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customer experience
Shaun Smith
  • By Shaun Smith
  • Feb 06 2017

To Fly To Charge

The dangers of neglecting the basics

Last week I flew to Helsinki to present a Customer Experience Masterclass. Because the sector length is reasonably short, I booked economy with British Airways. I haven’t flown down the back with BA for a while and so I was surprised to discover that the airline is now charging for food and drink; something I would expect on a low-cost carrier like Ryanair but not on a premium brand like BA. Still, the upside was that the menu card in the seat-back pocket advertised a delicious looking M&S branded bacon roll and proper filter coffee. I couldn’t wait. Having had a very early start I was ready for it!

I sat watching in anticipation as the food cart made its way slowly down the aisle. It seemed to be taking forever. I realised that because of the new charging policy the whole service routine was slowed down to the point that we were two and a half hours into the flight before the crew reached my seat towards the rear of the aircraft. The flight had taken off an hour late and so by this time I was desperate for my morning coffee and something to eat.

There was a small problem it seemed; not only did they not have my bacon roll but they had completely run out of sandwiches of any description. OK, at least I can have a coffee, or so I thought. Sadly, when I offered cash to pay for it, I was told they would only accept credit cards.

My card was in my wallet in my jacket safely stowed in the hat rack above and so I had the dilemma of forgoing my coffee or asking my two fellow passengers to move to allow me to get to my wallet. The decision was taken for me as the Captain announced the flight was on approach and so the crew disappeared back into the galley taking my already poured, but unpaid for, coffee with them.

Now there are a number of lessons to be learned from my experience:

1) BA has a brand purpose; ‘To Fly To Serve’. Clearly in this instance this was not evident. ‘To Fly to Charge’ would be a more accurate description. As we say to our clients, purpose is about ‘doing’ not ‘having’. It is what you do rather than what you say that determines whether you truly have a purpose or not.

2) Be clear about your strategy and stick to it. If you are a premium brand, don’t behave like a value brand, unless you are prepared to reduce your prices (and cost base) to compete successfully.

3) Don’t promise something in your advertising that your operation can’t deliver. All you will succeed in doing with your marketing is to raise expectations that will make the dissatisfaction gap even greater and piss the customer off even more.

4) When you fail to deliver, at least try to recover from the situation graciously and err on the side of the customer. We were an hour late and BA had kept me waiting two and a half hours for service and then run out of food. The coffee was poured; I was the last passenger that they were going to serve. How hard would it have been for the crew to say “The coffee is on us today” Pret a Manger can do it, why not BA?

My wife and I have already booked a long-haul flight in business class with BA for our forthcoming holiday. We have spent £6,000 on tickets but I shall think very seriously about booking BA again in the future. All because of a coffee…