The British Airways brand issue.

A friend just referred me to this really interesting blog post from a few days ago where the author goes into detail about seven areas he believes British Airways have screwed up their brand.  It’s pretty spot on, but I felt lacked one key point, as if seven wasn’t enough.

Companies make mistakes.  I get that.  It’s how they deal with them, and fix stuff that makes them (or breaks them).  Running an airline is a really complex business.  You’ve got tens of thousands of staff, spread all over the globe.  A diverse supply chain.  Some of the most complicated pieces of machinery invented travelling through the stratosphere at 1,000 km/h.  That’s tough to manage and requires experienced and dedicated people.

So when stuff goes wrong as it inevitably will (the recent IT meltdown), it’s how you respond to customers and fix stuff that makes all the difference.

BA have shown time and time again, from a corporate perspective, that they don’t care about making things right for customers.  Places like Flyertalk are littered with complaints where BA have screwed up, and instead of admitting they made a mistake and trying to apologise for it, they simply give the equivalent of a F*** Y** to the customer.  Examples are here, here, and here.

During the IT meltdown, when they eventually restored the ability to rebook, instead of getting people to where they needed to be, as quickly as possible using any carrier, they made them wait for the next BA flight, or only rebooked on oneworld carriers.  They told customers that they wouldn’t be reimbursed if they made their own arrangements which is contrary to EU law.  They eventually relented.

Practices like this is what Ryanair used to do before they realised that actually it made better business sense to be nice to passengers.

People like it when organisations admit they made a mistake, apologise and then do what they can to make it right.  We’re all human after all.

What British Airways is doing instead, is pissing off its regular and repeat customers.  Almost entirely avoidably.  Policies like not interlining bags on separate itineraries cost them very little except goodwill.

What’s most worrying is there doesn’t even seem to be a corporate understanding that things need to change.

I used to work for Vodafone Group, and there was an understanding that the UK operating company which actually runs the mobile network, had terrible customer service and a poor NPS (Net Promoter Score).  They knew that they had to improve, so they put in place a whole bunch of initiatives around improving the customer experience.  They clearly have a very long way to go, and I’m sure a lot of readers have a Vodafone horror story from their bill (me included), but at least like an alcoholic, they knew that they have a problem and are trying to fix it.  BA aren’t even at that stage yet.

That toxic management culture extends into areas such as employee relations too.  There is currently a dispute with a part of their cabin crew called Mixed Fleet, which has been going on over a year now leading to sporadic cancellations and disruption.  These are the newer cabin crew members that are on a far worse (i.e. cheaper) set of terms and conditions than their colleagues on “Worldwide” or “Euro Fleet”.

Rather than work on things together to try and get a happy workforce, BA are insisting on dragging things out to the n’th degree, taking away perks from strikers such as their travel concessions.

The US carriers have recognised that unhappy employees provide rubbish customer service, so they’ve been falling over themselves to improve their workforce terms and conditions.

Today it has been announced that they are going to be leasing aircraft from Qatar Airways to cover the upcoming strike.

It is ironic and actually somewhat sad, that a company like British Airways has to borrow aircraft from a repressive country such as Qatar in order to break a strike from some of it’s lowest paid workers.

I realise that this is straying dangerously into political territory, but British Airways is not only an airline, but it’s a brand, and a representative of Britain all over the world.  I’m not sure it’s doing Britain very many favours at the moment.  Although perhaps it could be argued that nor is the country either.


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