British Airways First Class is more like Last in Class

This may seem like a First World problem, but my experience with British Airways is a great point in case about how visceral and personal a relationship can be with a brand.

Two months ago, I had a miserable experience, having been downgraded involuntarily on a 10 1/2 hour flight from London to Austin (Texas). You can read about the British Airways saga part 1 and part 2, here. You will literally be shocked by the treatment. It makes for a scary way of running a business.

First Class… really?

BA First_Class1On my most recent trans-Atlantic flight to San Francisco, travelling on British Airways in First Class, I was emphatically non-plussed by the service. Having had a disastrous experience with BA recently, I was hoping that the BA team might have put 2 and 2 together to make a little special effort. Nothing of the sort. It was a most standard experience. Their tagline is damningly wrong: Designed with you in mind. The only issue is that they didn’t know who you is!

Customer experience – the technology

Outside of one of the flight attendants (Kristie) who was absolutely charming and dedicated (and who had informed the purser about my plight), it was a strictly plain experience. Unlike a business class seat I had sat in recently, the BA 1st class seat does not come with any place to store papers, books, computer, etc. The audio-visual entertainment set didn’t work at least for the first hour and then broke down en route.

Customer experience – the service

to try to serve British Airways

To “try” to serve – British Airways

For the main meal, I foolishly chose Aberdeen Beef. I should have guessed when I was not asked how I would like it; but, it was drastically overcooked. When I went to sleep, to take advantage of the 180º bed, I was peeved to discover that there was was no pillow or cover. No one came to make my bed (unlike some other passengers). Talk about not feeling pampered. At the end of the flight, the well-meaning Purser came over apologetically to say how he had been occupied with the AV issues. Thus, he had not been able to “individually welcome” the passengers.

What is Luxury?

In a fast-paced world, where the experience is the brand, British Airways is an example of how NOT to deliver. BA’s executive team seems more interested in drumming up ideas, writing reports and managing budgets. To wit, BA was the first airline to have an app for the Apple Watch. Meanwhile, basic attention to details, pampering of customers and paleolithic style of communication are a testament to a company that has not morphed into the 21st century.

The galling part of the whole experience with BA is that each flight seems to operate in total isolation with anything that happened before or after. In today’s world, building brand affinity and loyalty is all about engaging in a lasting experience, where there is a before, during and after. Brands that learn to craft a seamless, customer-centric experience that is augmented with technology and imparted by an engaged staff will find ways to win. British Airways is definitively not among those that have bought in to that vision.

An example of how not to be customer centric @ Heathrow’s Terminal 5

Heathrow Terminal 5 is in need of an urgent look at its customer journey… literally

I recently took a British Airways flight in business class on a brand new 787 “Dreamliner” on one of the first ever non-stop flights between London and Austin Texas (it was for #SXSW2014). I would note that I certainly don’t intend to be complaining about privileged travel in this post. My point is to observe the explicit consequences of not being customer centric. Embarking at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5, I was ushered through the “fast track” customs and baggage control without much ado. After collecting my affairs, I noticed that to the right there was the Concorde Lounge, but was informed that it was only for First Class. I was told that the BA Business Class lounge was downstairs, immediately underneath. To get downstairs, you have to go about 60 meters past a row of stores. The escalator down is around the other side. Once downstairs, I headed back from whence I came. Signage was poor. The route was lined with shops, mostly luxury brands such as Gucci, Prada, Harrods (see below). It turns out that the space “immediately underneath” the Concorde Lounge was under construction. No sign of the Business Class lounge.

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