time. Evolving customer expectations keeps the airline on its toes. A decade ago, BA launched Know Me, a system that provides a single view of every customer and their history with the airline,  accessed by service staff on planes and in airports.

The airline staff had the equipment to seek out passengers proactively, pointing them where they needed to go or upgrade.

Now, in the Covid era, air travel can be overwhelming, and an airline’s job is to make customers’ lives as straightforward as possible.

To help people navigate the differing entry requirements, allowing for a smooth booking and travel experience, BA launched a new interactive map on its website for customers to check the travel restrictions and entry requirements before booking a trip by typing in their choice of destination. There is also a tab that allows customers to indicate whether or not they are vaccinated, which will adjust the results.

BA is also one of the first airlines to introduce a mobile digital health pass, VeriFLY, to ensure customers have the right documentation ahead of their flights.

Inclusion and accessibility

Last December, to improve inclusion and accessibility, it trialed new technology to transform its customer experience for those who use British Sign Language. The new technology removes barriers to communication, enabling customers who use British Sign Language to contact the airline using a video relay service.

In 2018, British Airways launched its ‘Beyond Accessibility’ campaign to empower customer-facing colleagues to improve support for customers requiring additional assistance. In 2019, the airline created a dedicated team of accessibility experts to assist with customer inquiries.

As a result, BA has seen customer satisfaction more than double for travelers with accessibility needs following investment in recent years.

Improving CX

Continuing with enhancing its onboard services, especially meals, BA collaborated with Tom Kerridge, Britain’s most celebrated Michelin-starred chefs, to design a new range of food to be enjoyed onboard. If you’re using one of BA’s Heathrow lounges, the Your Menu app means you can order food and drink directly to your seat.

Making improvements to its customer experience while reinforcing its sustainability commitment, the airline is introducing new plant-based menus across its lounges and removing single-use plastic bottles.

Using technology to enhance the customer journey, the airline has a  baggage tracking system that allows customers to track their bags via their phone throughout their journey.

“We want to create an even better British Airways and know that we need to keep making changes to the customer experience with things like alternative menus, reducing plastics, and introducing new technology to get us to where we want to be,” said Tom Stevens, British Airways’ Director of Brand and Customer Experience, in a statement.

Recently, American Airlines and BA released designs that showcase an enhanced premium guest experience at John F. Kennedy International Airport’s (JFK) Terminal to be completed later this year.

A co-branded premium check-in area will provide personalized, concierge-style service for top-tier guests.

Once through security, three distinctive custom lounges combining the best of both brands will provide a refined preflight experience for select guests based on the cabin of travel and loyalty program status. The expanded premium lounge offerings will incorporate seating for approximately 1,000 American and BA’s most loyal customers.

Post-flight feedback

The brand value of an airline can erode through a single event, adversely impacting relations with customers and ultimately affecting future revenue and profi­tability. To avoid that, apart from regularly monitoring customer satisfaction through the global monthly “Think Customer Survey,” BA created two-way SMS to gather post-flight feedback on customer satisfaction and grade their experience.

BA’s integrated information management system also helps rapidly find answers to questions critical to understanding customers’ performance and make informed and faster responses to changing business and customer conditions.

Finally, to overcome the tediousness of waiting to check-in, BA is introducing a new technology, which is a way of pre-booking a time slot for check-in before going to the airport. If you opt for the service, you’ll get an email in advance, inviting you to choose your check-in time, so you can go to the dedicated desk. You can also join the virtual queue by scanning a QR code at the airport.

While the airline, forged over 100 years, works to deliver more customer-friendly improvements to its website and apps, develop more services for premium customers, and revamps the menus and the wines, we think reducing standing in line time is exactly how every customer journey should start.

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